Little Garden Victories
It was a bit of an unusual year in the garden, filled with trials and tribulations, but in the end it was a good year with plenty of surprises and successes too. Have you heard the saying “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1,000?” The longer I farm, the more I realize that it’s true. You can do all the research, planning, and preparation that you want, but ultimately your success or failure will be determined by many factors that are out of your control – temperature, rainfall, and garden pests ranging from the tiniest viruses and insects up to four-legged critters with ravenous appetites. In the successes column this year were several of the early crops that I can usually depend on including peas, lettuce, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, kale, potatoes, and garlic. I was happy to have a good harvest of all of these things, but let’s face it, they are not the most exciting of the garden goods! Unfortunately, about halfway through strawberry season I realized that the chipmunks were able to get into the chicken wire cage that covers our strawberry patch with no problem whatsoever, and they soon took their toll on the remaining strawberries, so it’s on our garden to do list to redo the chicken wire cage with hardware cloth to keep the chipmunks out next year. But even so, we still had a pretty good berry season, with lots of blueberries and raspberries in the freezer for making jams with when I can find the time and for enjoying in desserts over the winter.
Let’s continue with the successes shall we, before going down the path of garden failures! Despite being really busy this summer, I couldn’t resist going a bit crazy with my entries for the county fair. I entered 33 items – a combination of veggies and flowers from the garden, preserved goods, honey and other beehive products, eggs and my feather wreath. I came home with 28 ribbons, mostly blues and a few second and third place ribbons as well. My most exciting win was the big purple Champion ribbon I won for my display of extracted honey, comb honey, and beeswax. It was a really fun time, and despite my ribbon board getting a bit overcrowded between last year’s and this year’s winnings, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to resist going overboard next year!
The summer was slow to warm up, and over the course of the summer we didn’t have as many warm days as we usually do so the warm season veggies were slow to start producing. After a bumper crop of cucumbers last year, I decided to put in a tall arch trellis for the cucumbers to grow up instead of sprawling all over the ground, and I also didn’t plant as many since I had so many cucumbers last year. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I hardly got any cucumbers this summer and my beautiful arch trellis remained mostly barren all summer! This is partially due to the increase in burrowing rodents in my garden beds this year. In addition to the usual voles, the ground squirrel has been a problem for the first time ever this year, and I think they are what lead to the demise of most of my cucumber plants. I guess next year my strategy will be to go back to planting too many cucumber plants just to make sure I get enough. I’m not sure what to do to prevent crop loss due to burrowing rodents next year, it’s one of those problems that happens fast and seems hard to prevent. I had so-so luck with my zucchini and yellow crookneck squash this year due to some problems with blossom end rot, so instead of the usual problem of being overrun with too many to keep up with, I actually found myself wishing I had a few more at times. An early hot spell caused most of my broccoli to bolt this year, although we still got several meals of smaller heads and side shoots. After a disappointing first attempt at growing cauliflower last year, I actually grew three small heads of purple cauliflower this year. It does take up a lot of real estate for a pretty small harvest, so I’m not sure I’ll grow it again next year.
The tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen this year, so we spent Labor Day weekend visiting a few local farms on Sauvie Island and brought home piles of beautiful tomatoes, apples and a few other things to supplement our harvest. In the end, my tomatoes finally came as well, and I was able to put away about a dozen batches of roasted tomatoes in the freezer, and I also canned 10 quarts of marinara sauce between what I grew and what we bought at the local farm. I’ve also got about 10 half-pints of pesto in the freezer. The tomatoes and pesto are two of my favorite quick and easy pasta meals over the winter, so I’m happy I was able to get those preserved. My onions and green beans did well, and I also got a few butternut squash. My Three Sisters planting with popcorn and beans did better this year than last year due to earlier planting and providing early supports for the beans, and I’m excited to harvest them both which will be any day now. Without a doubt my biggest garden success was the 22 pound Hubbard squash that I grew! I’ve never grown it before, and every year I like to grow something new just for fun since I always get a lot of interesting seeds in various seed swaps that I participate in, so the Hubbard squash was the biggest winner this year! I already have next year’s new garden experiment in the planning stages, which is to put in a small Hugelkulture bed for growing pumpkin, which I’ve never been very successful at growing. So all in all I guess the take home message from the garden this year is to be thankful for the harvest you do get, don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to try new things, you just may be rewarded in the end.
Full Coop, Happy Heart
It’s been a while since we added a big group of chickens to the farm. In 2012, we moved the founding members of 5R Farm – Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona – from the backyard of our Portland house to the farm, and we also got 24 chicks for the farm. We built a big coop that was 10 feet x 12 feet and they had a big pasture in which to roam and live the good life. Chickens don’t live the longest lives, and over the years we’ve lost most of the chickens from our first farm flock. We haven’t had any predator losses of the girls in the main coop, but unfortunately there are a lot of reproductive problems and other fatal conditions that are all too common in chickens. These conditions are mostly due to the changes in their anatomy and physiology that have resulted from chicken breeding over the years to produce more and bigger eggs. Those of us who love our feather family could care less about the eggs after our girls reach a certain age, we just want our girls to be happy and healthy and live long lives. We still have Raquel, one of the first three chickens we got back in 2010. She’s our beautiful and bossy barred rock, and at 9-1/2 years old, she’s still our flock matriarch. We also still have five of the ladies we got in 2012 – Buttercup, Squeaky 2, Reina, Other One, and a speckled Sussex who just goes by Sussex – when you have dozens of chickens not all of them get names! So it’s pretty good actually that we have six chickens that are over seven years old. These ladies are all in henopause, they no longer lay eggs, but they will continue to live out their retirement here as thanks for all of the joy they have given me over the years. But as much as much as I love my elder ladies, the big coop that we built in 2012 had been getting a bit empty over the years, and I longed to see it full again.
Over the years we’ve hatched small batches of chicks, many of which have turned out to be roosters and have gone off to live on other farms. But we have added a few ladies over the years – Rosalie (daughter of Rosie), Ruby 2, and Pippi are three of the green egg layers we’ve hatched here on the farm. We also added heritage Narragansett turkeys to the farm back in 2015, and we spent a couple of years focusing on them and getting their set-up working smoothly. Over the last couple of years we’ve hatched and also bought a few chicks for the turkey yard, which is separate from our main chicken coop and backyard, and sadly we have had predator losses of several young chicks and pullets in the turkey yard, due to a weasel is my best guess, and they are hard to beat. Despite my efforts to build our laying flock back up over the years, it just hasn’t happened due to one reason or another. So this was the year that I decided that I would buy a bunch of chicks from the feed store. For the full size chicken breeds, the chicks are are sexed at the hatchery, and there is supposed to be an approximately 90% chance that the chicks will be be female. I wanted to get some of my favorite breeds from my original flock, which include barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island red, black Australorp, and Easter egger. I’ve also heard that the Buff Orpington is a great breed – like the puppy dog of the chicken world, so I added them to the list as well. Lastly, I wanted to get some silkies to replace our sweet silkie Millie that we lost last fall. Silkies are a bantam (miniature) breed of chicken and because of that they cannot be sexed at the hatchery, so they are sold “straight run” which means that you are equally likely to get hens as roosters (and in my case, usually roosters!)
In February we added 14 chicks, three of which were silkies, and the rest were my other favorite breeds that I mentioned above. They spent their first three weeks growing up in 2 foot x 4 foot wooden box (called a brooder) with a heat lamp that I had in my home office. Lap chicken training starts early around here, after all we do want friendly chickens! So those first few weeks are a really fun time of bringing the chicks out to the living room for evenings spent on the sofa, watching TV and getting to know each other. After the first few weeks, the chicks start kicking up a lot of dust as they scratch and peck in the pine shavings that line their brooder. Soon every surface in the house is covered with a fine dust, and it’s time to move the chicks to their outside accommodations. They are kept separate from the grown up chickens until they are old enough and big enough that they can’t be bullied as easily by the older chickens. During this transitional time, we raised the young chickens in a 10 foot x 10 foot secure outdoor run, which has a roof and wind protection on the sides, and had two heat lamps to keep them warm at night. When the chicks were about 3 months old they joined our existing older ladies, and the integration went surprisingly smoothly. I think it was because we added eleven young chickens to our older nine chickens, the relatively equal number of chickens in the two flocks made for an easy time of it. I’m happy to report that all eleven of the full size breeds turned out to be hens, which never happens to me! I fully expected one or two roosters in the bunch, but I got lucky this time around. As for the silkies, my rooster magnet was in full force again this year, and only one of the three silkie chicks ended up being a hen. As you may recall, when I got three silkie chicks last year they ALL ended up being roosters. But my silkie girl, Bella, is such a sweetheart that I say it was worth all five of those silkie roos just to get this beautiful and sweet little lady. Now when I do evening rounds, and I close up the big coop and I see it full of chickens, my heart is full again.
Welcome Home, Honeys
It was six years ago that we started beekeeping and welcomed our first honeybees to the farm. After the first hive was successfully established, we took splits from the first hive to establish two more hives. Our beehives did very well until the winter of 2017-18 when we lost one hive, and this past winter we lost the other two. Moisture in the hives over the winter can be a big challenge to beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest. Although I had taken efforts to prepare the hives to survive our wet winters by installing a special cover (called a Vivaldi cover) to help vent moisture from the hive as well as leaving plenty of honey in the hives as a winter food source, sometimes our best efforts are not enough. Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and very rewarding too, and it’s also one in which we are continually learning how to become better beekeepers as we go along. I have ordered a package of bees which will arrive in April, and we will start again. In order to prepare myself for the big day, as well as helping any new beekeepers out there who are just getting started, it seemed like a good idea to revisit the blog I wrote after setting up my first hive.
Flashback to April 2013 – On Saturday morning the bees I had ordered arrived at the bee store, and we picked them up and went immediately to the farm to install them into their hive. I purchased the bees in what is called a bee package, which is a small wood and wire mesh box that contains 3 pounds or approximately 10,000 bees. In preparation for setting up our first hive, I took a beekeeping class from the store where I purchased the bees. The process of transferring the bees into the hive sounded easy enough in the class (there was only one slide in the Powerpoint presentation after all!), but there are lots of steps in the process and all the while you can’t help but think about all that could go wrong with 10,000 angry bees on the loose! Actually it went pretty well, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how tolerant the bees were of my actions and to realize that they really just want to go about their own business.
The first order of business was to put on the protective bee gear, which included a jacket and veil (which is the screened hood) and long leather gloves – which worked great except for the slight decrease in finger dexterity due to the gloves (more on that later). While the bees are being transported in their package to the bee store, they feed on a simple syrup mixture in a tin can that hangs in the middle of the box. The first step in transferring the bees to the hive is to pry the tin can loose and quickly lift it out of the box, stick your hand in the box, and remove the tiny cage (called the queen cage) that the queen bee is contained in that hangs from the top of the box. Then you have to quickly put the tin can back in the box to keep the bees from escaping. Since the queen bee meets her colony for the first time when they are packaged for shipment, the queen is confined in a very small cage, about the size of a lipstick tube, to allow her colony to be exposed to her pheromones and learn to identify her as their queen before they are allowed to interact with her. If the bees are allowed contact with their new queen before they have learned to recognize her as their queen, there is a possibility that they may kill her, hence the reason for the queen cage. Before transferring the queen cage into the beehive, you remove a tiny cork at the bottom of her cage and replace it with a miniature marshmallow, then attach the queen cage with a thumbtack to one of the frames inside of the hive (did I mention that you’re wearing kind of thick gloves during all of this?!) Over the course of a couple of days, the queen and the other bees will eat through the marshmallow which frees the queen from her cage to join her colony. Doesn’t that sound just like a romantic fairytale!
If you thought that first part of setting up the hive was a bit nerve-wracking, just wait until you hear about the next part. Working quickly, you give the box containing the bees a quick bang on the ground to knock the bees loose so that they fall onto the bottom of the box, then you remove the tin can again and pour the bees through the relatively small hole in the box into the bee hive. Again, this sounded easy enough when it was described in the class that I took, but let me tell you as soon as I whacked the box on the ground and I heard the loud buzzing of 10,000 bees I got a little freaked out! After several whacks and repeated pouring and shaking of the box, I was able to get the majority of the bees into the hive. You don’t have to get every last bee into the hive, just most of them, and then you leave the box propped in front of the hive entrance and they are supposed to find their way into the hive by following the pheromone scent of the queen. It didn’t seem to me that the bees were all that interested in leaving their box and going into the hive, so I came back a couple more times during the afternoon to whack the box and shake them into the hive, and I’d say eventually all but probably 100 of them went into the hive. After a couple hours of excitement of transferring the bees into the hive, I was more than a little ready to close the hive up and be done with it. The last steps were to put a pollen patty and an inverted jar of simple syrup in the top of the hive. These are both needed to feed the colony until there are plenty of flowering plants blooming later in the spring for the bees to feed on.
I did forget to do one thing which ended up causing a bit of a problem later, and that was that I forgot to slide the frames (which are what the bees build their comb on) closely up against the queen cage to maintain proper bee space in the hive. Bee space is the gap the bees need to pass freely between and around the frames in the hive, with the ideal bee space being between 1/4 and 3/8 inch. If the gap between two frames, or the gap between the edge of a frame and the hive box is greater than the desired bee space, the bees will build what is called brace comb or bridge come to fill the larger space, making it very difficult, sticky and messy to remove frames during hive inspections. When I went back to inspect the hive a week after installing the bees to make sure that the queen had been released and that the hive was successfully established, I realized the importance of maintaining bee space right away. As I said earlier, beekeeping is a hobby that is constantly teaching you something new. One of the best parts of having a beehive is the feeling you get after working with the bees and inspecting the hive. I always feel exhilarated the rest of the day, and the smell of beeswax that stays with you is one of those simple pleasures that you’ll just have to experience for yourself. Happy beekeeping!
Wishing away Winter
Oh winter, I’ll be glad to bid this one goodbye. It started out as a fairly uneventful winter, busy with work and the holidays, but still a pretty good one. We had a near miss with an attempted hawk attack which thankfully the turkeys alerted me to just in time for me to run out and scare the hawk away. The weather had been mild, and it looked like spring was right around the corner. I was thinking of starting my seeds in the greenhouse, and I even spent an afternoon doing some weeding in the garden. Then a few weeks ago things went downhill in a hurry. We’ve got quite a few elderly ladies in our chicken flock, many of our girls are coming up on seven years old this spring, the last survivors of the two dozen chicks we got when we expanded our flock in 2012 after moving to the farm. When the girls come back into laying eggs in the late winter/early spring after taking a few months off from laying eggs, it is unfortunately not all that uncommon for reproductive problems to rear their head at this time of year. Twitchy was the first one that I noticed was unwell. She had lost weight and one day I found her hiding in one of the nest boxes with one of her eyes swollen shut and a bloody comb from being pecked. I isolated her in our small spare coop to heal, and after a couple of days I began to see blood in the coop, a surprising amount and I knew her fate wasn’t good. I treated her for a common parasite known to cause intestinal bleeding, but it didn’t cure the problem. I suspected either she either ate something that she shouldn’t have, or possibly an egg broke inside her, or maybe she had cancer. Whatever it was, it took her quickly and for that at least I am thankful.
After that things settled down again for a bit. We had some cold weather that kept me indoors so I spent some time learning about sourdough starter after acquiring some from a friend. Antonio Bread-eras and I baked some very tasty treats including our new breakfast favorite sourdough pancakes, as well as blueberry muffins, bread, and even pretzels. I finally made time to do the feather wreath project I had been wanting to make for a few years with my ever growing and embarrassingly large feather collection. I packaged seeds that I had saved from last years garden and participated in a seed swap. And of course I was busy as always making soap, including getting a few new pretty floral varieties of soap, lotion bars, and lotions stocked in my web store for Valentine’s Day.
Then a couple of weeks ago I noticed that one of our back deck bantam chickens, Pepa, was acting a bit off. She was breathing heavily at times and just not acting her normal self. After trying to treat her with a couple of over the counter medicines for respiratory ailments with no success, I took her to the vet. Not every chicken at the farm goes to the vet when they get sick, in fact these days it’s rare for me to go to the vet. Over the years I’ve learned which types of things I can cure at home and which things are likely fatal, and in all honesty in those situations, despite the vet’s and my best intentions and best of care you just cannot save them from all too many things. But Pepa was special, and although I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I still felt like she had a chance. After she spent six days at the vet, it became clear that they didn’t know what was wrong and weren’t having any luck treating her. I called to let the vet know that I was going to come in to get her and take her home. At the last minute the vet decided to do an x-ray which revealed that she had egg yolk peritonitis, a fatal condition where a loose egg yolk is floating around in the abdomen causing serious infection with no way to treat it. In Pepa’s case the vet said it looked like she maybe had four eggs that had gotten off track and had broken in her abdomen causing her digestive system to basically shut down. The vet gave me some painkillers for her and said good luck. Of course I immediately burst into tears before I even got back to the car. Less than 24 hours after bringing Pepa home, she was gone.
