I’m pretty sure that sweet Rosie’s days with us are numbered, and I am savoring every moment spent with her. Rosie is one of the founding ladies of 5R Farm, and we’ve had seven and a half years together. She got attacked by the flock last winter about this time of year when the cold temperatures and snow on the ground that just wouldn’t melt gave the girls a serious case of cabin fever, and they turned on poor Rosie. After that attack she moved into Reuben’s separate living quarters (Rosie and Reuben). For the first couple of months, she was still a bit slow getting around and had this mysterious weakness in her legs. She was losing weight, and she spent a lot of time lying down under Reuben’s table. I did my best to get her strong and healthy with high protein snacks, a powdered vitamin and electrolyte in her water, and even extra vitamin supplements reported to be helpful in curing various nutritionally caused ailments and leg issues, which I would try to sneak into her food. Eventually she regained her strength and the use of her legs and she was almost back to her normal self. She enjoyed nibbling on the grass and being out in the sun, she would spend a portion of each day wandering around the small plot of grass she shared with Reuben, although she still spent a fair bit of time just lying down.
I’ve always considered Rosie to lay the most beautiful egg out of the dozens of hens that I’ve had over the last almost 8 years. Her eggs are a beautiful pastel green, and in her younger years her eggs were almost always jumbo sized. Typically the girls all take the winter off from laying eggs and start laying again sometime between January and March depending upon their age. Rosie had not started laying this spring so I just assumed her egg laying career was over. Then one evening in mid-July as I went out to tuck Rosie in for the night, I saw her beautiful green egg sitting on the ground by the table that she spent so much of her days hanging out underneath. For me to see her egg that day, when I never thought I’d see it again, was truly a gift, and one that only a crazy chicken lady could appreciate. Rosie began to disappear into Reuben’s tiny house every few days, and when I’d go up to check on her later in the day there would be another pretty green egg. She continued to lay several eggs a week for a couple of months, which I hoarded and saved to take pretty pictures of, only eating them occasionally.
In mid October, I came home from work one day to find that the latch had failed on the door to Reuben and Rosie’s enclosure, and the wind must have blown the door open. I was about to walk into the back door of the house when I glanced up toward the chicken yard, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw Reuben sitting in the grass outside the four foot tall poultry netting fence with a bloodied comb, bloody feathers all around his neck, and one eye swollen shut. Rosie was still in the enclosure with most of the flock in there with her, and her comb was pecked and blooded but not as bad as Reuben. Reuben can’t even stand upright anymore due to his leg condition, so for him to have flown over the four foot high fence was quite a miraculous feat and only accomplished through a very strong will to live. I quickly dropped everything I was carrying and ran up to check on Reuben quickly and then rescue Rosie from the throngs of chickens that had taken over her area. I cleaned them both up, and it was Reuben that had suffered the worst injuries. I worried whether he had lost one of his eyes in the attack, but only time would tell. Accidents happen, but I felt awful that the enclosure that I thought would keep them safe, had failed to do so.
It was clear that they could no longer live in close proximity to the rest of the flock. I had wanted to keep them near the flock so they could still be, in some way, a part of the flock. Rosie was moved into Little Red Rooster’s old coop next to the back deck that had sat vacant since we lost our little man a couple of years ago. Reuben was moved into a separate area of the bantams coop on the back deck. As much as I wanted to keep them together, I worried about Rosie’s safety living with Reuben at times. He is very clumsy when he moves around, and I have been afraid of him crushing Rosie at times since she tends not to move out of the way when he flaps awkwardly toward or on top of her. Since this last attack, Rosie and Reuben have both gradually recovered from their external injuries, but I can’t help but wonder about their quality of life with their lack of mobility issues, the causes of which remain unknown. Rosie had been fairly active prior to this last attack, but now she is back to resembling a bump on a log much of the time. I put her outside on sunny days so she can dig in the dirt and nibble on green things, which she enjoys. Sometimes we have a little photo shoot, which I’m pretty sure she doesn’t enjoy as much as me, but I want to make a few more memories with her while we still have time together. I am constantly trying new treats to see if I can get her to regain some weight and get her strength up, and of course I continue to try and sneak vitamins into her food but she tends to be a picky eater. She still has vitamins and electrolytes in her water, as does Reuben, but sadly I think there are underlying causes of their mobility issues that cannot be cured by extra vitamins. So it has been for the last couple of months, and now that cold temperatures and rainy weather are here, I know that Rosie and Reuben will be fairly inactive and stuck in their coops for the winter. It’s hard caring for aging pets, trying to give them the best quality of life that is possible given the situation, but sometimes feeling like your efforts are falling short. I do the best that I can, and the selfish part of me hopes that they are enjoying being here as much as I enjoy having them here with me.