A couple of days after that, Pepa’s best friend Millie began to go downhill. I had noticed that Millie had been limping a bit and that her appetite wasn’t very good, but I just figured she may be a bit depressed about living with a rambunctious rooster and that she possibly had gotten slightly injured as a result. But then I noticed symptoms of a reproductive problem in Millie. One day her legs stopped working right, and she couldn’t hold herself upright. I moved her into the mudroom in a small crate and cared for her as best I could. At first I tried giving her liquid vitamins, electrolytes and nutrient rich liquid food to boost her strength. But for a pint-sized sick chicken that little lady sure had a lot of fight in her! She didn’t have an appetite, and she absolutely hated being force fed. I didn’t have the heart to fight her, so I let her go. I kept her as comfortable as I could, but in a couple of days she was gone, less than a week after Pepa. The loss of these two sweet little bantams hit me hard. There was just something about their tiny fluffy bodies that held such spunky and larger than life personalities that gave them an extra special place in my heart. In the middle of all of this, on a warm sunny day when the beehives should have been active but weren’t, I opened up both beehives for a quick inspection to discover they both had died. One was a smaller colony that never seemed to really thrive, but the other hive was a strong one, and I’m not sure what the cause of death of that one was. I’ve ordered a new package of bees for April, and we will start again this spring.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to write yet another sad blog, and now I’ve gone and done it anyway. Sorry about that, most days are usually happy ones here on the farm. I guess it’s just these sad days that I feel like I need to write about in order to put them behind me. So now I just want winter and the sadness to go away, and to get back to the warm days of spring, when the air is filled with the promise of things to come and new life on the farm. We’ll be getting a dozen new chicks in the next few weeks, so I’m looking forward to bringing a big dose of joy to the farm soon, and I promise the next post will be a happy one.
We’ve had so much going on at the farm that the end of summer and fall just flew by this year! A big project that has been ongoing for much of the year is the building of a hobby workshop behind our house which my husband is building himself except for the pouring of the concrete foundation which we hired a contractor to do. The photo below is one from several months ago while the building was being framed. The building is now entirely walled in, with doors, windows and a roof. The siding will be going up next, and I’ll be sharing more photos of the progress soon. It will be really exciting to have this new building since I always have multiple projects competing for space in the house during the spring and summer between cleaning and storing garden harvests, canning, sorting and packing eggs, and making products for my soap and lotion business. I’m already looking forward to spreading out in luxury next year in our new 600 square foot space. My husband will also use it for practicing drums, and since it will have a full bathroom, almost fully functional kitchen (minus a stove), and a wood stove I’m sure we’ll use it for other things too.
As is usual with the farm life, we had times of both happiness and sorrow with the chicken and turkey flock. All three of the new silkie chickens that I added to the flock this spring turned out to be roosters, and so I had to move them from the back deck bantam chicken coop down to the turkey yard in order to give the bantam ladies a break from too many roosters. Unfortunately it was only a few days of the silkie roosters being down in the turkey yard before a weasel discovered them and killed one of the white silkies. I should have had a more secure nighttime setup for the silkies, but we had not had any issues with the weasel since the summer before, and I had thought that those days were behind us. After the attack, I began bringing the two remaining silkie roos into the more secure spare chicken coop in the backyard at night, and in the day I would bring them back down to the turkey yard where they had their own separate fenced area to keep them safe from the turkeys while they got used to each other. After a few weeks of this routine, they turkeys accepted that these strange looking little fluff balls were their new roommates and were not to be chased for entertainment, well for the most part that is, which is about as much as you can hope for with turkeys!
As dusk began to fall earlier around Halloween, the weasel struck again, and this time it was my beloved Baby Stardust who we lost. Baby Stardust was one of three baby chicks that I gave to Spaceship Turkey momma to raise last summer. One of Stardust’s siblings died at a few days old, and the other sibling was killed by the weasel as a young chicken last summer. So Stardust lived her life with the turkeys, never learning that she was a chicken and that she should do things like go into the chicken coop at night for her safety. I put Stardust to bed in the coop every night, and on the few nights I was away on vacation we always had a chicken sitter put her in. It must have been close to 500 times that I put her in the coop. Every night before dusk I would go down to the turkey yard, and she would run up to me grumbling in her cute little way, as if to tell me she’d been waiting for me, and I’d pick her up and carry her into the coop, telling her she really should get the hang of this any day now. On the fateful night, we had gone out to dinner and darkness fell before we got home. As soon as we came up the driveway I knew something was wrong because all of the turkeys were huddled on the ground instead of being up on their roost. I’ve only seen them on the ground after dark like this on nights when there’s been a predator attack or on the night right after an attack. Baby was lying dead in the yard, and upon reviewing the video footage from the security camera in the turkey yard, we could tell that it was a weasel that attacked her within the half hour before we got home. It was heartbreaking to lose this one of a kind lady, who had a spunky personality that was larger than life and who lived her life to the fullest among the turkeys.
Back to the happier times at the farm, my favorite turkey lady Pumpkin Pie is doing great after a scare during the summer when she suffered from a serious case of internal egg laying. She spent almost a week at the vet’s office recovering and getting a hormone implant to prevent her from laying eggs. I am thankful for every day that I get to spend with Miss PP after coming so close to losing her. It was a great year in the garden, and with a mild start to fall I was harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant later than ever before. I planted a few veggies late in the summer for a fall garden which I have long wanted to do but never seem to get around to. I planted a fall crop of potatoes and turnips which both did very well, and it will be nice to have some additional vegetables in storage for roasting through the winter. The fall plantings of broccoli and cauliflower did not mature quick enough to yield anything before the cold weather arrived, so that was a bust. I’ve still got carrots and radishes in the ground which I don’t think matured quite enough either, although I haven’t actually pulled them up to check, so I guess I should go check on them soon and see how they did. But all in all, I’m really happy to know that I can grow two crops of potatoes a year since that’s one of my favorite things to store through the winter.
As we head into winter it’s already time to start dreaming of spring and making plans for adding new chicks to the farm. Many of our chickens will be coming up on seven years old next year! We still have several of the two dozen chickens that we got in 2012 when we got the first batch of chicks for the farm including Twitchy, Squeeky 2, Reina, Buttercup, Jumpy, Other One, and two unnamed speckled Sussex. Most of these older ladies are still doing well, but a few are showing signs of their age and I fear that Twitchy is in her last days or weeks with us. But for the most part it is amazing how well these ladies have aged and I hope that most of them will stay with us a while longer. Our flock matriarch Raquel will be nine years old next March, she is still doing well and keeping everyone in line with her swift beak and keen sense of justice. But these ladies are definitely slowing down in the egg laying department, and most of the rest of our chickens are a few years old too, so we need to add some new chickens to our flock to keep up a steady flow of eggs. I would like to add more chickens in with the turkeys to give the two silkie roosters a few more ladies to keep them occupied, although before doing that I probably need to downsize the turkey flock a bit. We’ve gone from the initial plan of just keeping a tom and two females when we started a few years ago to having 13 turkeys now. They are so charismatic in a bigger flock, and the turkey eggs are so beautiful and fun to collect that I have enjoyed having a big flock of turkey hens too much to sell any of them. But I think I do need to make a few changes next year, and luckily I still have all winter to figure it out.
Blue Ribbon Summer
It’s been a whirlwind of a summer with lots of time spent watering, watering, and more watering due to our record setting heat waves and number of days above 90 degrees this year. There have also been baby chicks and baby turkey poults to take care of as well as the rest of the flock, sorting and collecting eggs to sell, a few chicken and turkey poult injuries to tend to, and I’m sure a few other farm emergencies that I’m forgetting about. But there’s also been time to have some fun this summer, including entering the county and state fair. I missed the county fair last summer due to having too much going on to get entries ready, but this year I made it a priority to enter, and I’m so glad that I did. Two years ago I entered a few canned goods and some of my eggs in the county fair, and I won a few ribbons which was fun. This year I decided to up my game and I entered a ton of stuff, as in 40 things!! I love flower gardening, and I do have a pretty nice flower garden, so I decided to enter about a dozen kinds of my perennial flowers. I also entered a couple of dozen different kinds of agricultural products including vegetables, herbs, eggs, and honey. Jams, jellies, and pickles rounded out my entries. On fair day we went to the floral building first, and when I saw the big rosette Reserve Best of Division ribbon on my ‘Kent’s Beauty’ oregano I started jumping up and down like a schoolgirl. Yup, I did. And I clapped my hands too, and then I jumped up and down some more! I got first, second, and third place ribbons for all of my floral entries except for one. I was off to a good start, and we headed to the agricultural building.
My vegetables, herbs, eggs, and canned goods all did really well, and I’m afraid I had another spell of jumping and hand clapping when I saw that my largest potato entry had won a Reserve Grand Champion rosette ribbon! All in all I came home with 35 ribbons, mostly blues, and a few second and third place ribbons too. They also award small cash prizes for each ribbon, so I came home with $54 in prize money too, not too shabby! I definitely am going to enter the county fair next year, as I think I may just be addicted to the adrenaline rush of those big rosette ribbons!
The state fair was a month later, and I only entered a dozen things because by that time my summer flowers were fading with all of the heat we’d been having, and also the categories are different. The state fair doesn’t have any categories for eggs, I mean come on, what’s more exciting than eggs people, sheesh! I won 9 ribbons at the state fair, none of those big rosette ribbons, but my largest potato did get a blue ribbon which I was super happy about because we have some really great agricultural regions in Oregon, and there were quite a few impressive giant vegetables on display. I didn’t win ribbons for my watermelon jelly or my blueberry-lemon-basil jam which is kind of a mystery because they were mighty fine looking and tasting if I do say so myself. 🙂 When we pick up our exhibits we’ll get the scoring cards so that may answer a few questions. All in all it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I made time to enter the fairs. Sadly I think the fairs may become a thing of the past in the not too distant future. I’ve heard rumors of low attendance and fewer entrants, and some fairs in the urbanizing parts of the state are even doing away with the 4-H exhibits in the fair due to low participation rates. Times are a changing, but for now I’m gonna enjoy farm living while our county is still rural and the big city is still an hour away.
I’m sure you can tell by now that it’s been a great year in the garden here at the farm. I’ve been putting away as many fruits and veggies for winter as I have time to. There are plenty of pickles, jams and jelly for us and for gifts for friends and family. The freezer is getting full with roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, and pesto. The pantry is full of potatoes, onions, and garlic. My three sisters corn-beans-squash experimental planting is doing pretty well. We have several ears of corn developing, and each new tassel and baby ear that appears gives me an inexplicable thrill. There’s just something so jaunty about those baby corns with the little floofy bundle of silks on top! I’m growing some different heirloom tomatoes this year from seed swaps I participated in, and we’ve got some gigantic Black Krim tomatoes just starting to ripen that are so fun to harvest. The largest one weighed in at 1 pound 5 ounces (yeah, I’m that weird person who weighs everything, from large vegetables to giant eggs). We’ve been eating some great meals from the garden this year thanks to a new cookbook that I was gifted by a friend who knew I needed some new inspiration for how to use all of our fresh veggies. The cookbook is called Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, and I highly recommend it. I’ve had so much fun in the garden this year that I decided to grow a fall garden too, which is something I don’t usually get around to. So far I’ve got another crop of seed potatoes in the ground, as well as small patches of broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, radish, collard, and spinach. We do have a marauding rabbit that’s been getting past our vegetable garden fence lately and chowing down on the rhubarb leaves (which I thought was supposed to be toxic so go figure), anyway fingers crossed that it doesn’t run out of rhubarb and turn its attentions to my tiny seedlings! Thanks to those of you that still read blogs out there, 🙂 and I’ll try to be better about posting more regularly now that things are getting a bit less busy at the farm as summer winds down.
I’ve been so busy with the garden, chickens and turkeys, and my hobby soap making business that I’ve had a hard time keeping up with the blog lately, sorry about that! If you ever wonder what’s going on at the farm, you can always jump on Instagram and see the latest happenings @5rfarmoregon. The garden is off to a great start this year. We’ve been enjoying plenty of greens and fresh salads from the garden, as well as peas, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, broccoli and basil. The lettuce and spinach have just bolted, so the chickens have been enjoying garden fresh salad of bolted greens. I just started harvesting potatoes and garlic a couple of days ago, and pretty soon it will be time to pull the onions, but I’m hoping they’ll get a bit bigger so I’m giving them a few more days. The leeks are doing well, those are always so easy to grow and I usually plant way to many so I did scale back this year and I’m only growing a couple dozen and they’ll be ready soon as well. The rhubarb is going crazy this year, I’ve frozen a ton for making jams and desserts, and you can’t even tell that I’ve harvested any because my two plants are still so huge.
I’ll be honest, even though I do consider myself to have a green thumb, there are always a few gardening failures every year. I haven’t grown carrots in a long time, and now I remember why. They end up stubby and deformed and not really worth the effort, although I did get a good laugh out of my carrots with legs this year so maybe it was worth it after all! The Chinese red meat radishes that I’m growing have started to bolt before they got very big, but I do still have some seeds left so maybe I’ll try them as a fall crop and see if they do better for me. The jury is still out on my three sisters planting of corn, beans and squash this year. I’m just doing a small test patch for fun, and even if nothing comes of it, it will be still be pretty, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy gardening is that I love spending time in it and admiring the lushness of a summer garden.
I have been picking raspberries and blueberries every other day for a few weeks now. I’ve been freezing a lot of raspberries for future jam making and desserts. I think I’ve got about 6 quarts of raspberries in the freezer already. I made blueberry jam for the first time this year, it’s a blueberry-lemon-basil recipe and it turned out really well so I’m planning to make another batch of it. I need to get started canning or freezing the chard and kale before it gets past its prime and the aphids set in. There’s always so much to do at this time of year, but I like to be busy and it’s such a great feeling to be eating from the garden in the summer and continuing to eat preserved foods from the garden throughout the fall and winter.
We have new turkey babies (which are called poults) at the farm, and they are so very adorable! For those of you unfamiliar with turkey anatomy, the snood is a protuberance above a turkey’s beak, which is long on the toms and quite short on the turkey hens. This is our third year having our turkeys hatch and raise poults, and it’s a wonderful experience watching the mommas raise the babies. Two of the turkeys went broody in the small empty coop in the turkey yard that we have used in the past to let the mommas raise their poults. Unfortunately these two mommas are not my tried and true mommas from years past, they are two of our younger turkeys that we hatched last year. These two ladies are not quite as friendly toward me as our other turkeys, and I’ve endured quite a lot of hissing and more than a few pecks over this last month as I go about tending to filling waterers and feeders and scooping poop (that’s gratitude for you!) Since they are not experienced mommas I was a bit worried about their qualifications at first, but they’ve turned out to be pretty good mommas. Out of the 12 eggs I gave them to hatch, five got broken during the 28-day incubation period. Six of the remaining seven eggs hatched, and there was only one unfertilized egg, including the broken ones (way to go Ringo!)
After a few days in the coop with the newly hatched poults, the mommas were ready to leave the coop for some fresh air, green grass, and dust baths. The poults were a bit apprehensive to leave the coop at first, but after repeated encouraging calls from the mommas, who would go back and forth, in and out of the coop several times to show the babies how it was done, the poults eventually took the big plunge into the great outdoors. It wasn’t long before the poults were learning how to eat grass and take dust baths by following their mommas example. Sadly, during one of these first days out it appeared that one of the poults got trampled by one of the mommas from what I could tell. When I found the poult it was all sprawled out and gasping for air. I brought it into the house to try to save it, but it died shortly after. These accidents do happen, and although it’s very sad it’s really not that surprising when you consider the giant size of the mommas when compared to the poults and the fact that for the first couple of weeks the poults are constantly either under the mommas or underfoot when they’re moving around.
The poults grow up very fast, and at a month old now they have transformed from tiny fluff balls to adventurous youngsters that can already fly several feet off the ground. We took the poultry netting fence down yesterday that we had surrounding the turkey mommas coop and an area of pasture to protect them from the rest of the flock. Either one or both of the mommas would fly over the fence multiple times a day, getting temporarily separated from the poults, or sometimes the poults would sneak through the fence leaving the mommas inside frantic to get out to the poults. Occasionally my favorite turkey and lowest on the pecking order, Pumpkin Pie, would get a bit too close to the fence, and I’d come out to find her and one of the mommas viciously biting at each others face and neck through the fence, and I would have to separate them. It’s a good thing that I work from home so that I am available to run outside a dozen or more times a day whenever I hear sounds of distress coming from the turkey yard, LOL! So now that the poults can fly and run pretty fast, we decided it was time to take down the fence so the mommas and their littles could roam the pasture and start to integrate with the rest of the flock. For now the mommas try to keep the poults as far away from the rest of the flock as possible and keep them out of trouble. Any time another turkey or chicken gets too close, the mommas will go into attack mode and chase the intruder away, and Ringo’s advances are met with a hasty retreat by the mommas, all the while calling the poults to hurry along and follow the mommas to safety. So far so good, and fingers crossed for a successful integration. The next step will be when the mommas decide it’s time to go back to sleeping on the high roost again instead of in the coop, and I’m sensing that this transition is right around the corner. That’s always an entertaining nightly ritual to observe, with much jockeying for position taking place, much pecking and flying up and down from the roost for a good half hour or more until everyone settles into position for the night. I’m sure to be taking lots of pictures during this time, so stay tuned for those in my next turkey blog!