Despite a few setbacks in the garden this year, we did have a pretty good harvest by the time late summer and fall rolled around. A few crops didn’t do quite as well as last year, and it seems that every year brings a new challenge in terms of insect or rodent pests, but I’m happy with our harvest and the food put away for the winter. Not to mention we’ve enjoyed countless delicious meals made with farm fresh veggies. When I actually start to tally it all up it amounts to quite a lot that I’ve put away to enjoy over the winter – several dozen heads of garlic, 12 pounds of onions, 45 pounds of potatoes, a few dozen spaghetti squash and pie pumpkins, pickles, jam, and honey, plus there’s still a stash of last year’s marinara and applesauce that we haven’t worked our way through yet. In the freezer there are countless quart baggies full of frozen kale and Swiss chard, a dozen quart baggies of roasted tomatoes, several dozen roasted Anaheim chilis, ten pints of pesto, a couple dozen quarts of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, more rhubarb than I’ll probably use, and lots of sliced and shredded zucchini for soups and breads. The leeks, Swiss chard, and kale are still going strong in the garden, and I’ll try to harvest and put a bit more of them away up until the first frost.
By this time of year the chickens and turkeys have stopped laying eggs for the winter, and we are working our way through our stash of eggs that I started saving up in early fall. Our daily egg on toast for breakfast has now become every other day egg on toast, with the off days consisting of peanut butter, honey from our bees, and banana toast, which is still quite delicious and just as decadent as an egg in its own way. Every year I try to remember to save some seeds from the garden. Since seeds of many plants last for two or three years, I don’t save seeds every year, although I do try to remember to save some seeds if I have the time. I’ve also been saving flower seeds, and every year I grow a few more late flowering plants such as coneflower and bee balm to expand the number of pollinator plants that are growing around the farm. This year I participated in my first ever seed swap with some new gardening friends I’ve made on Instagram. I sent in 25 packs of veggie and flower seeds, and in return I received 25 packs of seeds with all sorts of fun new veggies and flowers to grow next year. I grew these amazing sunflowers this year, with a beautiful variety of petal colors and some of which grew to about 12 feet tall! I had been planning to save seeds from them since I liked them so much; however, the chipmunks began eating the seeds before they were even developed enough to save for next year. I could not figure out what was devouring the sunflower heads so early in the season until I saw one of these acrobatic little critters climbing up the stalks of the sunflowers on the front porch, but I decided that this was not a battle that was worth fighting. The chipmunks may have claimed victory over the sunflowers, but I still consider it a victory harvest in the garden this year.
Lucky the Rooster
Lucky is one of the two chicken chicks that were hatched this spring along with the turkey poults (which is what baby turkeys are called) by the turkey moms, Eleanor and June (My Two Moms). Lucky and his sister chicken were raised side by side with their turkey sisters and brothers by their turkey moms, and it went pretty well, although it’s an experiment that I don’t think I will repeat. Our adult turkeys have slept outside for a couple of years, not only in the summer, but all through the fall and winter, through rain, snow, and freezing temperatures and they have always been fine. Turkeys are tough and resilient, which is one of the reasons that I have fallen in love with these amazing birds. Back in 2015 when we first got turkeys, I tried my darndest to train them to sleep inside a coop, but when they got to be about three months old they absolutely refused to sleep in the coop and would panic if I tried to lock them in. So we built them a six foot high outdoor roost and that has been where they’ve slept ever since, including the new generations of turkeys hatched in 2016 and in 2017. That was all fine and good until we had young chickens that thought they were turkeys. 🙂 I had thought that when it came time for the proverbial getting kicked out of the nest, the chickens would no longer be welcomed onto the roost with the turkeys and they would figure out that they should go into the coop at night along with the adult chickens that also live in the turkey yard. But as I should have learned by now, no matter how well you think you know them, 99% of the time it is impossible to predict chicken and turkey behavior .
The turkey moms decided that it was time to leave the coop where they had hatched and raised their little ones and go back to sleeping on the high roost when the young turkeys and chickens were about a month old. They all managed to fly up onto the high roost, including Lucky and his sister chicken which came as kind of a surprise to me since chickens are not quite as skilled flyers as turkeys. The turkey poults and Lucky and his sister chicken would settle onto the roost at night, jockeying for the best position under mommas wings, and Lucky and his sister managed to hold their own. Okay I thought, this is going to work out okay.