My Happy Place
Now that warmer spring days are finally here, I’ve been spending more time gardening which is one thing that I really miss in the winter. I see my friends on social media who live in warmer climates gardening all through the winter and getting their spring plants in the ground way before I can plant most things in our climate, and by this time of year I can’t wait to get my hands back into the dirt. I transplanted some of the cool season veggies from the greenhouse into the garden a few weeks ago, and they are now at the stage where every day you can almost see them growing. Every weekend I have been planting more of the raised beds, and it’s finally starting to look like a garden again. Most importantly, my absolute favorite thing to grow – the tomatoes – that were transplanted into larger pots while waiting for warmer temperatures are now almost big enough to be planted out into the garden. I planted seeds for the last batch of the warm season veggies last weekend, including some beautiful bean seeds (Jacob’s cattle gold bean and good mother stallard bean) as well as some black corn and popcorn seeds. These are all new things I’m trying this year that I received in seed swaps that I participated in. I also planted several varieties of flower seeds that I received from trading with friends over the last few months that I’m excited to have in the garden this year including zinnia, cosmos, poppies, coral sage, and a milkweed “Hairy Balls” variety that sounds pretty interesting!
Our six baby chicks that we got a couple of months ago are doing well and growing up fast. They are living in a screened off section of the coop that they will eventually share with Millie and Pepa when they get a big enough that they won’t be picked on too much by Pepa. Millie has already fallen in love with the chicks, so she is allowed to spend much of her day in with the chicks. Millie is a silkie breed of chicken, which is known for being excellent mothers and they are often used to hatch eggs laid by other chickens because of their excellent mothering instincts and their desire to go broody and hatch eggs. For a couple of weeks Millie would watch the baby chicks on the other side of the divider we placed in the coop to keep the chicks separate and safe from the larger chickens. Then one day Millie started making all sorts of cute mother hen sounds toward the chicks and acted like she really wanted to get in with the baby chicks. So I let her in under a watchful eye, and she adopted them pretty much instantly. She calls them over for treats and watches over them just as if she had hatched them herself. Pepa on the other hand is more interested in chasing the chicks than befriending them, so for now Pepa has to stay on the other side of the divider while Millie plays momma hen. I was pleasantly surprised that of the three Mille Fleur d’Uccle chicks we got, only one is a boy and two are girls. They are turning out to be beautiful birds with very sweet dispositions. It’s still too early to tell the sex of the silkie chicks, they are notoriously hard to tell the boys from the girls until four to six months old or until they crow so we still have a couple of months to go before we’ll know how many boys and girls we have.
In turkey news, it wasn’t too long ago that I was wishing that one of our turkey hens would go broody so that I could give her some eggs to hatch. Well it seems like I went from having zero broody turkeys to four broody turkeys in a matter of days! Two turkeys went broody in the small vacant coop that we use for hatching turkeys, so that was perfect. I gave them a dozen eggs to hatch, although several have been broken or rejected over the last two weeks, so now they are currently only sitting on seven eggs. This is actually fine because we don’t really NEED any more turkeys, I just love the experience of watching a momma turkey raise her babies so much that I like to do it every year. Almost immediately after the first two broody turkeys took up residence in the small coop, two other turkeys decided to go broody in the spaceship – which is a repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is a very popular egg laying destination for whatever reason. With the spaceship now occupied I decided to add a new wooden nest box right next to it in the hopes that the non-broody turkeys would have another option for laying their eggs, but do you think it’s been used even once? Nope! Such is the way of turkeys, you can never predict what they will like or what they will do. Which of course is one of the reasons that they are so fun to have on the farm. Unfortunately, Eleanor who has hatched eggs for us in the past and is a great momma decided to go broody in the spaceship which is not big enough to hatch chicks safely so I didn’t give her eggs to hatch this year. We’ll have new turkey mommas this year, which hopefully will work out okay. The breed of turkeys we have is also known for being good mothers, so hopefully on May 19 we will have a new little turkey family.
Ahhh spring, it’s finally here! Although we are still having lots of cool, rainy days, there are plenty of things to be excited about at the farm. I started planting seeds in the greenhouse a couple of months ago, and the cool season veggie starts are finally large enough to start planting outside. So far I’ve planted a few peas, kale, broccoli, spinach, and onions. I have potatoes ready to go outside as well as pac choi, Swiss chard, lettuce, and leeks as soon as we get another decent gardening weather day. I participated in a couple of seed swaps in the last several months, and I received a ton of veggie seeds that I’m excited about. Some are different varieties of things that I usually grow like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and some are things that I don’t usually grow but I am going to grow this year since I’ve received so many interesting varieties. Some of the new things I’ll be growing this year include Chinese red meat radish, carrots, cauliflower, several varieties of beans, some new squash varieties, and corn. Of course I’m not sure where I’ll find room to plant everything, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out as I go.
The chicks we got last month are doing well and growing up fast. For the first month they were kept in a brooder in my home office. As they grow up, they start scratching around in the pine shavings more and more, and they kick up a lot of dust. So when I noticed a fine layer of dust suddenly appeared on every surface in the house, and my husband’s asthma started acting up, it was time for the littles to move to the outdoor coop. They made the transition well, and they live in one side of the back deck coop that our grown bantam chickens live in. There is a divider separating the chicks from the grown chickens, so that they can see each other and grow accustomed to each other, but the big chickens cannot pick on the chicks, at least for now. We’ll keep them separated for another month or so until they are close to the same size, and then we will remove the divider and integrate the two age groups.
We had some sad news at the farm a few weeks ago, when we bid farewell to one of the founding members of the 5R Farm flock, my sweet Easter egger Rosie. She would have been eight years old in June. Rosie was shy and sweet, and she always made me smile with her adorable fluffy face. She laid a beautiful green egg that knocked my socks off every time. She had been in a slow decline for several months, and I made the difficult decision to help her cross over to the chicken farm in the sky when I knew in my heart that it was time to let her go. We’ve had a lot of crushing losses over the last several months as our oldest flock members reach the end of a chicken’s natural lifespan. Six to eight years is considered a long life for a chicken, but I’ve had friends with chickens that lived as long as 10 and 14 years. I hope that we will be so lucky with some of our remaining favorite ladies.
The longer days mean that the chickens and turkeys have resumed laying eggs after their winter break from egg laying. It’s so nice to be getting our beautiful mix of light and dark brown and green chicken eggs, and the big beautiful speckled turkey eggs are always especially fun to collect. The turkeys that we hatched last year are now entering their first year of egg laying, and it’s always kind of funny to see where the new layers will lay their eggs. It’s not uncommon to see an egg lying in a random spot on the ground in the turkey yard. One turkey decided to start laying her eggs underneath the chicken coop, and it took me a week or so to spot them. I had to crawl on my belly under the coop and use a hoe to pull them out, but it was worth it for these beautiful eggs. Thankfully, she is not laying regularly under the coop, although I will find an egg under there every once in a while. Collecting turkey eggs can feel like going on a scavenger hunt at times, and I have to look in every possible nook and cranny to be sure I’m finding them all. I’m not sure if my favorite turkey Pumpkin Pie has started laying yet, but if she hasn’t it won’t be long now as I just saw Ringo getting romantic with her a week ago. I can’t believe my little Miss PP is all grown up and is a full grown lady already!
Spring is an exciting time at the farm for many reasons, pretty spring flowers in the yard, starting seeds in the greenhouse, the chickens begin to lay eggs more regularly, our beehives begin buzzing with activity, but I have to say the most exciting part about spring is baby chicks! We don’t add new chicks to the flock every year, and when we have added new chicks over the last several years we’ve always had broody chickens raise up the next generation of chicks in the chicken coop. The last time we raised chicks in the house was back in 2012 when we bought two dozen chicks for the farm. It’s messy raising chicks indoors, and it was especially so when we raised those two dozen in the kitchen! The chicks kick up a lot of dust scratching around in the pine shavings that line the bottom of their pen, and it’s not long before a fine coating of dust covers everything, floor to ceiling, in the room that the chicks are raised in. Since 2012, whenever we’ve added chicks we have opted for the easy way of raising chicks by letting a broody hen do all of the work. But doing it that way means that the chicks don’t get handled as much and as a result, when the chicks grow up they tend to not be quite as calm and friendly around people as the chicks that are raised indoors.
It’s been a couple of years now since we lost our bantam rooster, Lil’ Red Rooster, that used to live in the coop on the back deck. I’ve long wanted to get another bantam rooster to protect our three bantam hens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa, when they are out free ranging on nice days. But for a while we just had too much going on with the turkeys, or special needs chickens requiring extra care, and I just did not feel like I had the time to deal with adding a bantam rooster to our little back deck feathered family. Bringing in a new flock member requires a period of quarantine and then gradual introduction to prevent too much fighting or bullying, and I wanted to wait until I had the time to do things right. We’ve recently bid a sad farewell to a couple of our special needs flock mates and now that we have a good handle on the turkey set-up and they are pretty self sufficient, I find that I have more time and could consider adding a bantam rooster. However, we weren’t really planning on adding chicks to the farm this year because we have a big construction project planned in the backyard. This will mean a smaller pasture for the chickens, and also the construction noise will likely disturb them a bit so it’s not really the ideal time for adding new chicks to the flock.
In years past, our local feed store has only carried the more popular breeds of chicks that are known for being good layers. This year as I was looking at the chick calendar (any self respecting feed store will post a schedule of the dates that they are receiving chick shipments and which breeds they are receiving on which days), I was pleasantly surprised to see that they would be getting several specialty breeds of chickens, rare breeds, and some fancier breeds. When I saw that they were getting two breeds of bantam chicks that I was interested in, my heart was instantly set on getting some. Despite having recently decided now was not the best time to add more chicks, I rationalized that bantams are so small, surely there was room to add just a few more. Also, my social media feeds were being inundated with all of my chicken lady friends’ adorable baby chicks, and my resolve was quickly weakening (#chickenmath, it’s a thing!) After a surprisingly easy sales pitch to my husband, we agreed that not only were new chicks in order, they could even live in the house! Chicks at the feed store are typically sold as sexed females, meaning that there is an approximately 90% chance that the chicks you buy will actually be girls. But bantam chicks are so small when they are born that it is not possible for them to be sexed into males and females, and so they are sold as “straight run” meaning that there is a 50% chance of getting either males or females. So knowing this, and knowing the knack I seem to have for unintentionally picking boys, I decided to get six chicks hoping that three would grow up to be girls. I got one black silkie, two white silkies, and three Mille Fleur D’Uccle chicks. I had been wanting Mille Fleurs ever since 2012 when we bought Millie (our bantam silkie) as a chick thinking she was a Mille Fleur. I didn’t find out until she started feathering out that she was not a Mille Fleur but was a silkie. So now was my chance to finally get some Mille Fleurs, and I sure hope that at least one of them grows up to be a hen! If you are not familiar with the breed, you should Google them, they are gorgeous birds. I’ve had the new chicks two weeks now, they are all thriving and keeping me company in the brooder that I have set up in my home office. I’m not getting much work done lately, but I am having lots of fun and taking lots of baby photos!
February on the Farm
After months of the chickens spending most of their time hunkered down in their coops from the cold and the wind and the rain, they are finally spending more time outside nibbling on grass and hunting for bugs. From late fall through winter, most of the ladies take a vacation from egg laying. I stop selling eggs, and I hoard the eggs that I’ve stashed to get us through the winter. Now with the days starting to get longer, a handful of the ladies are finally starting to lay eggs this year. It will be interesting to see how many eggs the ladies lay per week this year because their egg production drops off as they age, and our flock is rather heavily weighted toward old biddies! Despite trying to add new chicks several times last summer, we only ended up with two new laying hens this spring. One is Pippi, who is on the cover of this post, and the other is Baby Stardust who was raised by Spaceship Turkey Momma last summer. When young hens first start to lay eggs, their eggs are often a bit on the small side, so although these two young ladies are laying pretty green and pink eggs I am saving these to eat ourselves due to their small size. About half of our two dozen hens will be six years old next month. These are the ladies that remain from the two dozen chicks we bought when we first added chickens to the farm, and of course that also means that half of them are no longer with us, having gone up to that chicken farm in the sky from various causes over the years. We also still have two of our original hens from 2010 and the founding members of 5R Farm, Raquel and Rosie. We had a heartbreaking loss at the farm last week when my favorite rooster Ramon passed away. He was a bit off the last couple of weeks, and I found him dead in the coop one morning. So now we’re down to just one rooster, Brown Rooster, and it sure is quiet in the mornings without Ramon and Reuben joining in the morning chorus. Brown Rooster does a good job watching over his ladies, but Ramon was such a fabulous rooster in so many ways that I really am going to miss him. I wish there would have been a way for me to keep Lucky the Rooster that the turkeys hatched last summer, but I just did not have the right housing situation for him at the time so I rehomed him for his own safety.
The turkeys are doing well, and little miss Pumpkin Pie has grown up into a fine young lady. She will probably start laying eggs within the next few weeks along with her turkey sisters, aunts, and momma. We have eight turkey hens this year, so in all likelihood I’ll be selling just as many turkey eggs as chicken eggs this year since our turkeys are younger than most of our chickens and will therefore be laying more eggs per week than many of our chickens. I’m planning to hatch another batch of turkeys this year since it is such a wonderful experience. Although I’d like to add more chickens so that I have more chicken eggs to sell, we probably will hold off on adding more chickens until next year because we have a backyard construction project planned for this year which will likely limit the amount of space we have for the chickens and will involve a lot of large equipment and loud noises, things that don’t really go well with adding new chickens. In preparation for the building project, Sean rented an excavator for a day and dug out four large stumps from the backyard. It was quite exciting, but thankfully when all was said and done there wasn’t too much of a muddy mess and the chickens got some new bare dirt to hunt for bugs in which they found made it all quite worthwhile.
I got the greenhouse cleaned up and started the first seeds of the year – lettuce, spinach, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, pac choi, kale, snow peas, broccoli, and some flowers for the bee garden. Every fall I try to save seeds from several of our late blooming flowering plants here at the farm, so that I can add a few more pollinator plants to the garden every year. We’ve got several garden projects planned to help with pest prevention in the veggie garden this year, so as soon as we get a few more sunny days and the soil dries out a bit we need to get started. We need to dig up the strawberry and asparagus bed, line the bottom with hardware cloth to keep the mice and other burrowing rodents out, and replant it. We are also planning to add a low chicken wire fence around the bottom of the electric garden fence in an effort to keep the wild rabbits out this year. I was also hoping to find a spot to add a new raised planting bed for the lettuce and spinach this year that is in partial shade so that I can have better luck growing them later into the summer before they bolt.
While I was waiting out the winter weather I had time to catch up on soap and lotion making and get the online store fully stocked after a successful holiday season. Thank you everyone for your purchases, I appreciate each and every one! I’ve added several new products that I am really excited about. There is a new set of three pretty guest soaps scented with floral fragrances and in the shape of a sunflower, a bee, and a chicken sitting on her nest. I’ve also added three new bar soaps – a new variety of coconut milk soap with ground oatmeal for those of you with dry and sensitive skin, and two new soaps for all of the chicken ladies out there – Cluckin’ Clean and Clean as Cluck. These two soaps have extra scrubbing power and are scented with refreshing essential oils to get you clean and smelling good again. I’ve also added a lotion bar in an adorable bee shape, and lastly a set of three mini lotions scented in lavender, chamomile-bergamot, and our best selling unscented coconut cream (named for the whipped coconut oil it contains). I hope you enjoy these new offerings as much as I enjoyed making them.
Funny Farmer Friday
I’ve said it many times before, because it’s true. Every time there’s a sad day at the farm, I turn around and there’s something to make me smile again. On Fridays there’s a hashtag called #FunnyFarmerFriday that is a great time to think back on the entertaining events of the week. I thought I’d put together a few of my recent favorite funny photos from my Instagram account, because they’re not always the most photogenic photos so they may not make it into a typical blog post, but they are worthy of sharing nonetheless. Whether it be the cute photo opportunities provided by inquisitive baby chicks with their momma, molting chickens that fall into the so ugly its funny category, the never ending antics of the turkeys and their chicken pasture-mates, or my constant attempts at the perfect farmer selfie, there have been a lot of fun moments on the farm this past year. Whenever I find myself having a bad day, all I need to do is take a break from whatever I’m doing and spend a few minutes with the feathered ladies and gents, and I’m sure to have a smile on my face and a whole new attidtude.
Rest Easy Reuben
My special needs rooster, Reuben, finally crossed over the rainbow bridge. Of course I knew this day was coming, I’ve known it for a while, but even so it’s never easy when the day is finally here. There were a few times over the last couple of years when I thought his days were numbered. There were times when his health wasn’t as good and I would think perhaps I should take matters into my own hands and ease his passing (Letting Go), but he was a tough old rooster and he had a way of rebounding over the years (Reuben’s Recovery). Reuben was a beloved member of the feather family for six years. He was the first alpha rooster at the farm, and he was magnificent to behold in his prime. A few years ago he started having weakness in his legs. Gradually his toes curled, and his legs no longer worked like they should. We made special living accommodations for him, and he became my special needs rooster who loved to sidetrack me from doing farm chores with long sessions of lap time and hand-fed treats. He had a lovely last summer with Rosie (Rosie and Reuben), but the winter has been hard on him and he began to go downhill fast a few days ago. He began sleeping much of the time, and lap time was no longer accompanied by voracious eating but more sleeping. On his last day, I knew his time had come. I had time to say goodbye, and I am thankful that he went quickly in the end. He will always have a special place in my heart, and now he can rest easy in that great chicken farm in the sky with all of the beautiful ladies we’ve bid farewell over the years.
A Very Good Year
This was our fourth year living at the farm full time, and every year it gets better and better. One of my favorite things about living on the farm is farm babies! We had several turkey and chicken mommas at the farm this year. We had two turkeys go broody at the same time, and I tried a new experiment and gave the turkeys a few chicken eggs to hatch as well as a dozen turkey eggs. They managed to hatch two chickens as well as ten turkey poults, and it was really interesting watching our mixed feather family grow up together (My Two Moms). One of the baby turkeys got rejected by the momma turkeys, and so I raised this turkey poult in the house for a week until she was strong enough to rejoin her turkey family. This little lady imprinted on me, and Pumpkin Pie is the friendliest of all of the turkeys we’ve raised on the farm. She loves to hang out with us and is so very inquisitive. She is also my most cooperative photo model which earned her her very own Flower Child photo shoot.
The repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is in the turkey yard became quite a popular egg laying destination for chickens and turkeys alike, but eventually the turkeys won out and another turkey decided to go broody in the dishwasher tub. I bought three young chicks at the feed store for our third broody turkey, and she raised her chicken chicks in the dishwasher tub for many weeks (Spaceship Turkey Momma). Sadly, only one of the chicks made it to adulthood, and she is named Baby Stardust. She and her momma also known as Starbuck, still hang out together, and Stardust spends much of her days hanging out with the turkeys. Stardust is another of our new favorites here at the farm. Baby Stardust just recently became a woman, and she laid her very first egg on Christmas Eve. We had one more batch of chicks hatched at the farm this summer, this time it was a more traditional chicken momma hatching chicken babies (Surprise Momma). Unfortunately, three of her four babies turned out to be roosters, so despite my efforts to raise up some new laying hens this year, we only ended up with Stardust and one young easter egger hen who should start laying in a month or so.
We had a run of bad luck with predators at the farm this summer, resulting in the loss of one young turkey poult and two young chickens. I never blogged about this because frankly, it was heartbreaking. One of the young chickens that was lost was Stardust’s sister, Sputnick, and for several hours after the attack Spaceship Turkey Momma was also missing, leaving Stardust a temporary orphan without any siblings. Thankfully Spaceship Turkey Momma returned, but the turkey poult that went missing with her on the night of the first attack never returned. Eventually some of our safety adjustments to the turkey yard kept the predator at bay, or perhaps he just moved on, but we did have an exciting night when Lucky the Rooster evaded an attack. Sadly, his sister chicken was not so fortunate. Lucky grew up to think he was a turkey, and he had to be rehomed when his turkey brother and turkey sisters got tired of his would be turkey ways and made it clear that he was not welcome. Lucky further lived up to his name by finding a wonderful home with his own flock on another farm.
It was another productive year In the Garden, despite a slow start to spring and an onslaught of ravenous rabbits, but in the end we managed to have a successful Fall Harvest. Our bee hives had another successful summer, and with three hives now producing honey we have been able to harvest a little more honey each year than the last. I don’t take enough out of the hives to sell, because I believe in leaving enough honey in the hives for the bees to survive on over the winter rather than taking out all of the honey and feeding the hives refined sugar as their winter food source as is the practice of larger scale honey producers. We have enough honey for ourselves and to make special gifts for friends and family, and we are doing our part to help the bees which is the main reason that I got into beekeeping in the first place.
The chickens and turkeys kept us plenty busy this year. It seems like there are always so many chores to be done, and even more so when there are feather babies to tend to and socialize, or injured flock members that need extra care (Sweet Rosie, Rosie and Reuben), but I’m more than happy to do whatever it takes to keep our flock as healthy and happy as it can be because they bring me so much joy. We finally managed to get the back deck coop that our three bantams live in expanded in preparation for adding a bantam rooster to our flock. I sure miss our Little Red Rooster, so hopefully next spring we’ll have a new little man on the farm tending to Millie, Salt and Pepa. On those rare occasions when I’m taking a break from farm chores, you can often find me taking photos of my pretty eggs or else taking photos of my chickens in funny hats! Yes, I’m an unabashed crazy chicken lady, but I’m happy and my chickens are happy and that’s just fine by me.
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.
It’s been a few months since I last wrote about the bees, and since then we’ve had a very soggy cold start to the spring. I had been waiting to open up the hives and do a quick inspection until we started having some days above 60 degrees which we finally made it to over the last couple of weeks. I took off the upper layer of burlap and wood shavings from the hives which helps to reduce moisture inside the hive over the winter. I had been worried about the moisture inside the hives with the record setting last few months of rain we’ve had, but aside from some mold on the underside of the top hive covers they looked good inside. I did a quick inspection of each hive by only removing a couple of frames in the top hive boxes, as I did not want to disrupt them too much while they are still in the early stages of rebuilding the hive after the usual winter die off. Each hive is a little different, but they all seem to be doing well. Our second hive that we started in 2014 from a split of our first hive, is consistently the strongest hive. This is Hive Rosemary, and the queen in this hive must have some great genes because this hive is always the quickest hive to build up its population and start putting away honey. True to form this hive looks the strongest of the three hives again this year. The other two hives, Hive Rosalind and Hive Buttercup, also look good, and on sunny days there is quite a lot of activity outside all three hives. All in all I’m very pleased with how our hives have done over the last four years since we started beekeeping. We are fortunate to live in a location with plenty of forage plants for the ladies, and thankfully we have not experienced any losses due to pesticides or any of the other problems that have plagued bees for so many years. I take a fairly low maintenance approach to managing our hives, I don’t use chemicals to treat for mites, and I don’t remove very much honey from the hives, but we have plenty of honey for us and healthy bees, and that’s good enough for me!
Countdown to Cute
Spring is the time for chicks at the feed store and all manner of cute baby animals on the Instagram pages of my farm friends. I have been telling myself to stay strong and resist the temptation of baby chicks, that we don’t really need any more chickens at the farm. But need is a relative term, and I’m happy to say that the countdown to cuteness has begun here at the farm! Three of our five turkey hens have gone broody, meaning that they are ready to set and hatch eggs. Last year Eleanor did a great job hatching and raising eight turkeys for us in the spring, and then she went broody again in the fall although we didn’t let her hatch that late in the season. I had a feeling that she would go broody again this spring, and sure enough she did. Even better than that is that one of her daughters also went broody at the same time, and they are camped out together in the small coop in the turkey yard. I gave them a dozen turkey eggs to hatch ten days ago. Eleanor and her daughter are so adorable, sitting side by side and sharing the egg incubation duties.
A third turkey, another one of Eleanor’s daughters, decided to go broody a few days ago in the repurposed dishwasher tub that I like to call the turkey spaceship. I debated about whether to give her some eggs as well, because the quickest way to get a broody girl over her broodiness is to just give in and give her what she wants! I thought about giving this third turkey some chicken eggs to hatch, since none of our chickens seem interested in going broody. But the spaceship is really not all that spacious, and I thought it would be better if all of the turkey poults and chicken chicks were hatched in the same location so that they were already integrated together and I wouldn’t have to relocate the chicks and momma to more suitable location for raising chicks. So I decided to put eight chicken eggs in the coop and see if the turkeys would accept them and sure enough they did. Turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch, and chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. I put the chicken eggs in after they turkeys had already been setting on the turkey eggs for a week, so all of the eggs should hatch at approximately the same time. I know several people who have had turkeys raise chickens and vice versa, and I’ve been told that after the little ones grow up and reach the age where they leave the care of their momma, they just naturally know to join the rest of the flock of their species. I am really looking forward to seeing how this all works out – two momma turkeys raising a mixed flock of turkey poults and chicken chicks. This should be interesting!
At long last, spring is here! It’s time to get my hands in the dirt and fight the good fight against slugs, rodents, cute little wild bunnies, birds, and whatever else tries to get a free meal in the garden this year. Kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, and lettuce were all started from seed and have been transplanted into the garden. I’ve found the best way to protect my veggie seedlings from slugs is with 2 inch wide copper tape glued around plastic cups or pots with a hole cut in the bottom and placed around each seedling. Plus they have the added benefit of providing a little bit of thermal protection since it’s still getting pretty close to freezing on some of the colder nights. Leeks and potatoes will be planted later this week. Tomato and pepper seeds have been started, and every new seedling that sprouts gives me such a thrill. I save many of my own seeds, so it just makes it that much more satisfying seeing them pop out of the soil.
Our bantam chickens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa were helping me up in the garden today. And by helping I mean getting in my way when I’m trying to turn the soil as they dash over to the freshly turned earth and gobble up worms by the dozen it seems. Then of course when I get my seedlings planted, they come over to try to take a nibble. Since all it would take is a few pecks to wipe out an entire bed, there comes a point where I have to put an end to the hen party and shoo them over to scratch around in the compost pile.
The garden is starting to sprout back to life again. The raspberries have been pruned and are just starting to leaf out. The chives, garlic, rhubarb, and artichokes are about a foot tall and are looking great. The strawberry bed is also sending up new leaves, and I need to get in there and do some thinning so my asparagus still have some room. I’m hoping that the asparagus do a bit better this year than last year, because without asparagus there’s no sense in putting up my “this is the awning of the cage of asparagus” sign that is on my to do list! I hope you will forgive my extreme garden geekiness, I am just so happy for the return of gardening season.
Well, gosh, sorry I’ve taken a few weeks off from the blog. There’s not been too much going on at the farm recently except for a whole lotta rain! I’ve been doing some indoor gardening – cleaning up the greenhouse and starting seeds for the cool season veggies, which are just about ready to be transplanted into the garden on the next sunny day. We have had a few dry days in between all of the downpours, so I’ve been finding a bit of time to get out in the garden to spread compost and trim back the raspberry bushes to get the garden ready for spring.
The chickens have been gradually laying more eggs as the days get longer, and today I was very pleased to gather the first two turkey eggs of the season! We have five turkey hens this year, so soon we’ll be having lots of turkey eggs which I will be selling in addition to chicken eggs. The turkeys are a bit more wild at heart with respect to their egg laying tendencies as compared to chickens. One of our younger turkey hens has been pacing the fence surrounding their pasture back and forth, and I can tell she wants to escape to run off into the bushes to go lay her eggs in the middle of a blackberry thicket! I have added a few more options for nesting areas to the turkey yard, in the hopes of persuading the turkeys to stay close to home and lay their eggs somewhere safe instead of off in the bushes. Fingers crossed that the turkey ladies all behave themselves and lay their eggs where I can find them. This morning I went out to find the first turkey egg laying on the ground right out in the open, and then a short time later I returned to the turkey yard to find an egg in the repurposed dishwasher tub/chicken spaceship in the turkey yard. Pretty soon gardening and outdoor project season will be in full swing and I’ll have more exciting updates to report on. For now I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures of the #eggvignettes I’ve been having fun with on my Instagram account. Follow us at @5rfarmoregon.
Birds and the Bees
One of the things I really enjoy about living on the farm is the change in seasons. After a long cold winter, and many days of mucking about in the rain and mud doing chicken and turkey chores, it is so exciting to have that first feeling that spring is around the corner. Even before the first spring bulbs poke up through the ground, the birds and the bees provide the first signs that spring is in the air.
It is always a thrill to see the bees make their first appearance outside the beehives on the first sunny days in January and February. This past winter was an unusually cold, snowy, and wet winter, and I waited anxiously to see if all of our beehives would make it through until spring. Bees can survive the cold weather we get in the Pacific Northwest just fine. It is the wet weather, and in particular the moisture inside the hive, which poses a greater risk to them than the cold. When I get the hives ready for fall, there are a few things I do to vent moisture from the hives and try to prevent condensation from occurring in the hives. Even though the hives are not very active in the winter, I do check on them after every cold snap and snowstorm to clear snow away from the hive entrance and to clear dead bees away from the bottom of the hive so that the dead bees don’t block the entrance. It is normal for quite a lot of the bees in the hive to die over the winter, and every time I brush the dead bees out from the bottom of the hive there will be several dozen. At times I’ve seen a large pile of dead bees right outside the hive entrance after the bees have done a bit of housekeeping themselves and removed the dead bees from the hive. Even though it’s normal to see a pile of dead bees outside the hive, it does make me worry at times, and so it is with baited breath that I anxiously await the first sighting of bees outside the hive. The bees made their first appearance in mid-January this year, on an unseasonably warm day, and there have been a few other days since then when the bees have also been out. I am happy to report that all three of our hives have survived the winter thus far.
The behavior of the chickens and turkeys provides another clue that spring is around the corner. As the days start getting longer, the chickens start laying eggs again. Many of our ladies are approaching old biddy status, so they are taking a longer vacation from egg laying than they did when they were younger. From early November through January, we were only getting a few eggs a week from the few hens that laid during the winter, but by the end of January many of the ladies were starting to lay again. The chicken yard, which had been pretty quiet during the winter, was now filled with the sounds of the “egg song” as the ladies leave the nest box and announce their proud achievement. Our roosters and Ringo the turkey have begun enthusiastically courting the ladies again thanks to the annual spring rise in hormone levels. The turkey hens should begin laying eggs by March, and soon we will be inundated with their jumbo sized, beautiful cream colored eggs with brown speckles. Turkeys do not have as long of an egg laying season as chickens (which is why turkeys are not used for commercial egg production), but we got approximately 175 eggs from our two turkey hens last year, so we should have our hands full with the eggs from five turkey hens this year. Their eggs are delicious when eaten just as you would eat chicken eggs for breakfast, and they are also great in baking. I am really looking forward to having turkey eggs again, and this year I will also be selling them along with chicken eggs. As the weather allows, I’ve been getting the garden and greenhouse cleaned up and ready for the start of gardening season, which thanks to my birds and bees I know is right around the corner!
Rosie & Reuben
This winter was colder than usual, with several weeks of freezing or below freezing temperatures. Most of our feathered friends get along just fine in the cold weather, with their downy under-feathers to keep them warm and their own personal human servant handing out the extra treats to keep their bellies full of heat-generating calories. While they can handle the cold temperatures, most of the chickens do not like snow. We had snow on the ground for several weeks in a row, and the chickens stayed in their coop most of that time. There is plenty of space for the chickens in their coop and attached covered run, but the down side of everyone staying cooped up is that the chickens that are lower in the pecking order, or that that are not feeling 100%, will not have anywhere to hide or to get away from the other chickens if they are getting picked on. It’s one of the worst behaviors of chickens, the instinct to pick on, drive away, or kill those that are sick, for the health and the survival of the rest of the flock. I’ve seen it before in our flock, and unfortunately with this long, cold winter it happened again. This time it was to Rosie, one of the founding members of 5R Farm, and one of my favorites. Although she is one of our two oldest hens, which usually imparts a higher place in the pecking order, she is an Easter Egger chicken, a breed that is known to be shy and reserved. Ever since her BFF Ramona died over a year ago, Rosie doesn’t really have a clique anymore. Sometimes she hangs out with Rosalie, her daughter with Ramon, but she is often by herself, preferring to stay away from the fray of the flock. There were a couple of times over the last month when I went out in the morning to check on the chickens that I found Rosie with a purple bruised comb, presumably from someone pecking her in the face. Sometimes I would find Rosie sitting alone in the coop on the perch where she had slept while everyone else had come out to the secure run when they heard me coming with breakfast. Other times I would find her sitting in an odd posture in the coop, her legs stretched out in front of her. She seemed to be having a bit of weakness in her legs, and she had also lost a bit of weight, probably because it was a bit harder for her to get her fair share with everyone spending so much time in the coop.
A week ago when I went out to the coop in the morning, I found Rosie had been pecked in the comb again, but this time she had received a more serious injury and her comb was bleeding. I picked her up and brought her into the mudroom to get her cleaned up and inspect her injury. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some underlying illness that was the reason for her getting pecked, so she stayed in the house until I could get a vet appointment for her. She stayed at the vet’s for a couple of days. She got a clean bill of health in terms of not having any parasites or internal infections. But the vet did not like the look of her injured comb and scab, something about the way the cells looked was abnormal. She also thought Rosie was having trouble seeing out of her left eye, possibly due to a detached retina, which could explain why she was being attacked. Rosie is six and a half years old, which is more than middle aged given a chicken’s lifespan of 8 to 10 years, or maybe up to 12 years for a long-lived chicken. It’s not unusual for health issues to arise by Rosie’s age, but I sure hope she will have a few more years with us. When I brought Rosie home from the vet, I couldn’t put her back in with the flock because they would be drawn to her red scab and would surely peck her scab and comb again.
I decided to put Rosie in with Reuben, my special needs rooster. Reuben lives in his own separate enclosure right next to the other chickens. His toes are curled due to some mysterious malady and he can’t walk very well, but although I keep expecting to have to put him down one of these days, he still seems to have the will to live. He even seems to be quite perky at times on those sunny days when he sits right up against his fence watching the ladies or sometimes having a stare-down with Brown Rooster. Rosie’s new routine is that she spends the day in Reuben’s area where she has her own food dish so she can get enough to eat and can graze on the green grass to her hearts content. At night, I move her to a separate pen inside the main coop so that she is safe from the others and so Reuben can have his house all to himself. So far it’s working out well, neither Rosie or Reuben are inclined to pick on each other, perhaps recognizing that they are both in the same boat and they may as well make the best of it. Rosie does go into Reuben’s house when it rains during the day, and I find myself constantly going out to check on them to make sure that they are both okay, given Reuben’s rather clumsy way of getting himself into his house. At some point I will try to reintroduce Rosie back to the flock, although it is likely that she will have lost her place in the pecking order and will have to reassert her position, and I don’t know that she has the confidence to do that. If that’s the case, it looks like Reuben will have himself a full-time roommate.