But one night tragedy struck. I came home late one evening to discover that a predator had gotten past the electric fence and into the turkey yard and killed one of Spaceship Turkey Momma’s chicks, who was lying dead on the ground below the roost. I found Lucky hiding in the grass at the far side of the pasture. I picked him up and put him back on the roost, thankful that he was safe. A month later, tragedy struck again. I came down to the turkey yard in the morning for breakfast rounds, and I found Lucky’s sister chicken dead in the far corner of the yard, decapitated. One by one something was picking off the smallest members of the mixed chicken and turkey family. I think it was a larger member of the weasel family based on the security video footage and the method of killing. I checked the electric fence, made some improvements to how tightly it was strung and fastened to the ground, but still the predator kept coming back. The third time it came back it went after Lucky. By this time I had begun making sure my window was always open at night. At 3:00 am I was awakened by sounds in the turkey yard. I ran outside with my flashlight and found Lucky hiding underneath the coop. I did a thorough search of the turkey yard and did not see any predators. I went back in the house and reviewed the video footage. Although the video was pretty dark, I could clearly see Lucky turn his head to look over his shoulder, as if he heard something, and then seconds later I saw a dark form launch itself from an adjacent structure directly at Lucky on the roost and then both went tumbling to the ground. I replayed the next ten minutes of the video, and at times you can see the dark shape of the predator and the reflection of its eyes as it stalked Lucky through the chicken yard. At one point Lucky appears to almost tiptoe across the front porch of the coop, and then moments later the predator comes into the frame, looking for Lucky. Minutes later, I appear in the video, and I think when I came down to the turkey yard, I may have frightened the predator away. I kept a close eye on Lucky for the next few days. He had no obvious injuries, still I was worried that he may have sustained some puncture wounds from the attack that I couldn’t see and that may get infected. But a few weeks later, he was as healthy as ever. I decided to name him Lucky.
All was well until Lucky reached five months old. I was growing quite fond of him, and he had begun coming up to me for treats and sitting next to me when I would have lap time with Pumpkin Pie. Up until this time he had spent his days without incident living among the turkeys. He ate with them, grazed in the grass with them, slept with them, and seemed to think he was one of them. He had no interest in the adult female chickens in the yard. Then one day Lucky began to court the turkey hens. At first I wasn’t sure, did I really see that? Yup, I did. I noticed when I was in the turkey yard that he would approach a turkey hen, and do the sidestepping rooster courtship dance, wing dropped to the ground as he danced toward the turkey hen. Unfortunately for Lucky, the turkey hens did not appreciate his advances, and they let him know in no uncertain terms. Turkey hens tend to be much more assertive than chickens when it comes to romance. When chickens are not in the mood, they will usually run, then when the rooster catches them, they will squat and let him have his way. Not so with the turkeys, if they are not in the mood, they will peck or chase the tom away. This is what began happening with Lucky. The ladies began to grow dissatisfied with his courting, and it was not uncommon for me to see Lucky being confronted or chased by a group of several turkey hens. Eventually the young tom turkey that Lucky grew up with and Lucky began to fight. At first it was just a bit of facing off and chasing about the pasture, and I hoped they would settle the pecking order and one would back down and accept the dominance of the other. But after a couple of weeks, the face offs and chasing had turned into spectacular leaps into the air, wings and feet outstretched as they confronted each other with greater aggression. It was at this time that I knew it was time for Lucky to go. I put an ad on Craigslist, hoping for the best, but knowing it could take some time as roosters are a dime a dozen at this time of year, many sadly headed for the table if they could not be rehomed. Lucky was such a handsome fellow, and he really was a good boy, we just didn’t have the right accommodations for him, and I hoped he could find a flock of his own. The morning after I posted my ad, I had an email from a woman looking for a rooster for her flock. She had emailed five people with ads on Craigslist, and when I called her that morning she asked which rooster are you calling about? I said the red and white rooster, and she said oh good, that’s my favorite one! She lived an hour and a half away from me, but as fate would have it, I already had a trip planned that day to do some field work about 10 minutes from where she lived. So I packed up Lucky, and by lunchtime I had delivered Lucky to his new home where he would free range over 6 acres as the king of the flock. Lucky truly lived up to his name that day, and while I was sad to see him go, I couldn’t be happier with how things worked out for my Lucky boy.
It’s been five months since the sweetest little turkey ever, Pumpkin Pie, came into my life. She is by far the friendliest turkey that I’ve ever had, and I look forward to seeing her every morning when I make the first rounds of the day and every night at tuck-in. I raised her in the house for about a week after she hatched because she was too weak to stand and was rejected by her momma, you can read that post here (Pumpkin Pie). After she rejoined the flock, she remained imprinted on me, and to this day she still runs up to me when I go out to the turkey yard. For her first couple of months, Pumpkin Pie was a bit of a runt, and I thought that she would remain a runt due to her slow start in life. But gradually she started catching up to her sisters in size, so I put a little white leg band on her so that I could easily identify her at a glance, and I’m glad I did because she is now as big as her sisters. I don’t know why, but turkeys of the same breed look almost identical to each other, whereas our chickens of the same breed all have distinguishing features. With chickens of the same breed, either the tips of their feathers are slightly different colors, or they’ll have a different pattern for multi-colored feathers, or their combs will be different sizes, but with the turkeys even I have trouble telling them apart at times. So I’ve banded a few of my favorites, including Prudence, Spaceship Turkey Momma, and now Pumpkin Pie. Ringo and Eleanor were also banded at one time, but they are talented leg band removers and now I have to confess that I can only tell who Eleanor is when she’s barking a greeting at me, of which she is quite fond of doing, but I digress.
Turkeys are very inquisitive by nature, and Pumpkin Pie is especially so. She follows me around as I do chores, sticking her face in my business and making adorable little sing-song noises and chortles all the while as if to say, watcha doin’ there? If I have ties or anything dangling on my clothing she’ll tug on it repeatedly. Anything shiny like jewelry or protruding like buttons will get repeated pecks. If I have a tool or something in my hands, she’ll peck at it trying to figure out what on earth this fascinating item could possibly be. We have lap time often, and although she’s getting big, she still manages to fit after awkwardly finding a place to settle her big feet. Ringo, my tom turkey, is quite jealous of Pumpkin Pie, and he is always hovering nearby looking sideways at me from his big eyes in that wrinkly blue head.
Pumpkin Pie is still a low turkey in the pecking order, as are all of the younger generation compared to the females from last year’s hatch and Prudence and Eleanor the flock matriarchs. At evening tuck-in sometimes Pumpkin Pie will be roosting on something lower in the turkey yard than the six foot tall roost that the older turkeys roost on. If she’s not on the high roost I will pick her up and put her up there so she won’t be as vulnerable to predator attack if one should come into the turkey yard at night. For a couple of months this summer we had repeated night-time attacks in the turkey yard, by what I believe to be a larger member of the weasel family, and each time it was the smaller chickens (of which we lost two) that would sleep outside with the turkeys that were attacked. After each attack I worried that Pumpkin Pie would be next due to her being the smallest turkey in the flock, but I worry less about her now that she is larger in size. We have tried, and are still actively trying to trap the predator, but with no luck. So every morning when I go out to the turkey yard I can’t help myself from doing a quick head count – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and Ringo makes ten. Once that is done I breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a few minutes with Pumpkin Pie and the rest of these amazing birds.
I cannot believe how this summer has flown by! As much as I wish all of my time could be spent on the farm taking care of the chickens and turkeys, gardening, tending the bees and flower garden, making soap, and putting away the garden bounty for the winter, I actually do have a job, an environmental consulting business that I own and run, that keeps me quite busy most of the year. This year has been exceptionally good for business, which is great, but it has also kept me too busy to keep up on the blog! I promise to regale you with tales of garden bounty, fun times on the farm with the feathered ladies and gents, and also some recent challenges with predators. But for now I’m just going to post some pictures from a photo challenge of seven days of black and white photos on social media that I recently participated in, which got me to thinking about the things that I really do enjoy about living on the farm. I hope you enjoy them, and I promise to catch up with you soon!
We have a new momma at the farm, this time around it’s a chicken momma, and we have four new chicks as well. I had thought we were done hatching chicks for the summer, but this lady had other plans. Every year I have a chicken or two that decides she wants to hatch some chicks and starts hiding a secret stash of eggs in the bushes, I first wrote about it in Outsmarted by a Chicken. We only have a few patches of bushes in the chicken yard, so you would think it would be pretty easy for me to notice this was happening and put a stop to it. Well, that’s easier said than done. I guess between all of the chicken, turkey, garden, and bee chores, I just kinda forget to look in the bushes for hidden eggs as often as I should. So it happened again this year, and I stumbled upon a nest with 18 eggs in it. I had been hoping to add a few more chickens to the flock this spring, but it just didn’t work out as planned despite giving eight chicken eggs to the turkey mommas to hatch and buying several chicks for another of our turkey momma wannabes, and we only ended up with three new chickens and of course one of them is a rooster. So I took the opportunity to let this broody chicken continue to set on her eggs. I removed four eggs and left her with 14 eggs. I cracked open the four eggs I took from her nest to try to get an idea of how long she had been setting on them so I could estimate when they would hatch. They hardly had any embryo development – and before you get grossed out, the embryo consists of a tiny network of veins for the first several days and I was pretty sure that was how long she had been setting on them. Based on what I saw, I calculated the approximate hatch date which would be 21 days from when she started setting.