Beauty all Around
Last summer was a good summer for the deer, and we had several that visited us regularly. There was a momma deer and her doe, a second momma deer that had two does, and there was also a solo young buck. I would see them often as I would go about my rounds, making several trips a day to both the chicken and turkey yards. Sometimes I would be so focused on where I was going, that a deer would startle me when I would look up and see one standing a few yards away from where I was walking. Now that winter is here and we’ve had several snow storms, the deer seem to be spending more time closer to the house browsing on the vegetation that is not covered in snow. I’ve even seen the deer kneeling down underneath the edge of the chicken coop to browse on the weeds growing underneath the coop! The last snow storm dropped 11 inches of snow, and we’ve had some spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the snow covered landscape. Since we are on a hillside with a southern exposure, certain areas of the farm thaw more quickly than others, and the deer have figured this out. There is one of the younger does who has taken to browsing in the rhododendrons and other ornamental shrubs right in front of the house, only a few feet from the front door. The other night we were watching TV when the motion sensor light by the front door turned on and illuminated the head of the young doe poking up from behind the front deck as she sauntered through the rhododendrons, apparently having a midnight snack. Today the group of three deer spent most of the afternoon napping in the sun under a cedar tree, in one of the only non-snow covered areas in the backyard. Every time I walked by the kitchen window I would look to see if they were still there, and they were, and I was happy to get to spend the afternoon with them.
We’ve also had a less than welcome nature siting recently, which was a coyote right outside the fence of the turkey pasture. It was a Saturday morning, and I was relaxing in the living room by the wood stove when I heard the unmistakable turkey alarm call. It is a high pitched, quick call, sort of like an insistent “Pip, Pip, Pip”. As soon as I heard the call, I looked out the living room window which has a perfect view of the turkey pasture. I saw all of the girls in a tight group together in the middle of the pasture, necks outstretched, calling in unison. Ringo was not gobbling, which I thought was strange, as he usually gobbles at anything unfamiliar and often at birds flying overhead. At the downhill side of the electric fence stood a coyote, looking at the turkeys and presumably for a way into the pasture. I quickly threw on my shoes and coat and grabbed the baseball bat that we keep by the mudroom door for just such a predator emergency. I ran outside to see the coyote still there, he had run back and forth along the fence and was still eyeing the turkeys. I started yelling at him and he got the idea that he was not welcome and ran off into our neighbor’s field. Later on, we reviewed the film footage from the turkey camera that we have overlooking the pasture. We could clearly see the coyote running toward the turkey pasture as he first appeared in the frame, and it did not appear that he was just passing through. The turkeys saw him right away and moved away from the fence to the center of the pasture. The way coyotes hunt when they are after a potential meal that is protected by a fence is that they will charge the fence, knowing that the instinct of birds such as chickens is to take flight, unfortunately sometimes flying over the fence where they can be captured. Thankfully the turkeys did not do that, and they exhibited a good self-preservation instinct. I am hoping that the coyote finds easier prey elsewhere and does not come back. We will be moving our motion activated trail camera to the location where we saw the coyote to see if we can capture any images of him coming around at night. It is fun to see wildlife at the farm, but this particular sighting was a bit too close to home.
A Silkie New Year!
Now that winter has set in, it’s time to start making plans for next year on the farm. One of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a while now is get a bantam rooster to escort our little bantam hens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa, when they are out free ranging. It’s been a little over a year since we lost Lil’ Red Rooster (Lockdown), and I had been intending to get another little rooster man to replace him last summer, but there just never seemed to be a good time to do it with all of the excitement of the turkey babies at the farm this year (First Day Out, Turkey Teens). Millie, Salt-n-Pepa love to get outdoor time and free range around the farm, so if I’m outside doing chores then I will usually let them out for a bit. They tend to go exploring quite far from their coop which makes it hard for me to keep an eye on them, which is why we really do need a rooster to keep a look out for predators and keep them safe. In preparation for the addition of a rooster for the ladies, we are making plans to expand the size of the coop on the back deck so that the rooster can live in the same coop as Millie, Salt-n-Pepa, instead of the separate coop where Lil’ Red Rooster used to live. Since we’ll already be expanding the size of the coop for the rooster, it seems like a good time to make it large enough for some silkie babies too! Millie is our one silkie hen, so we will get a silkie rooster for her. She was such a cute little baby chick, and I’m sure it will be super cute to see her raising her own silkie babies. Silkies are well known for their frequent broodiness and their mothering abilities. Millie goes broody several times a year, and she has already successfully raised a couple of chicks for us a few years ago, so we know she is a good momma hen (Momma Millie). It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had baby chicks at the farm (Chick Love, Raquel Reinvented), so we are due to add some new fluffy butts to the flock. We are also planning to raise baby turkeys again, so there will be all kinds of cuteness at the farm this year!
We’ve come full circle with our adventures in turkey raising this year, and what a ride it’s been! On May 25th, Eleanor hatched eight adorable babies. I watched anxiously as they grew up from fragile hatchlings, to young poults (First Day Out), to adventurous Turkey Teens. Eleanor was an attentive and very capable mother, and Aunt Prudence also pitched in to care for the youngsters, frequently letting them snuggle under her large wings on the roost at bedtime. Although I spent time with Eleanor’s little ones every day, socializing them, and feeding them treats out of my hand, they are still a bit on the wild side. For the most part they will come when called with a “turk, turk”, especially if they see that I have treats in hand, but there is no lap time to be had with this bunch. But that’s okay because they are such beautiful birds and have such interesting behaviors and calls that I am more than happy to observe them from a short distance away. Our two-year old tom turkey Ringo, who is quite a jerk to my husband, let’s me walk right up to him and stroke his lovely feathers, whereas none of the other turkeys will allow me to do that. So as long as Ringo behaves himself with me, and continues to do his job by contributing his good genetics to future generations and fulfilling his duty as flock protector, Ringo has been granted a pardon from the usual fate of a turkey at Thanksgiving time.
There was plenty of excitement as Eleanor’s poults were growing up including many instances of the turkeys flying over the electric fence that surrounds their pasture, and for quite a long time this summer I was hesitant to be away from the farm at dusk when the turkeys settle in on their roost for the night for fear that one or more of the turkeys would have accidentally flown over the fence and would have to spend the night outside of the safety of their fenced pasture and risk getting eaten by a predator. On one morning I awoke to Eleanor’s loud barking lost call, and as I walked down to the pasture I could see that five of her youngsters were missing from the pasture. I could hear her poults calling back to Eleanor from a distance and from several directions, including one of the young girls who was about 40 feet up in a tree! After an hour or so, everyone was reunited with their mom, thanks to repeated calling by both Eleanor and I, the power of treats, and a strong flock instinct. There was another time that I walked down to the pasture, and I saw two of the young girls, roosting about 30 feet high in one of our neighbor’s fir trees. Luckily, I had treats already in hand, and with a couple calls of “Here, turk, turk” and a shaking of the treat cup, they both soared down majestically from the tree into the pasture.
Eleanor’s poults grew up to be five boys and three girls. I sold two of the boys when they were three months old to a couple of small farms that needed a tom turkey for their flocks, and I hope that our boys are out there doing their job of carrying on the genetics of the heritage breed Narragansett turkey. We kept three of Eleanor’s boys along with her three girls until they were six months old, and they lived fairly peacefully alongside Ringo, Eleanor, and Prudence. But as Thanksgiving drew near, the young toms were displaying and challenging each other for dominance more frequently, and these challenges were turning into fighting matches more often too. No serious injuries had occurred yet, but I knew based on our experience raising our first four toms last year that it was just a matter of time before the fighting turned increasingly violent. If our turkeys were living in the wild, this would be the time that the males would disperse and go off to claim their own territories. We just do not have enough space here to keep four mature tom turkeys in separate living areas so it was time for our boys to fulfill their destiny which had been predetermined from the day we decided to let Eleanor hatch eggs.
Initially I had planned to take the toms to the poultry processing facility that is located about 50 miles from us, but as the day drew near, I began to rethink that decision. Our turkeys had lived every day of their lives as nature had intended, with the freedom to engage in all of their natural behaviors, living with green grass under their feet, enjoying the fresh air and sun above, and able to forage and explore to their heart’s content. Even though these turkeys were not really pets in the same way that many of our chickens are, I had cared for these turkeys for six months and done everything possible to give them the best life they could have. It was only right that on their last day, which would be the one bad day of their lives, that they were treated as respectfully and humanely as possible, and that meant doing the job ourselves. There have been a few people who have responded negatively to my posts on social media about harvesting our turkeys for Thanksgiving, saying that it’s awful that I killed my turkeys or that they are disappointed in my decision. I don’t expect everyone to understand my decision to do this, but it was precisely because I cared so much for our turkeys that I made the decision that I did.
This is only the second time that we have harvested our own birds for the table, the first time being a few years ago when we ended up with too many roosters (Coq au Vin). We used the same process this year for the turkeys, although this time we had better tools and a better setup and the whole process went very smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do, it was a difficult day to be sure, starting with the moment that I woke up that morning with a knot in my chest knowing what the day held. But knowing that the turkey that we would be eating was raised with kindness in a healthy and sustainable way made it all worthwhile, and it was the tastiest turkey we’ve ever had. It is hard work and not necessarily profitable to raise chickens and turkeys for eggs or meat in a small farm setting, raising them in a humane and healthy way on pasture and being fed organic non-GMO feed. I don’t raise the chickens and turkeys to make money, we don’t even cover expenses with egg sales and the occasional sale of birds. I do it because I enjoy the experience of caring for them, and it feels good to be doing our small part to provide an alternative to the confined animal feeding operations that provide the majority of eggs and turkeys to consumers.
We still have Eleanor’s three daughters, and they will spend the foreseeable future with us. One of the best things about raising turkeys is the turkey eggs. They are extra large and beautiful, very tasty for breakfast, and great for baking too. I am looking forward to having lots of turkey eggs next spring for eating and selling. We will likely also raise up another batch or two of turkey poults, probably selling a few more poults next year. Of all of the experiences we’ve had since moving to the farm, the experience of raising turkeys may just be my favorite. Heritage breed turkeys are amazing birds, and I am thankful that I have been able to contribute in my own small way to the continuation of this wonderful breed.
The answer to the question “Why is there a chicken in the greenhouse?” makes perfect sense to me. One of Ramon’s ladies, Henny, was looking a bit unwell so I separated her from the flock. I would usually bring my feathered patient into the house and set up a sick bay in the mud room, but there have been some objections to that sort of thing lately, putting an end to my secret plan to eventually become a crazy house chicken lady! Oh well, the greenhouse is pretty luxurious as far as sick bay quarters goes. I have tried to nurse many sick chickens back to health over the years, and more times than not the ailment has been something serious such as a reproductive disorder that cannot be cured, but this time I feel fairly confident that I have a good shot at success. Ms. Henny was looking a bit hunched down the other day, with her comb a bit floppy and discolored, all signs that a chicken is not feeling well. Ramon’s girls are all rather unpleasant in the personality department, so it’s hard for me to pick them up and inspect them on a regular basis as I can do with most of my other chickens. But since Henny was not feeling too sprightly, it was not too much trouble to grab her and take her into the greenhouse for an inspection. As soon as I got close to her, I could tell the problem was one that I have dealt with before in another hen. Based on the rather unpleasant aroma emanating from this lady’s backside, it appeared that she had a yeast infection. This can happen when a chicken eats something moldy or is stressed, or something else causes her gut bacteria to get a bit off-balance. One of my Speckled Sussex chickens has come down with this at least once a year over the last several years, and I am usually able to clear it up with a combination of Nancy’s yogurt, raw honey, and an over the counter antifungal cream. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m hoping that Henny can be successfully treated with this same remedy and will be back with her flock soon. The irony is that she will not be the least bit grateful if I do manage to cure her, and she is quite unpleasant as a patient. There’s no lap snuggles from this lady. She’d just as soon peck you as eat a treat from your hand. She does lay a beautiful very dark brown egg when she is feeling well, and she makes Ramon happy, so I will do my best to treat her.
I’ve had a couple of successes playing nurse to similarly unfriendly patients, most recently Midnight, one of Violet’s chicks from a couple of years ago. Midnight had an impacted crop, which is the pouch in their chest where the food that they eat is stored before it passes through the gizzard. Midnight had a hard bulge in her crop that was not being digested overnight as it should, and I noticed that she was sitting off by herself during the day instead of being active in the chicken yard like her healthy flock mates. So for several days, several times a day I would grab Midnight, which was easier than usual to do in her unwell condition, and I would sit her on my lap and give her crop a vigorous massage to try to break up whatever mass of food was stuck in there to get it moving down to her gizzard. She would look at me as if to say what on earth are you doing, but I could tell by her smelly burps as I massaged the bulge in her crop that my efforts were having an effect so I kept it up until she was back to her old self. I knew once she could run away from me so quickly that I could no longer catch her that she was cured. She has remained healthy these last few months, but she is not in the least bit grateful or any more friendly toward me than she ever was.
My other successful patient is the aforementioned Speckled Sussex with the recurring yeast infection. None of our three Sussex hens have names, as they are very independent hens, and have not really leant themselves well to naming. But this particular one is my favorite, and I just call her Sussex, and I think she knows when I am talking to her. She often talks to me when I walk up to her in the chicken yard, and no I don’t mean that we actually have a meaningful conversation, but she does make a series of cute little chicken noises back to me whenever I ask her how she’s doing or if the other hens or turkeys are picking on her too much. She’s at the bottom of the pecking order, and I always have a soft spot for the underdog, so I always keep an eye on her to make sure that she’s in good health and not in need of any special care. She was one of my best house patients when I was still bringing the occasional chicken into the mud room sick bay. I could leave the door to her crate open all day as I went about my chores, and she would just sit there in her crate all day, never trying to leave her designated area. It always made me smile when I would walk through the mud room and see her sitting there contentedly as if there was nowhere else she would rather be. I suspect that she was probably luxuriating in having a private space all to herself, free from the pecking of her flockmates. I do miss having the occasional chicken in the house, and I am secretly hoping to be able to get my house chicken fix by raising a few feather-babies in the house next spring.
Fall at 5R Farm
At the end of summer, I always look forward to fall, thinking that it will be nice when things slow down and it’s not so busy at the farm. Then fall arrives, and I realize that I’m still just as busy as ever! Getting the garden cleaned up for winter is always quite a chore, but luckily we had some sunny days that I took advantage of to pull out and compost all of the warm season veggie plants that are done for the season. I chopped up and piled them in our jumbo sized compost area in the garden, mixed with layers of the pine shavings and poop from the big chicken coop clean out. The squash plants that always have powdery mildew by the end of the season go into the “B” compost area which is really just a hidden pile of things too big to chop up or diseased stuff that gets tossed behind the cover of a blackberry thicket. We had a large harvest of spaghetti squash this year, which for some reason is the squash I’m most successful at growing. The butternut and acorn squash got off to a slow start, and they never caught up enough to produce anything. Most of the pumpkin and gourd seeds that I saved from last year grew into odd-looking hybrids this year, elongated two-toned fruits that don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before. But I grew them mostly for fall decoration and chicken treats, both of which they still accomplish nicely. I planted garlic for next summer, and I spread compost in the raised beds, so most of what I wanted to do to get the garden ready for next year is done. The pickles are finally made. I made a little bit of everything this year – garlic dill pickles made with lemon cucumbers, regular cucumbers, green beans, and rhubarb. We even managed to find an afternoon to go mushroom hunting and came home with enough to sauté the extra and put them in the freezer.
We finally joined the ranks of people who have two refrigerators and added a second refrigerator in the garage. In the summer, the refrigerator is crammed full of eggs and vegetables, and by the end of the summer freezer space is in short supply. We now have the luxury of an extra refrigerator to make harvest season a bit easier next year and also give us some extra space for a turkey or two that will in all likelihood be going into the freezer this fall. After putting so much effort into growing and putting away food in the summer, fall is the time we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor and eat delicious home grown and preserved things all winter long – roasted tomatoes, marinara sauce, tomato soup, roasted anaheim chilis, kale and chard, potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks, squash, pesto, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, jam, pear butter, applesauce, zucchini bread, honey, and let’s not forget the home-canned tuna. It’s almost time to wind down for the season, and I am sure looking forward to a bit of winter relaxation!
Fall in the Bee Yard
I am happy to report that our three beehives, Hive Rosalind, Hive Rosemary, and Hive Buttercup, all did well this year. We started our newest Hive, ruled by Queen Buttercup, this spring, and I spent most of my time in the bee yard this summer following its progress and making sure it got off to a successful start. I did quick inspections of Hive Buttercup about once a month, checking to see that the new queen was laying eggs and that the bees were putting away enough honey and pollen to get them through the winter. I’ve been feeding Hive Buttercup a simple syrup to boost their honey production a bit. Since this is a new hive, it’s population is smaller than our other hives so it doesn’t have as many worker bees to collect nectar for making honey. Feeding them a simple syrup allows them to put away more honey for the winter than they could if they had to depend solely on the nectar they collected. Feeding a new hive is the only time I feed my bees, the older hives are capable of storing enough honey to feed themselves through the winter, and I always leave a lot of honey in the hives over the winter to make sure that the bees have more than enough to get them through the winter.