We have a separate brooder area in the chicken coop where we can put broody hens while they are setting on their eggs to keep them from being disturbed and to keep other hens from adding eggs to their nest or otherwise interfering with the nest when the broody hen leaves the nest for a few minutes a day to eat, drink, and poop. The only downside to putting the broody hen in the smaller brooder enclosure inside the coop is that with the heat wave we had recently I was worried that she would overheat in the coop. The area where she had made her nest was in the shade under a bunch of ferns and shrubs, and I felt it was healthier for her to continue to set her eggs outside where it would be several degrees cooler than inside the coop. Plus she could get up to take care of her business when she needed too, and it would involve less micro-managing on my part since I wouldn’t have to remove her from the enclosed brooder once a day and wait around for her to do her business and go back to the coop. My plan was to move her into the brooder enclosure when it was a couple of days before her hatch date. She surprised me by having her chicks start hatching the day before I was planning to move them. I didn’t want to move her mid-hatch in case it disrupted the hatch. I decided I would move the momma and chicks the next morning. I came out in the morning, and momma had four chicks under her. She still had six eggs under her (four had gotten broken during the first week she was setting on them), so I decided to let her continue setting on them for a little while longer to see if any more would hatch. When I returned a few hours later, the momma hen had moved a couple of feet away from the nest. She had her chicks under her, but the unhatched eggs were abandoned. I picked them up to inspect them, five had no sign of hatching and I brought them into the house to candle them to see if they were developing and it turns out they were not. But the sixth egg had a tiny hole in the shell and was pipping which means that the chick inside is starting the process of hatching out of the egg.
Let me just stop here and say that although the story does have a happy ending, the next part of the story is about a sad lesson learned, but one that is a part of farm life. I held the pipping egg in my hand and I put it to my ear, I could hear the faint tap, tap, tap of the chick pecking the shell with its beak. It was the first time I had experienced this, and it was amazing. Oh how I wish that I had brought that egg inside the house and put it under a heat lamp while it continued to hatch, but I thought that it would be better off hatching under momma so I put the egg back under her. I had read things about the membrane getting stuck to the chick when the humidity was not correct, possibly resulting in the chick getting shrink wrapped and suffocating, and I didn’t want to risk anything going wrong by bringing the egg inside. I went back inside the house for a bit, I’m not sure how long exactly, but I think it was only a couple of hours. I was at the kitchen sink when I saw a commotion in the chicken yard, there was lots of chasing and my heart instantly sank. I ran outside to see one of the chickens with an eggshell in her beak being chased by the other chickens. Then I saw another chicken with something dark hanging from her beak, I knew instantly that it was a baby chick. At first I thought it was one of the four chicks that had already hatched, and I screamed NOOOOO at the top of my lungs. As I drew near I could see that it was a newly hatched chick. The pipping egg had hatched remarkably quickly, much sooner than I had expected. The chick must have been lying in the bushes, wet and tired from hatching out of its egg, when some of the other hens found it and in their ancestral dinosaur ways, they did something awful to it. At that point, I knew it was time to move the others to safety, and I quickly relocated the momma and her four chicks into the brooder inside the coop. The chicks are now nine days old, and everyone is doing well. This morning momma took her little ones out to the chicken yard for the first time, and although there were a few curious onlookers, and a few small scuffles between momma and the others as she reasserted her place in the pecking order, it all went well. I will let momma and her littles out for short periods of supervised time in the chicken yard for the next week or so, and then they will probably be ready to join the flock full time. The four chicks are a beautiful range of different colors, and I look forward to seeing how they feather out, and how many girls and boys we have in the mix.
In the Garden
I’ve had a few gardening challenges this year, but thankfully garden season is in full swing now and the harvest is looking promising. I started the cool season veggies successfully from seed as usual: lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, Swiss chard, leeks, and onions, and these all got off to a good start in the garden. Then the wild rabbits that I once thought were so cute when I would see them at the outskirts of the farm, began appearing in greater numbers than in years past. Whereas we used to see one rabbit or maybe two at a time, now we were seeing three at a time. Their cute nibbles along the edges of the leafy greens from last summer had turned to ravenous destruction this year. We enclosed most of the raised beds with chicken wire around the edge to keep the rabbits out, and that has worked, at least for this year. The plant starts in the smaller raised beds were protected with wire cages that I have used as plant supports in years past, but some of the cages have wider spaces between the wires, and the rabbits would still manage to get at the plants, and when I would go up to water in the morning several starts would have been entirely eaten. I replanted my squash seeds several times, but I finally resorted to buying a few larger starts at the store as it got to be too late for restarting seeds yet again. Even the chives had to be protected from the rabbits, as they seemed to find them especially appealing, and when I would go up to the garden the ground would be littered with chive blossoms.
I had a lot of trouble starting the warm season veggies from seed this year, and I eventually figured out that the 3-way planting mix I bought in bulk from the local bark chip place had too much sand in it and was way too heavy for starting seeds. So I ended up replanting the warm season veggie seeds in different potting soil, but eventually I gave in to temptation and ended up buying tomato, eggplant, and pepper starts because I grew too impatient waiting for my tiny little starts to get big enough to plant!
We have learned that we need to put bird netting over our berries if we want to have any to eat for ourselves, although every year we find ourselves conflicted because we end up having a few bird casualties due to birds getting caught in the net. Also, last year the rabbits chewed holes in the bird netting covering the blueberries, allowing more birds, and chipmunks, to get in before we finally figured out what was happening. So this year we tried something different. For the blueberries, which was the berry the rabbits seemed most interested in, we used chicken wire instead of bird netting over a PVC hoop structure. This has worked great, and we have not had a single bird get inside the blueberry hoop house. For the raspberries, last year we just draped the bird netting over the top of the berries and let the extra netting bunch up on the ground. We had quite a few birds get in under the bottom of the net, but then they couldn’t figure out how to get back out and would get caught in the extra netting. This year the raspberries got a hoop structure as well, and the netting was cut to fit and attached securely at the bottom with zip ties. We have only had one quail and one sparrow find their way under the net, and both of those I was able to free without much too trouble (although I did get quite a few bites from an angry sparrow, lol!)
The rhubarb is putting out a lot of stalks this year, and I have already made jam, rhubarb pickles, and frozen 10 pints of sliced rhubarb for making cobblers this winter. The broccoli grew some giant heads this year, and besides eating it for several dinners already, I’ve blanched and frozen several pounds. The cherry tomatoes will be ripening soon, and my eggplant that I feared was lost after the rabbit attack have rebounded with a ton of new growth. It’s time to rip out the bolted spinach and lettuce and get the basil starts planted. I’m also planning to harvest the garlic this weekend. The potatoes will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. They put out very lush growth this year with more flowers than I’ve ever had so I am hoping for another great harvest this year, and we’ll see if we beat last year’s potato harvest of 70 pounds. It will be time to harvest and can kale as soon as I find time to do it, and in the meantime I know a few feathered ladies who will be more than happy to help me eat it!
Spaceship Turkey Momma
We have three turkey mommas at the farm this year, and they all have interesting stories. Two of the turkey mommas are co-raising nine turkey poults and two chicken chicks, which I wrote about a few weeks ago in My Two Moms. But this is the story of the third turkey momma, who decided to go broody at right about the same time as Eleanor and her daughter, June, went broody in the small chicken coop. Only this turkey, who is now known as Spaceship Turkey Momma, decided to go broody in the stainless steel dishwasher tub in the front pasture that I call the spaceship. A couple of the turkeys had decided to start laying their eggs in the spaceship this spring, and it was not unusual to see one or even two turkeys in the spaceship at the same time. After a few weeks of frequent turkey sightings in the spaceship, I realized that we had a third broody turkey on our hands. I debated about whether I should give her eggs to hatch, and if so how many, and should I give her turkey or chicken eggs to hatch. I had already decided that Eleanor and June would be the ones to raise the new batch of turkeys for the year, since they had the good foresight to go broody in a coop which would be a suitable and safe environment to raise the babies in. The dishwasher tub, however, is small and crowded and not a very safe or suitable location for raising babies. There was not much room for a family to grow in, and at night it could not be locked securely to keep predators out if they should happen to get in through the electric fence. But this turkey seemed very committed to her broodiness, and the quickest way to get a broody turkey or chicken over their broodiness is to give in and let them raise some babies. She had already been broody for quite some time by now, so rather than give her eggs to hatch which would take either three weeks for chicken eggs, or four weeks for turkey eggs, I decided to buy some chicken chicks at the feed store and slip them under her at night. I had done this successfully with our bossy alpha chicken, Raquel, several years ago (Raquel, Reinvented), and I was hoping this strategy would work again.
I bought three Light Brahma chicks, which are a large breed chicken that I thought would be a nice addition to our mixed chicken and turkey flock. I waited until after dark, and I went out to sneak them under the broody turkey. The thing about broody hens is, they are known for getting a bit of a mean streak, and they will peck anything that gets within beak’s reach with a surprising amount of force. I picked up the first chick and quickly put it under her, although not before she pecked my hand and wrist several times. I realized that I needed to get the other two chicks under her and get out of there quick, before she got too upset and ended up pecking the chicks instead of me. So I picked up the other two chicks in one hand, and I put my other hand in easy pecking distance of her as a sacrifice to allow me to slip the other two chicks under her while she was vigorously pecking my other hand. I left quickly, and I crossed my fingers for a happy outcome. It is not unheard of for chicks to be killed by a momma hen when attempting this, or even when the chicks are hatched from eggs by the momma. The next morning I awoke early and rushed down to check on her. I was thrilled to see her transformed from the hissing, pecking broody turkey of the night before to a proud momma, purring contentedly with the happy sounds of a momma hen talking to her little ones. I could not see the chicks because they were tucked safely under her, but I knew from the sounds she was making that my plan was a success!