Our two older beehives pretty much took care of themselves this year, so other than checking them a couple of times during the summer to make sure they had enough room in the hive for storing honey, I pretty much let them do what they will. There are a few important chores to do at the end of summer/beginning of fall to give the hives a better chance of surviving the winter. If there are unused boxes on the hive, it’s a good idea to consolidate the hive into fewer boxes over the winter so that the cluster of bees can keep themselves warm easier, and there is less cold space in the hive. Over the summer, my hives are typically four boxes high – two deep hive boxes for the queen to lay eggs in, and two honey supers on top for the worker bees to store honey in. In the fall, I consolidate the two honey supers into one box, and if there is extra honey beyond what will fit in one super, then I harvest a few frames of honey. Since our winters are so wet here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s also important to take measures to keep the hive from getting too damp inside. I put a piece of burlap on top of the inner cover with pine shavings on top, so that as condensation occurs on the underside of the roof of the hive, it will fall down onto the shavings and burlap and be absorbed rather than dripping down onto the frames of the hive. Lastly, I also prop up the inner cover very slightly with a toothpick to give the rising warm, moist air a way to escape from the hive. I am glad that I had time to get the hives winterized last week before this line of storms moved in, as we’ve already had about five inches of rain in the last several days.
I did harvest a bit of honey this summer, and I just got around to extracting it. It really amazes me what an efficient method of storing honey the hexagonal honey comb is. I removed three frames of honey from our strongest hive this year – this is Queen Rosemary’s hive, they are slightly more aggressive than the bees in the other two hives, but they are a strong hive, so there’s the tradeoff. I bought myself a new piece of equipment to make harvesting the honey easier this year. It’s called a bee escape, and it is a narrow frame with a maze on the bottom that you place in the hive below the honey super that you intend to harvest honey from. The way it works is that the bees can move down through the maze, or the bee escape, to access the box below, but they cannot figure out how to move up through the maze into the box above. So after you install the bee escape, within a couple of days, the box above the bee escape containing the frames that you intend to harvest should be mostly empty of bees. I thought it would just take a couple of minutes to install the bee escape so I got a bit cavalier and did not bother lighting my smoker. The honey super that I intended to remove in order to install the bee escape was stuck very tightly to the hive box below it, which is not uncommon. After trying to pry the boxes apart for a minute or so, I noticed a few guard bees were getting agitated and were flying around me, then moments later one stung me on my thigh through my pants. I decided to go light my smoker and removed my gloves, which must be when a sneaky bee took the opportunity to climb up my sleeve into my jacket. I didn’t notice it at first, and went about lighting my smoker, putting my gloves back on, and returned to the hive. I began trying to remove the stuck box again, and it wasn’t long before I noticed there was a bee in the hood of my jacket! I ran from the hive, frantically unzipping my jacket, and yelling for Sean to come help me. I’m sure it was quite a hilarious sight to behold, but thankfully I don’t think anyone saw me. Sean removed the bee that was stuck in my hair, it didn’t sting me, but it did dislodge it’s stinger somewhere in the process and died as a result. Amazingly, this day was the first time in my 3-1/2 years of beekeeping that I’ve been stung while working the hives, and it was my own fault for not being prepared. I went on to harvest the honey the way I have in the past, by brushing the bees off the frames with a long stiff feather (I use a turkey feather), which works remarkably well, and despite hundreds of bees usually flying in the air I’ve never been stung doing it this way. Three frames of honey yielded us 8.75 pounds of honey, which is a bit more than 3 quarts. An amazing amount of honey to be stored in just three frames, all due to the incredibly efficient shape of the honeycomb.
So Long Summer
Summer is winding down here at the farm, and as I write this I am sitting by a cozy fire in the wood stove watching the rain clouds move in. I am glad that I took advantage of the sunny day yesterday to pick as many mostly ripe tomatoes as possible before the rain causes them all to split. As the days grow short, the list of end of summer chores grows long. I harvested all of the good size Anaheim peppers in the garden a few days ago – 7 dozen in all! I will roast and freeze them for making chili rellenos throughout the winter. I also made up a big batch of tomato soup that I need to can this weekend. The pears that we harvested several weeks ago have been removed from the fridge and have finally ripened, so I need to get around to making the long-awaited pear butter. I traded some eggs with a friend that had a much better lemon cucumber harvest than I did, so I can make my famous lemon cucumber garlic dill pickles after all this year. Last but not least, I still need to can some of the bounty of kale in the garden. I may or may not get to it, and if I don’t I know some feathered ladies that will be happy to help us eat it throughout the fall and winter.
The ladies are winding down with egg laying for the year, and most of the chickens have begun to molt. Twitchy and Ruby are having a contest for the ugliest chicken award as they both are going through what is called a “hard molt” when most of the feathers fall out all at once. These are two of my friendliest ladies, usually the first to come running over to me for treats and lap time, but as I enter the chicken yard with my camera in hand to document their sad appearance for the blog, they skulk around the outskirts of the group as if they know they have taken on a somewhat ridiculous appearance. One of our grown turkey hens, Prudence, is still laying an egg about every other day, and I am hoarding her jumbo sized eggs in my stash of eggs to get us through the fall and winter. Eleanor, our other grown turkey hen, has been broody for about six weeks now so she is not laying eggs. Her babies are now fully grown, and despite being too large to really fit comfortably, several of them hang out with her in the small chicken coop that they were raised in, keeping her company. The chicken coop in the upper pasture needs a thorough cleaning before fall sets in since the ladies will be spending more time indoors once the rain and winds arrive, so I like to give it a good scrub down and replace all of the shavings to get it ready for fall.
The bees are winding down the summer too. On sunny days they can still be seen out and about in the fall aster and the last of the fall-blooming flowers. I have several bee balm, echinacea, and calendula seedlings that I started from seed in the greenhouse that are ready to be planted into the bee garden to give them more fall flowers for next year. There is a ton of garden clean-up to do, and of course there is always a big pile of compost waiting to be spread on the raised beds that somehow I never quite get around to. In another month or so, all of the chores that are going to get done will be done, and those that don’t won’t, but either way we have accomplished quite a lot this year and are feeling quite fortunate to have had another bountiful summer at the farm.
We had a bumper crop of apples this year, and everyone else we know did too. Of course the peak of the apple harvest was during a hot spell, so luckily I was able to set up my outdoor canning station to make applesauce. I made two huge batches of applesauce, and we now have two dozen jars in the pantry, which is more than I’ve ever made in one year before, but there were just so many apples I didn’t want any to go to waste. Sean was able to use up all of the rest of the apples to make cider using the cider press that he built using a bunch of stuff lying around the garage including an old weightlifting bench, the engine from a broken dishwasher, a car jack, a bunch of re-purposed wood trim, and some designs from the internet. He is always impressing me with his creations, but this may be one of my favorites. He pressed about a gallon and a half of cider, and it was delicious. We drank it all up it was so good, but next year we may make a bit more and try fermenting it. There were lots of small chunks of apples left over as a by-product of the cider pressing which I have been feeding to the chickens and turkeys as treats, so nothing goes to waste.
We’ve also been busy picking more blackberries and freezing them for home-baked desserts this winter, and I did manage to find time to make a blackberry pie. Ironically, I didn’t think to make an apple pie this year, despite the buckets of apples that were sitting around everywhere I looked for several weeks. Sometimes I get so caught up in canning and putting food away for the winter that I forget to enjoy some of the harvest while its fresh and in the moment. Oh well, I still have not gotten around to preserving the piles of pears that are now sitting in the refrigerator waiting to be canned, so there’s still time to make a pear tart to celebrate the bountiful fruit harvest this year.
This weekend was the first big harvest in the garden. I’ve been so busy with my day job and keeping the pastures and gardens watered and taking extra care of the chickens and turkeys during the recent heat wave, that I have not had time to do much harvesting yet. I started with the potatoes. I planted Red Lasoda and Yukon Gold this year. The plants had grown large and lush this spring in their raised bed that was amended with much composted chicken manure. The plants had started dying back a couple of weeks ago, and as the foliage withered away I began to see potatoes revealing themselves at the ground surface. I had high hopes for a good harvest, and I was not disappointed when I started digging up the first potatoes. Clusters of large potatoes revealed themselves as I dug in the location of each of the dried up potato stalks. In years past, the potatoes have ranged in size of course, with most of them being what I would consider medium size. This year however, many of the potatoes were gigantic, weighing in at over a pound each, with the largest potatoes weighing close to a pound and a half! When the harvest was done, I had close to 70 pounds of potatoes. Not too shabby for a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed.
Next up it was time to harvest the garlic. I planted it in a new spot this year, where it had deeper soils that were better amended, and it did much better than usual. I harvested about 3 dozen heads, most of which were a decent size. The onions are about ready to harvest too, now that their tops are falling over so I will try to get to those in the next couple of weeks. I have been doing a good job of keeping up with eating the chard, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, and the spaghetti squash are getting close to being ready to harvest. They always do well, and I can already see a couple of dozen big ones on the vines. Our tomatoes are a bit behind schedule this year, and although the plants are huge and covered with tomatoes only the cherry tomatoes are ripening. I started my seeds a bit later than usual this year, and now I am regretting it. Hopefully there will still be enough warm sunny days for us to get a decent harvest. I also need to can the kale soon before the aphids take over, but I will have to save that for another day.
With the veggie garden until control for the time being, it was time to move on to more exciting things. The apples and pears put out a bumper crop this year. There was already a dwarf pear tree here when we bought the farm, and we planted a second dwarf pear tree several years ago. The tree we planted has put out a few pears for the last couple years, but this year it gave us a whopping 15 pounds and it’s barely taller than I am! I picked them all, and as soon as they ripen I am planning to make a big batch of pear butter and maybe some pear-applesauce. We have lots of apples this year on our tree, and friends and neighbors have been giving us their extras too. I picked a big bucket full of blackberries from the blackberry bushes that surround the farm. The one good thing about having huge blackberry thickets in the areas of the farm that we don’t have time to maintain is that I don’t have to go anywhere to pick them. I also picked a bunch of giant rhubarb stalks from the garden and froze it in pre-sliced and pre-measured amounts with the blackberries, ready to be turned into blackberry-rhubarb cobbler at a moments notice in the winter. Well that’s enough garden stories for now, I’ll tell you all about our exciting apple creations in the next blog post.
At last count we have 26 hens, 3 roosters, and 11 turkeys here at the farm, and I think I recall saying a couple of months ago that we didn’t need to add any more chickens to the flock for a while. Then one day I stumbled upon a hidden stash of eggs in the bushes, which got me to thinking that I could use that stash of eggs to encourage a hen to go broody and hatch out some chicks, and that is just one of the many ways that chicken math strikes again! For you non-chicken enthusiasts, chicken math is the funny way that no matter how many chickens you tell yourself you are going to buy, or hatch, or keep, somehow it always ends up being more than you planned because they are so darned irresistible. Of course we don’t really need any more chickens, but we do have a few ladies that lay really beautiful eggs and it’s always nice to have those beautiful pastel green and very dark brown eggs in the egg basket. Before we could hatch out some eggs, we’d need a willing momma to be. So I took the stash of eggs from the bushes, put them in one of the nest boxes, and waited for someone to step up to the task of setting eggs. Then I waited. It took about a week, and several eggs were broken as they sat in the nest box day after day as the chickens came and went and laid their new eggs in with the old eggs. Eventually Henny, one of Ramon’s ladies, began sitting in the nest box around the clock. After two days, when she appeared to be truly committed to the task, I removed the old eggs, which by now were probably diminishing in their likelihood of hatching.
Rosie, an Easter Egger chicken, and one of our original 5R Farm ladies lays my favorite green eggs of our several green egg layers. We hatched some of Rosie’s eggs two years ago, and her daughter Rosalie lays an almost identical lovely green egg. At six years old, Rosie is getting up there in age, so I wanted to try to hatch some more of her eggs before she slows down in the egg laying department. It’s possible that her eggs may not be that fertile anymore, so I also included several of her daughter Rosalie’s eggs as back-up. I picked out a few of the darkest of the dark brown Marans eggs to round out the batch of hatching eggs I planned to give Henny. That night, I slipped the new eggs under Henny, being pecked mercilessly by her swift beak the entire time. Henny is not one of our friendliest hens to put it nicely, but I think she will be a good momma due to her high ranking in the flock. If history is any indication, Henny’s chicks will be just as bossy as the chickens that our Alpha hen, Raquel, raised a two years ago. The upside to that is that bossy and bold chickens tend to do well for themselves, and as long as we get some layers of colorful eggs out of the deal, it will be worth a little attitude from the ladies.
Eleanor’s little ones are eight weeks old now, and they are not so little anymore. They have officially entered the teenage turkey phase. We took down the pen that they lived in with Eleanor until they were six weeks old, and the integration with the rest of the flock went remarkably smoothly. Prudence was happy to have her friend Eleanor back, and after a few minutes of Prudence chasing Eleanor around as if to say I’m the dominant turkey now, they resumed their friendship. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-behaved Prudence has been with the youngsters. She quickly settled into her role as Auntie Prudence, looking after the little ones as if they were her own. Prudence spends most of her days roaming the pasture with Eleanor and the little ones, and occasionally giving chase to one of the chickens when one ventures too close to the happy turkey family. Eleanor is proving herself to be an excellent mother, and she is still looking after the youngsters and sheltering them under her wings at night although by now they are getting a bit too big for that.
With our chickens, when we’ve had teenagers that were integrated into the rest of the flock, the other chickens would chase and peck the chicken teens mercilessly. The mother hen typically grows tired of caring for her offspring by the time they reach six or eight weeks old, and she will begin pecking the teens to drive them away from her when they try to roost under her wings at night. During the day, the mother hen goes back to join her flock-mates, leaving the teens to fend for themselves. At this point, the young chickens are forced to separate from the mother hen and form their own roving gang of teenagers. This has not happened yet with the turkeys, and I’m curious to see how much longer Eleanor and Prudence will continue to look after the youngsters.
I love watching the turkeys throughout the day, but nighttime is my favorite time to watch them. At bedtime, Eleanor patiently allows her youngsters to jockey for position under her wings, even though barely two of them fit under her wings anymore. For a few days after they joined the rest of the flock, Eleanor and the youngsters experimented with sleeping up on the roof of the big coop, but it didn’t look all that comfortable and now they have settled into a new routine. Typically all eight of the turkey teens will get settled in the early evening up on the high roost that Ringo and Prudence sleep on. A bit later in the evening Prudence will fly up to join them, and several of the youngsters will manage to squeeze themselves under Prudence’s wings. Just when everyone has gotten cozy, Ringo will fly up to the roost and peck at everyone, including Prudence, until they all fly back down onto the ground. Eleanor will settle onto a different perching spot with typically five of the youngsters. As it starts to get dark and Ringo seems to be settling in for the night, Prudence will fly up again onto the high perch, and three of the youngsters will fly up to join Prudence for the night. It is truly adorable to see Eleanor and Prudence roosting at night, wings spread, with little turkey heads or tails sticking out from under their wings. I wish the turkeys wouldn’t grow up for a little while longer. Already they are showing signs of who is going to grow up to be a boy and who is going to be a girl, and it looks like five boys and three girls. Before you know it we’ll have a bunch of obnoxious young toms fighting amongst themselves to sort out the hierarchy. But for now I am going to enjoy these next few weeks of adorableness, before the almost certain chaos of turkey toms begins!
Year of the Rabbit
Every year there is a new battle to be waged in the vegetable garden. A few years ago it was slugs, last year it was flea beetles, but this year’s opponent is small and cute, and I must admit that I let it get the better of me for a while. But once the full force of its ravenous ways became known, I realized that I would have to take action or risk losing a good portion of the veggie garden. We’ve seen the occasional rabbit at the farm the last couple of years, but we would only ever see one rabbit at a time and it was usually at the outskirts of the farm, hopping along the transition between the mowed grass areas and the adjacent blackberry thickets. Last year I suspected a rabbit was taking the occasional nibble on the swiss chard, but no serious damage was done. This year the rabbits are more abundant, and I often see two at a time. They are also spending more time in the garden, and doing some rather serious damage. The irony is that this year I decided to try to do more companion plantings by planting chives and marigolds throughout the garden to protect the veggies from aphids, and the rabbits apparently love both chives and marigolds and they nibbled both of these as well as a couple of dozen leeks nearly down to the ground before I realized that I was going to have to protect them or risk losing these plants. The smaller kale starts were also taking a hit, and the couple dozen oriental lilies and sunflowers that I had planted in the veggie garden had been nibbled down to nothing.