For the next four weeks, spaceship turkey momma raised her chicks very devotedly, keeping them in the outskirts of the pasture or hidden in the grass, safe from the other chickens and turkeys and in particular away from the other two turkey mommas who were very protective of their mixed brood of eleven little ones. Early on in her foray into motherhood, one of the chicks passed away in the night. It’s always hard to lose them at this young age, and you usually don’t know what the cause was, but it happens. For four weeks, spaceship turkey momma and her babies slept in the spaceship at night, until one night the momma decided it was time for her to rejoin her turkey flock. I heard loud peeping one night from her two chicken chicks, and I looked outside to see her perched on the six foot high roost while her babies screeched at her quite pathetically from the ground below wondering why their momma was way up there and not in the spaceship getting ready for bed. I confess to being a bit of a meddler in the affairs of my chickens and turkeys. I just can’t help myself when I see someone is unhappy, so I try to fix the problem, with varying degrees of success. On this night and for the next several nights when I heard the chicks peeping loudly, I went down to the pasture and gave spaceship turkey momma a few pokes in the chest until she stood up, heard the plaintive calls of her babies, and flew off the roost and went back to the spaceship for the night. Then one night when I did this, instead of flying down to be with her babies, she gave me a stern look and hissed at me as if to say not tonight, I’m staying on the roost. Which she did that night and has every night since then. Her chicks are very different in terms of their flying skills than the two chicken chicks raised by the other two turkey mommas. The chicken chicks raised by Eleanor and June have no trouble flying up to the roost at night to sleep with their turkey family. The chicks raised by spaceship turkey momma do not seem to have gone to flight school, and they remain firmly planted on the ground the majority of the time. The spaceship turkey chicks continue their pathetic calls for their momma at night, and now my nightly ritual is that I wait until the chicks are setting down for the night in the spaceship, and I pick them up and place them on the roost in the small coop which is currently unoccupied. During the day, the chicks still hang out with their momma, and they are getting a bit braver and are spending more time in closer proximity to the rest of the flock. When they get larger, I am hoping that they become part of the chicken flock and will learn to go into the larger coop at night with the rest of the chickens. Oh and if you’re wondering about names for the spaceship turkey chicks, thanks for all of the great space-themed name options that my Instagram friends have suggested! I’ve decided on Sputnick and Stardust for the chicks and Starbuck for the momma. To keep up on daily farm happenings and photos, follow me on Instagram @5rfarmoregon.
Our momma turkeys hatched their poults a month ago, and all of them were doing well except for one little turkey that came to be known as Pumpkin Pie. We had a camera set up inside the coop that live streamed to our TV so that we could observe the two turkey mommas and the poults and make sure that all was well without disturbing them too much. Right away I noticed that momma Eleanor would get up and move to another area of the coop, and all of the poults would follow except for one that would be left lying on its back waving its feet in the air frantically trying to right itself and not being able to. I went out to the coop a couple of times that first day to pick up the poult and stick it back under the momma, and hoped that after a good nights rest all would be well. The next day I noticed that the same thing was happening, so I brought it into the house and set up a small temporary indoor brooder with a heat lamp for the poult. I had read that sometimes newly hatched chicks had problems such as this which could be caused by not getting enough nutrition during development in the egg. So I decided to keep this poult inside, give it vitamins in its water and make sure that it was getting enough to eat, and hoped that after a few days of good nutrition, it would stop having this problem and be able rejoin the flock.
Turkey poults need to be kept in a very warm environment, approximately 100 degrees, for their first week after hatch. Within an hour or so of getting the poult set up in its indoor brooder with a heat lamp and a stuffed animal for company and feeling like everything was under control, a big wind storm blew in and knocked out our power! I quickly lit a fire in the wood stove and moved the brooder right in front of the stove. We spent a couple of hours hanging out by the wood stove, and by that time I was already becoming quite attached to this little one. Thankfully the power came back on later in the day, and we settled into a routine. Throughout the day I would check on the poult, and I would tap my finger in its food and water dishes, encouraging the poult to peck at them as a means of making sure that it was getting enough to eat and drink, since it didn’t have a turkey momma to show it the ropes. Whenever I wasn’t with the poult and I would hear a loud peeping, I would run to check on it. Occasionally I would find it on its back, although mostly it would be just fine, standing on top of its stuffed animal companion and peeping happily as if to announce its climbing achievement. In the evenings we would sit on the sofa together, and after a few days when it seemed to be doing well and I was no longer worried that it wouldn’t survive, I decided to name it Pumpkin Pie and let myself love her. I would get up several times during the night whenever I would hear loud peeping. Usually everything was just fine, I think she just wanted a bit of company. After the second night of loud peeping, Sean set up a metronome at night, which seemed to provide some soothing companionship. That’s when I knew that little Pumpkin Pie had worked her way into Sean’s heart too.
After about five nights in the house, Pumpkin Pie was eating and drinking well and was very energetic. I wanted her to be able to rejoin the flock, so I didn’t dare keep her inside any longer for fear that she would be rejected if I kept her inside too long. The morning I went to reintroduce Pumpkin Pie to the flock I carried her out to the coop in the pocket of my jacket. I opened up the coop door to find the mommas and the other eight poults and two chicken chicks all running around eating and doing what turkeys do, so I quickly put the poult into the coop with the others and no one seemed the wiser that there was a new poult in their midst. The reintroduction seemed to have gone perfectly, and I went back inside the house hoping that little Pumpkin Pie would remember me now that she had her turkey family back. I was pleasantly surprised to find that every time I would go out to the turkey yard to fill feeders or waterers and check on the little ones, that Pumpkin Pie would come running up to me. I would kneel down and lay my hand open on the ground, and she would sit down in my hand and let me pick her up. She is now a month old, and is still running up to me whenever I go out to visit the turkeys. The other poults will also come over to me to see if I have treats, but they will quickly lose interest in me if there are no treats to be had. Little Pumpkin Pie, however, is content to sit with me for as long as I like, no strings attached. It seems that after two years of having turkeys, I finally have the lap turkey I’ve always wanted, and I couldn’t be happier.
My Two Moms
We have turkey babies at the farm! Eleanor, who raised turkey chicks, known as poults, for us last spring is raising another batch for us this year. The twist this year is that she is raising them jointly with one of her daughters that she raised last year. Eleanor and her daughter, we’re calling her June for now, both decided to go broody at the same time in the small chicken coop where Eleanor raised babies last year. After I was sure they were committed to the task, I gave Eleanor and June 12 turkey eggs. I also decided to try something new and give them some chicken eggs as well. I know a few people who have had turkeys raise chicken chicks successfully, and I thought it would be fun so see them all grow up together. Turkey eggs need to be incubated for 28 days, and chicken eggs need to be incubated for 21 days, so I added 8 chicken eggs under the turkeys 7 days into their incubation. Eleanor and June devotedly sat on the eggs for 28 days, rotating the eggs back and forth between themselves. Eleanor, as the experienced momma, kept most of the eggs underneath her, but I noticed on warmer days the eggs would be split more equally between them. We had a good hatch of the turkey eggs – 10 out of 12, but only 2 out of 8 chicken eggs hatched. Perhaps it had to do with adding the chicken eggs after the mommas had already been incubating the turkey eggs for 7 days, or maybe its because the chicken eggs looked different compared to the turkey eggs, either way I’m pleased that two of the chicken eggs hatched, and it will be fun to see them grow up with the turkeys.
We set up a camera inside the coop that live streams to our TV so that we can observe the turkey mommas with the babies and make sure everything is going well. The mommas tend to be very protective of their poults, and the poults are also very wary of anything that’s not their momma. The first few days after the poults hatched, whenever I would open up the coop door the mommas would call the babies and they would all run and hide under the mommas. Having the camera set up so that we can watch them without disturbing them allows us to see all kinds of things that we would probably never see otherwise. We did have a couple of things go wrong this year, both of which we saw on the camera. One of the chicks that hatched was weak, and it kept falling over on its back and couldn’t get back up. The mommas wanted nothing to do with this little one and would move away from it rather than sitting on it to keep it warm. I brought this poult into the house for some TLC, and I’ll post the happy ending to little Pumpkin Pie’s story in my next blog. We also had one poult die in an unfortunate accident. I found the poult after it was already dead so there was nothing I could do, and while it was very sad, it was helpful to rewind the footage on the camera to be able to know exactly what happened instead of it being a mystery.
About a week after the poults hatched, they were ready to go outside and start exploring. Both of the mommas escort the poults around the pasture. The mommas are very protective, and they make alarm calls over practically every bird that flies by, whether it be a harmless robin or mourning dove, or an actual threat such as a hawk, or many times something that their keen eyes see in the distance or in the fir trees but that I do not see. The mommas and poults are in their own fenced area, separated from the rest of the turkeys and chickens, so that the poults can eat the special high protein feed that they need and also for their protection from being pecked by the other chickens and turkeys that they will one day share the pasture with. I’ve begun treat training with the poults to hopefully get them to be a bit less skittish around me. They are so fun to watch grow up, they are two weeks old now and are already taking their first dust baths and practicing their perching skills.