When we first put in the vegetable garden, we knew that we needed to protect it from the deer. We put up an electric fence, which has worked great to keep the deer out, but the rabbits can hop right under it. Rather than adding something like chicken wire around the bottom of the entire garden fence, which would be a pain when it comes to mowing the grass around the garden, I decided to use individual plant cages to protect the smaller plants. This has worked pretty well, although I learned the hard way that the rabbits can stick their heads through the plant cages that are made with wire mesh with larger openings, as they managed to bite off the top two thirds of one of the eggplants despite it having a cage around it. The rabbits also attempted to thwart our efforts to protect the blueberries from the birds. This year we put up a new and improved hoop house-style bird net over the blueberries to make harvesting them easier since I can walk underneath the hoops and net as I harvest berries. It was working great until one day when I went up to the garden to see a blueberry branch moving up and down and a bunny fleeing the scene of the crime. The bunny had nibbled several rabbit sized holes in the blueberry net and was indulging in the berries. A second more durable plastic fence was added around the bottom two feet of the bird netting, which is keeping the rabbits out, although unfortunately a few birds are still managing to find their way into the net. This morning there were four birds flying around under the net, which we freed, and then I spent quite a bit of time crawling around on my hands and knees patching up several other holes that the rabbits must have made in the net before we put up the second fence. I am hoping that we have the rabbit situation under control for this year. I am a bit worried that instead of seeing two cute bunnies hopping around in the backyard next year that there will be vast hordes of bunnies running rampant at the farm. If that is the case we are going to have to seriously step up our game, or perhaps I’ll have to consider adding rabbit stew to the summer menu!
Ode to Our Fair Rhoda
Our dearest Rhoda, one of the original founding members of 5R Farm, has gone up to the chicken farm in the sky. I want to take a few moments to remember all of the things that I loved about her.
Rhoda is radiant, her feathers shine in the sun, my eye seeks her out in the crowd
Her cluck is a cheerful bup-bup-bup that is music to my ear
Always in the center of the action, she knows what she wants and she gets it
Swift of beak, and oh so fond of maintaining the pecking order
A personality larger than life, she’s no lap chicken, but she always makes me smile
I noticed Rhoda was not quite herself starting a few months ago. After taking their annual winter vacation from laying eggs, the hens resume laying eggs sometime between January and March depending on their age, with the older hens taking longer before they start laying. By the end of March, I noticed that Rhoda had not started laying eggs, and neither had another of our girls, Grace. Neither of them was eating quite as much as usual, and they both seemed a bit off. I isolated them from the rest of the flock and treated them with an over the counter antibiotic, and for a short time after that Rhoda seemed a bit better. But by the end of April, I could tell that Rhoda was in a decline. Rhoda is one of our first two chickens, we bought her and Raquel as baby chicks back in March 2010, and they are two of the original founding members of 5R Farm.
Given her special status, I decided that I would do whatever could be done, within reason (or perhaps a bit beyond that) to save her. A chicken can live to be 10 or 12 years or more, and we were hoping to have at least another year or two with her. So off we went to the avian vet. Rhoda was diagnosed as having high egg binding, meaning that her eggs were getting stuck in her reproductive system before she could put a shell on them and lay them. The vet prescribed an antibiotic in the hopes that she could fight off the infection and perhaps would be able to lay the eggs that were stuck. For a short while Rhoda improved, but within a few days of the course of antibiotics ending, Rhoda looked sick again. Back to the vet we went, this time for a surgical procedure. The vet removed a softball sized mass of egg yolk that had gotten stuck in Rhoda’s uterus, and fixed a kink and a tear in her uterus. Unfortunately, as a result of the tear in Rhoda’s uterus, some egg yolk was released into her abdomen, which can result in serious infection. Rhoda came home after two days at the vet, and she bounced back to her old self within a couple of days. But as soon as she completed her course of antibiotics, she started acting sick again, not eating as much and being much less active than usual. We’ve been to the vet a total of 5 times over the last month and a half. Some days Rhoda seemed almost her old spunky self, but on other days I could tell she was not feeling well. Rhoda was no longer showing any improvement on the antibiotics. I feared that she was either egg-bound again or had some other complication from the original occurrence.
It is a sad fact of life for a chicken, that reproductive problems are one of the most frequent causes of illness, and are rarely, if ever, curable. Due to chickens being bred to lay an unnaturally large number of eggs during their lifetime, they are predisposed to reproductive disorders and a variety of other health problems as a result. We have lost many girls over the years, most of them to either confirmed or suspected reproductive problems. It’s getting pretty crowded up in the chicken cemetary, and we only just recently bid Grace farewell, I’m fairly certain to a reproductive problem. Grace was not so lucky as to go to the vet. I tried to treat her at home and make her as comfortable as I could, but in the end we let her go on too long, and I wish I could have done better by her in her last days. I still cry every time we have to say goodbye to one of the ladies, sometimes I think it’s getting easier over the years, but not this time around. We will cherish our memories of Rhoda, and she will have a forever home in our hearts.
First Day Out
Spring is always an exciting time at the farm, and this year even more so because Eleanor hatched eight adorable baby turkeys. She is proving herself to be an excellent first-time mother, which is quite a relief since not all first time turkey moms are up for the task based on what I have read. We have Eleanor and her little ones in a small coop of their own, along with a small fenced area of pasture so that none of the other turkeys or chickens can bother them. Eleanor has been quite attentive to her poults, and she is generally very careful where she puts her large feet when she gets up and walks around in the coop so as not to step on the little ones. However, I have seen her step on the babies on a couple of occasions when she has gotten a bit excited when we have gotten too close to her and the babies, and that’s when I know that it’s time for me to close the coop door and let them have some alone time. For the first week we did not see much of the babies since it was relatively cold outside, and they stayed under Eleanor much of the time except for short periods of eating and drinking. At about a week old, the babies started spending more time out from under their mom. Eleanor was very protective of her little ones though, and every time I would open the coop door to refill the feeder she would make an alarm call and the babies would go dashing back under her for safety. When the poults reached 10 days old, the weather had warmed up enough so that Eleanor brought the babies outside the coop for the first time.
Now that the poults are getting a bit older, Eleanor seems to be slightly less protective of her babies and they are spending more time out from under mom. Poultry that are hen-raised, meaning raised naturally by their mom, tend to be more skittish around humans than poultry that are raised from the chick stage by humans. We have definitely observed this with our flock, and of course it is much more fun to have tame chickens and turkeys than skittish ones that go running in the opposite direction when they see you coming. So it is time for us to begin socializing the little ones so that they get used to us being around and are not afraid to come up to us for treats or hopefully even some lap time one of these days. It is still too early to make any guesses about how many boys and how many girls we have. I usually have bad luck with the male/female ratio whenever we hatch or buy chicks to add to the flock. As you may recall, when we got our first four turkey poults last spring they all turned out to be Turkey Boys, so I am hoping that we get at least a couple of girls in the bunch this time around so that we can add one or two girls to the turkey flock.
These next few weeks are bound to be interesting. I can tell that Eleanor is ready to have a larger area of pasture to roam because she has already jumped over the fence of the pen we have her in with the poults twice today. Luckily she did not go far, and it was easy to shoo her back in with her babies. We will need to keep the babies separated from the rest of the flock until they get big enough so they don’t get accidentally trampled if Ringo decides he wants to give Eleanor some affection. The poults also need a very high protein feed for their first three months, so the longer we can keep them separated from the rest of the flock, the easier it makes feeding time. The little ones are starting to jump up onto a roost that is a foot off of the ground, so I have a feeling they will be jumping over the fence of their pen to escape out into the bigger pasture along with their mom in no time. Of course it will probably be right around the time that I leave for my first vacation in a year and a half. Every time I spend a night away from the farm it seems like all heck breaks loose, so I am pretty certain that my being away from the farm for four nights next month will be the exact time that the turkeys start misbehaving in a serious way. Sean will be here to troubleshoot while I’m away, so the turkeys will be in good hands, if he can catch them that is!
I had a lovely day at the farm today. It was the kind of day that doesn’t come along every day, but when they do, it makes me so thankful for the opportunities to see nature close up that we have at the farm. I was in the garden doing some planting this morning. I had been holding off planting a few things until the latest heat wave passed, so that my transplants wouldn’t get as wilted and sad looking as my chard and spinach did when I planted them right before the last heat wave a couple of weeks ago. We have been hearing quail around the farm for the last few weeks, but they can be somewhat elusive. Other than a quick glimpse of them as they briefly landed in the front pasture before quickly flying off, I had not gotten a good look at them this year until today, my lucky day. I was up in the garden just getting started when I heard a quail calling, and I looked up just in time to see a pair of quail flying low over my head. They landed in some short alder trees right outside the garden fence and continued calling and flitting about in the trees. I fancied myself in a David Attenborough documentary, the one where he is narrating as the bird of paradise male flits around above his head doing his elaborate courtship dance.
A little later, the rufous hummingbirds were at it, two brightly colored red males chasing each other about the yard and garden, dive bombing each other in a dispute over territory no doubt. After I had been up in the garden awhile and gotten most of the planting done, the little banty hens decided to come up and check out my progress. Millie was first on the scene, inspecting the spinach bed and thinking maybe it was time to start sampling the fresh spring greens. I had to eject her from the spinach bed in the interest of saving the still quite small plants. But she got the better of me by spotting the first ripe strawberry of the season and getting a few good pecks in before I saw what she was eating. By the time I got over to her to attempt to steal it away from her, I realized there was not enough left to share so I let her have the rest of it. I am a sucker for a cute face after all. By this time, Salt-n-Pepa had made their way up to the garden and were eager to scratch about in the freshly turned soil that I had just planted the leeks and onions in. I had to eject the ladies from this bed too, because even though they are tiny, they can do a lot of damage with those little feathered feet in a hurry! I grabbed a few kale leaves and coaxed them back down to their coop to eat their treat.
I went back up to the garden in the afternoon, and this time I had my camera with me. Much to my delight I saw the quail pair were back. I watched them as they scurried back and forth under the raspberry and blueberry bushes, and then the male was so kind as to fly up on the fence and pose for some photos. A bit later in the day I saw them again in the driveway, the male appeared to be pecking about in the gravel for tasty treats and then the female would come running over to the male to claim the treat, much in the same way that I’ve seen roosters and hens display this same behavior. I am hoping that the quail pair nest close to the farm and raise up a batch of little ones. That would sure be a nice addition to our feathered friends here at the farm.
We have happy bee news at the farm this spring. Not only did both of our hives survive the winter, but we have added a third hive to our bee yard. I bought myself a third hive for a birthday present last fall and had been looking forward to getting it set up for several months. My plan was to do a hive split with one of our existing hives to establish a colony in the new hive, but I had to wait until spring when the bee population increases in size before taking the split. I had been watching the activity levels steadily increase outside both of our existing hives on the warm, sunny early spring days we had been having. I wanted to be sure to do the hive split before the start of swarm season, so that we didn’t lose bees to a swarm when we could be moving them into the new hive instead. Before doing the hive split I wanted to do a thorough inspection of both hives to figure out which one was stronger and then take the split from that hive. That meant removing all of the boxes from both of the hives and really getting a good sense of what was going on inside each of the hives. Most of the time I do the hive inspections by myself, but if I need to remove entire boxes from a hive, I like to have my husband help out to do the heavy lifting.
We waited for a warm sunny day at the end of March to inspect the hives and do the hive split. Sean had the great idea to set up the trail camera so we could get some good photos. We inspected our oldest hive first, which we started in 2013. We took off the cover and inspected the honey super, which is one of the smaller boxes you add during the peak nectar flow when the bees are bringing in lots of honey to the hive. I always leave a super on over the winter to make sure the bees have enough food stores to last through the winter. There was still quite a bit of honey in the super which was good news for the bees and good news for us. Since the bees are already starting to store honey this spring, we can harvest some of the honey left in the hive from last winter. There were lots of bees bringing pollen into the hive, and we saw Queen Rosalind in the hive during the inspection. I usually don’t see the queen during hive inspections, so it’s quite a thrill on those rare occasions when you do get to the big queen bee walking around on one of the frames. There were several frames of capped brood (developing bees) in the hive, which means the queen is healthy and laying eggs, but most of the brood was on the smaller frames in the super which is not ideal since when you split a hive it’s better to take the bigger frames from the deeper hive boxes. Everything looked good in the hive, so we closed it up and moved onto inspecting the next hive.
Our second hive was started from a split we did in 2014. This is Queen Rosemary’s hive, and it has always been a strong hive. This hive also had quite a bit of honey in the honey super. There was also quite a bit of brood in this hive, and it was in the deep hive box where it should be. This hive also had lots of bees bringing in pollen, and it looked like the population was a bit larger in this hive so we decided to take the split from this hive. We took three frames with brood and eggs and two frames of honey and pollen and put them in the new yellow hive. We also shook a couple of frames of nurse bees into the new hive to tend to the developing brood. Before closing up Queen Rosemary’s hive, we did a bit of housekeeping. The wax on the frames that the bees use for storing honey tend to stay light in color, but the frames that the bees use for rearing brood tend to get very dark over time. We replaced a few of the darker frames as well as adding frames to make up for the ones we transferred to in the new hive, and we closed up the hive.
After doing the hive split, I left the new hive alone for a couple of weeks to let the bees tend to their business of raising a new queen. When a colony decides to raise a queen, they need either eggs or larvae that are only a few days old, and then they will feed royal jelly to the larvae that are chosen to be reared as queens. It is really hard for me to see eggs in the hive because they are so small, so when we did the split I picked frames that I could see young larvae on and hoped that they were young enough that they could be reared as queens or that there were also eggs on the frame. After a couple of weeks I checked on the new hive, and I saw that the bees were building three queen cells, which are large peanut shaped cells that a queen is reared in. This was good news! I checked the hive again in a couple of weeks, hoping to find either the newly hatched queen or that she was laying eggs. I did not see either the queen or capped brood during the second inspection, so I was a little worried that the hive had failed to raise a queen. If that was the case, I would have to add another frame with eggs so that they could try again to raise a queen. If there was a queen in the hive, she would have only just started to lay eggs which are hard for me to see, so I decided to close the hive up and wait another couple of weeks and check back to see if I could find capped brood. When I checked the hive two weeks later, I was very pleased to see a couple frames with capped brood in a nice tight pattern, which means that there is a queen and she is laying eggs! So now we have a third hive here at the farm with Queen Buttercup on the throne, and we couldn’t be happier to have her in our farm family.
Good Turkey Girls
Our two turkey hens, Eleanor and Prudence, have been laying eggs for about a month now. They lay beautiful cream to light brown colored eggs with darker brown speckles. Before they started laying, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what sort of nest box we should build for them. In preparation for the big event, I had read a lot about turkey egg laying behavior. Wild turkeys will make a nest on the ground, usually in the brush but sometimes more out in the open, and I learned that it’s fairly common for heritage turkey breeds, like we have, to flee the safety of where they are kept to go hide in the bushes somewhere to make a nest just like a wild turkey would. Nesting in the wild is a dangerous proposition, as they are an easy meal for any passing predator. Since both Eleanor and Prudence had flown over the fence and spent the night in the blackberries when they were younger girls (Wild at Heart), I was terribly worried that they would do the same thing when it came time to lay their eggs. I wanted to build them a nest in the pasture that would encourage them to stay close to home to lay their eggs. Of course we have built several structures for the turkeys over the last year, and most of them have been totally rejected as unsuitable for reasons unknown to us. So we debated about whether it was worth the effort to build a turkey nest box, knowing full well that they probably would reject it no matter how hard we tried to build something to their mysterious specifications. We did make one attempt by building a turkey sized nest box under one of the pallet structures, but of course the turkeys showed no interest in it. So we figured we would wait and see what they did.
Prudence was the first to lay, and much to my amazement she laid her first egg, and every egg since then, in a small chicken nest box in Ramon’s coop. Eleanor started laying a day later, and for the first couple of days I would find her eggs just sitting on the ground out in the open in the pasture. Then by her third egg, Eleanor started laying on the floor in the corner of Ramon’s coop. Eleanor is a bit larger than Prudence, and there was no way that she was going to fit into the chicken nest box. Needless to say, I was quite relieved that both of the girls had found somewhere safe to lay their eggs. I still worried a bit though that when one of the girls decided she was ready to hatch some eggs, she would fly over the fence and head off into the bushes. About a week ago, Eleanor started spending the night in Ramon’s coop instead of on her high roost with Ringo and Prudence. It seemed that Eleanor had gone broody, meaning she is ready to set and hatch eggs. I began making more and more frequent trips out to the pasture, looking to see if Eleanor was spending all day and all night in Ramon’s coop which would mean that she was truly broody. After several days of her being camped out in Ramon’s coop, I was convinced that she was broody. I had been hoping that one of the girls would go broody so that we could hatch some turkeys, and I again breathed a huge sigh of relief that she had done it in the safety of Ramon’s coop.
I had been collecting turkey eggs every day to store them safely in the house, and now that Eleanor was broody it was time to give her some eggs to incubate. I went outside one afternoon and called everyone for treats, and I was happy that Eleanor came out of the coop for treats. She had been sitting on two eggs that I had left in there for her for a couple of days. I quickly removed those eggs and put 10 newer eggs in the coop, marked with a big X on the bottom with a pen, so that I would know which ones were being incubated, and I could collect any newly laid eggs by Prudence that Eleanor may also try to incubate. It is important that all of the eggs that are being incubated start out being incubated at the same point in time so that they all hatch within a couple of days of each other. After I put the eggs in the coop and Eleanor had spent a few minutes in the pasture and was ready to go back into the coop, I saw her stick her head in the door, make a little noise, and then leave. Uh oh I thought, she knows something is up. I went about my business and came back to check in about an hour, and thankfully Eleanor was back in the coop in her usual spot, but she was only setting on four eggs, while the other eight sat beside her on the floor. Darn it! She definitely knew something was up. But thankfully her instincts kicked in, and when I checked on Eleanor a few hours later she was setting on all of the eggs. I did a happy dance! This just might work after all! It’s been two days since I gave Eleanor the eggs, and I have not seen her leave the coop once. A broody hen’s instincts are strong, and they will only leave the nest for a few minutes each day to eat, drink, poop, and take a quick dust bath. I’m sure she knows what she needs to do to take care of herself and her eggs, but if I don’t see her leave the nest in a few more days I may try to encourage her to leave for a bit to make sure she is eating and drinking. I have heard of a few sad stories where an especially devoted broody hen will actually starve herself while incubating eggs. So fingers crossed that all goes well, and in about 26 days we should have turkey poults hatching at the farm!
Boys Will Be Boys
We’ve had a good run of everyone getting along fairly well here at the farm, but as the old saying goes, nothing good lasts forever. Now that spring is here, love is in the air, along with the hormones that go along with it which always seems to bring out the bad behavior in the boys. The first offender was Ringo the turkey, who has started challenging and attacking my husband Sean, every time he goes into the lower pasture. Of course he’s only going into the pasture to take care of some chore to make things nicer for the turkeys and chickens, but that doesn’t matter to Ringo. Ringo will chase after Sean, walk around him in circles looking for any potential weakness, and vigorously peck anything he can get his beak on. At well over 20 pounds, a tom turkey is nothing to mess around with, they can inflict serious injury if you don’t pay attention. Although being attacked by a turkey is no laughing matter, there is a slightly humorous aspect to the situation which is that all the while the tom turkey is in attack mode, he makes a sound that is referred to as the “fighting purr”. It is a high pitched purr-like call, and the first few times we heard it we thought it was kind of sweet and endearing. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that such a cute sound is not a happy turkey call, but an aggressive turkey call. So now when we hear the fighting purr, we know it will soon be followed by Ringo charging at Sean, who then opens the gate, Ringo charges out in attack mode, and then Sean quickly walks into the pasture while leaving Ringo stranded outside. When the chore in the pasture is done, Sean opens the gate, Ringo charges back in, and Sean walks back out. Problem solved.
The other case of boys behaving badly is not such an easy fix. Ramon, our alpha rooster, has been coexisting with his son Brown Rooster, since last fall. A couple of weeks ago I noticed some occasional sparring between the two, and Ramon started chasing Brown Rooster around the pasture a bit. Then last week I noticed that instead of going into his own small coop at night with his ladies Henny, Penny, and Lil’ Miss, Ramon was spending the night in the big coop with Brown Rooster and Brown’s ladies. For a few nights I went into Brown’s coop, removed Ramon, and closed the automatic chicken door so Ramon couldn’t get back in. After doing this for a few nights with no change in Ramon’s behavior, I soon realized that my attempts at problem solving were not going to have any effect. I decided that the boys would have to work it out for themselves. The sparring and chasing has been gradually escalating, with Ramon maintaining his status as the dominant rooster until this morning when the tide had noticeably turned in Brown Rooster’s favor. Brown Rooster must have gotten tired of taking Ramon’s guff, and he decided not to take it anymore. This morning when I went down to feed everyone, I found Ramon with a blooded comb and an attitude adjustment. Instead of strutting proudly around the pasture, he was hiding underneath the coop. When I called to him to come out, which I did not expect to actually work, to my surprise he came out rather dejectedly as if he was seeking some sympathy. I held him for a minute and inspected him for injuries. When I put him down, he ran right over to the other coop which he quickly crawled under. A few moments later, Brown Rooster ran after him and also crawled under the coop. I called Ramon, and again he came over to me and out from under the coop. By this time I could see what was going on. Brown Rooster, at three years old, had knocked Ramon who is four years old, down a peg in the pecking order. On the one hand it was Karma coming back around on Ramon, who had done the same thing to his coop mate Reuben a year and a half ago. But on the other hand, the rooster pecking order is more vicious than the hen pecking order, and I didn’t want Brown Rooster doing serious injury to Ramon. Aside from the Reuben incident, which you can’t really blame him for, Ramon has been a very good rooster. He is an attentive guard and good provider for his ladies. He is also gentle with the ladies, and I want him to sire some offspring for us this summer.
So what do I do with Brown Rooster? For now he is having a time-out in a separate pen inside the lower pasture, while Ramon regains his confidence and struts around the pasture with the ladies. This may temporarily take Brown Rooster back down a notch, but probably not. I will most likely end up moving Brown Rooster and a few of his girls back to the upper pasture. Our old biddies, Raquel, Rhoda, and Rosie, who are now six years old, will be none too excited to have to live with a rooster again. But Brown Rooster can watch over them and keep an eye out for aerial predators now that we have taken down the net that used to be over the upper pasture. It’s likely that moving Brown Rooster to the upper pasture will bring with it another set of problems. I can easily see Brown Rooster trying to attack and peck Reuben, my special needs rooster, through the fencing of his enclosure. Reuben has been singing his musical crow these last few weeks again, which I take to mean that he is feeling well and enjoying life as much as he can given the cards that he’s been dealt. I don’t want Reuben’s quality of life to be reduced, and I’m sure I will need to make some adjustments to Reuben’s enclosure if I move Brown Rooster to the other side of Reuben’s fence. It can be a lot of work at times, but if I wasn’t trouble-shooting rooster relationships I’d be trying to fix something else. After all, there is certainly never a dull moment at the farm!
Spring has finally arrived at the farm after several rainy and muddy winter months, and I can’t wait to get back to gardening! I’ve already been doing some garden clean-up, including dragging all of the fir branches that blew down into the garden during the wind storm down to the fire pit. I’ve spread compost in the raised beds and done some weeding and pruning in the veggie garden and flower beds, while my little helpers, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa have been keeping me company. They love to follow me up to the garden, where there is lots of loose dirt and compost to scratch around in looking for bugs, and the kale has sprouted some delicious new leaves for the girls to nibble on. The raspberries and blueberries have been pruned, and I’ve cleaned up the strawberry and asparagus bed. The rhubarb and artichokes have leafed out, the garlic has sprouted, and the veggie garden is starting to look like a veggie garden again.
The cool season veggie seeds have been started in the greenhouse – onions, leeks, spinach, chard, and kale. I’ve also started a flat of perennial flowers that I saved seeds from last year to add to our late summer/fall bee garden – coneflower, calendula, coreopsis, bee balm, gloriosa daisy, and blazing star. The seed potatoes have started to sprout and are almost ready to plant. In a couple of weeks I’ll start the warm season veggie seeds – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, and pumpkins. I have a new pumpkin bed planned for this summer below the greenhouse, which will give the pumpkin vines plenty of room to grow. The bee hives have been active on these warm sunny days, and in a couple of weeks I am planning to split one of the hives and start our third hive. I also want to make some preparations for hatching chicks up in the main coop this year, and potentially setting up a separate pen in the front pasture in case Eleanor or Prudence decide they want to hatch eggs. There is lots on the to do list at this time of year, now let’s just hope we get some sunny days so we can get to it!
As you may have noticed by now, I am endlessly fascinated with our turkeys, especially the variety of sounds they make while communicating with each other. If you do an internet search of wild turkey sounds and listen to the hen calls, I’m sure you will be fascinated too. When we got our two turkey hens, Eleanor and Prudence, their only pasture-mates were our turkey Ringo, Ramon the rooster, and his three ladies, Henny, Penny and Little Miss. The chickens had been living in the pasture on their own for several months before we introduced the turkeys, and Ramon’s ladies had definitely taken ownership over the pasture. When we added Eleanor and Prudence to the pasture, Ramon’s ladies let them know in no uncertain terms that the chickens were the rulers of the pasture, and that the chickens got first dibs at treat time. Eleanor and Prudence were a bit skittish when we got them, and I was trying to train them to come when called and to eat treats out of my hand. Every time Eleanor and Prudence would gradually approach me for treats, one of Ramon’s girls would peck or chase them away. As I watched the interactions of the turkey hens and the chickens from a distance, I saw that Prudence routinely would turn around and run the other way when one of Ramon’s ladies approached her. Eleanor, the bolder turkey, would sometimes chase after Ramon’s ladies when they went after Prudence. This went on for several months, until one day I noticed that instead of Prudence running away from Ramon’s ladies, Prudence was actually seeking out their company.
Before I got the turkeys and I was doing my research, I read that it was fine to keep turkeys and chickens together, but that they would typically hang out within their own species groups. I’ve found that more often than not, Eleanor and Prudence can be found hanging out with the chickens, in particular Ramon’s girls (the black ones). The chickens sleep inside their coops at night, and they don’t come out of their coops in the morning until the automatic chicken coop doors open. The automatic doors have a light sensor, so they open at varying times after sunrise, depending upon how bright the morning is. On these gray rainy mornings, the automatic chicken coop doors don’t open as early as they would on a sunny morning. When the turkeys fly down from their outdoor perch in the morning, they look around for their chicken friends, and if the automatic coop chicken doors have not yet opened, Eleanor and Prudence begin calling for the chickens. The turkeys stand right outside the door of Ramon’s coop, yelping their mournful turkey calls until the chicken door opens and they are reunited with their favorite companions, and all is again peaceful in the pasture. On rainy or windy days, the chickens will take shelter from the weather and hunker down inside or under their coops, while the turkeys tend to be a bit more tolerant of the nasty weather and will continue to stay out in the open. As they do in the mornings, Eleanor and Prudence will start calling for the chickens when they notice that they are alone in the pasture. Eleanor and Prudence will then go in search of the chickens, and the sad turkey calls will cease only when the turkeys have located their chicken friends. I’m not sure if Eleanor and Prudence think that the chickens are turkeys, or if they have just been granted honorary turkey status, but either way the chickens appear to be part of the turkey tribe.
The Grass is Always Greener
Chicken farming can be a messy business. The chickens are constantly scratching about in the grass and dirt as they search for bugs and other tasty treats which leaves lots of bare patches in the grass and lots of pits and craters in the bare patches. When you combine that with a record-setting 25 inches of rain since December 1st, things can get messy fast! That’s why I am so glad that we decided to undertake our major pasture rotation project last fall. Had we not moved all of the chickens off of the upper pasture, I’m sure it would be a muddy disaster by now. The upper pasture had gotten pretty worn out and was in need of some rest and rejuvenation. When we got the chickens for the farm back in 2012, safety was our number one priority. We built a fence around the upper pasture that was designed to keep out all manner of predators. We did this by using hundreds of landscape staples to attach chicken wire on top of the ground along the outside edge of the fence to prevent predators from digging under the fence. We also hung a net over the entire top of the fenced area and attached it securely every few feet to the top of the fence with little wire rings. The ultra-secure upper pasture has served the ladies well and kept them safe from the predators that we have seen here at the farm – and we have seen many – hawks, eagles, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, and let’s not forget about the risk posed by the occasional neighbor’s dog (which I still can’t help but think may have been the cause of our banty rooster Henry’s demise). The down side to the ultra-secure fenced upper pasture is that it is not large enough to rotate the pasture with the 25 – 30 chickens that were living on it. They wanted to use every bit of that pasture, and of course I let them. So after 2-1/2 years of use, the upper pasture was a bit worse for the wear.
Last fall we took all of the chickens off the upper pasture. We moved half of the chickens down to the lower pasture in the front yard where they have settled in fairly well with the turkeys and Ramon and his ladies. We set up a temporary fenced area adjacent to the upper pasture for our favorite ladies, where we could keep a close eye on them since they would be in a less secure area until we get the pasture project complete. We rototilled and seeded the upper pasture, and the new grass is coming in nicely. It’s still not quite ready to put the ladies back on the young grass in the upper pasture, and after four months in their temporary pasture it was looking a bit worn out too. I had been thinking that it was time for fresh pasture for a couple of weeks, and when the ladies started poking their heads through the fence to graze on the other side, we knew it was time for phase two of the pasture project. On several of these recent nice warm days, instead of getting the garden and greenhouse ready for spring, we’ve been disassembling the net, fence, and buried chicken wire around the upper pasture. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, we have spent many hours wishing we had not gone to quite as great lengths with our security measures. Don’t get me wrong, safety is still a high priority, but being able to rotate pasture is just as important to the health and safety of the flock.
We’ve learned a few things over the years about caring for and keeping our chickens safe. Perhaps the greatest invention known to chicken-keepers is the automatic chicken door opener which opens slightly after dawn to let everyone out of the coop in the morning, and closes slightly before sunset. As long as everyone gets in the coop before the door closes, which they always have with one exception, the chickens are safe in their coop at night even if we are not home at dusk to close them up. At $200 each, the automatic door openers are an investment, but the peace of mind they give me if I need to be away from the farm is worth it. We’ve also learned that the movable electric poultry netting we have in the lower pasture allows us to keep the ladies safe while also being able to rotate pasture and mow the grass more easily when we need to. We’ve decided to switch to the movable electric poultry netting in the upper pasture, which we will use in combination with some level of aerial protection from flying predators. There are several tall trees very close to the upper pasture, and we’ve had several low hawk fly-overs of the upper pasture, so we need to continue to provide some measure of protection from aerial predators. With the old upper pasture fence now removed, we are about ready to set up the movable electric poultry netting in the upper pasture, and hopefully this new system will make it easier for us to make sure the ladies’ grass is always greener.
Reuben has been my special needs rooster for quite some time now. I’ve long had a soft spot for Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn). He was the first rooster that we raised from a chick after getting the farm, so I knew we would be able to keep him, and I envisioned him as the alpha rooster and main protector of the flock for many years to come. But that was not in the cards for poor Reuben, and it wasn’t long before he was unseated from his throne (The Trouble with Roosters). Now Reuben has his own little rooster house, and he lives in his own enclosure, separate from all of the other chickens for his own safety. Chickens can be merciless when it comes to picking on weak or sick chickens, and I definitely don’t want anyone injuring Reuben as he’s already got enough problems to deal with. Despite his recovery last spring (Reuben’s Recovery), his mysterious leg condition returned several months ago, and he is back to hobbling around on bent legs and curled toes. I have not taken him to the vet, because the fact of the matter is that every sick chicken I’ve taken to the vet (and there have been many – Ruby, Sweet Pea, Coco Puff, and Ramona) has ended up dying of whatever ailed them. Sadly, chicken medicine is not very advanced. The majority of the time the vet typically prescribes an antibiotic, which sometimes brings a slight improvement for a few days, but in my experience if the condition is something serious, the chicken eventually dies of whatever is ailing it.
I have been treating Reuben at home to the best of my ability. There are days when I visit Reuben to make sure he has had enough to eat and drink for the day, and he seems alert and energetic and he gets around his small pasture fairly well, pressing himself up against the fence to watch the ladies grazing on the other side of the fence. Then there are days when he fluffs himself up and sleeps a lot, which are signs that perhaps he’s not feeling so well after all. Lately I’ve been thinking perhaps it’s time to let him go. I have tried several treatments for his legs, I’ll spare you the details lest you think I’m more of a crazy chicken lady than you probably do already! I have one more treatment that I want to try to see if it will improve his leg condition, but if that doesn’t work I am thinking about taking him to the vet to have him euthanized. There are several viruses and neurological conditions that could be the cause of his leg condition, but again, these are hard to diagnose and typically have no known treatment. In hindsight, I realize that Reuben’s leg condition started as a young rooster. One of my favorite pictures of Reuben and Twitchy is the one that I have on the label of my egg cartons. Twitchy (the hen) is standing on a stump, while Reuben is sitting down beside her. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but now after having had roosters for four years, I know that it is very unusual for a rooster to not be standing on guard, watching attentively over his ladies. Due to the length of time that Reuben has had this condition, I think it is probably a degenerative condition that will continue to worsen with time. As any pet owner knows, the decision regarding when to euthanize an aging and ailing pet is a difficult one. On the one hand, I’d like to have more time with Reuben, and he seems to still be having a good life on his good days like today when it’s sunny and warm and he is out napping in the grass. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that he can no longer do the majority of things that a rooster likes to do, and maybe it is time to let him go.
Waiting for the Sun
We’ve been through all of the phases of winter here at the farm – cold frosty mornings, wind storms, snow storms, and lots and lots of rain, and we are all anxiously waiting for the sun to return. After the recent snow melted, we had several very rainy weeks. The ground is saturated and muddy, and the grass in the pasture is getting chewed down pretty short by now. On the days when the rain stops for a bit and we do get some sun, the ladies are out and about, munching on grass and foraging for the occasional bug or earthworm. But it’s not uncommon for me to look out the window and see only the most intrepid of foragers out it the rain. The turkeys and Ramon’s ladies are usually outside no matter what the weather, but many of the girls and even Ramon and Brown Rooster prefer to spend the rainy days hunkered down inside the coop, under the coop, or wherever they can find shelter and get some peace away from the turkeys. I can only assume that when I found Ramon perched in the rafter of the coop one morning, it was because of the turkeys. The turkeys and the chickens get along most of the time, but the turkeys can be bossy, and they do love a good chicken chase now and again.
The eggs are few and far between over the winter, and I actually had to buy a dozen eggs from the store a couple of weeks ago. Despite buying organic, cage free eggs, the store bought eggs paled in comparison to our ladies lovely eggs. Commercial egg producers provide artificial lighting in their chicken coops to increase the number of eggs their chickens lay over the winter. A hen’s egg laying cycle is related to the number of hours of daylight she receives per day, so artificially increasing the amount of daylight a chicken receives means that she will be stimulated to lay more eggs. We let the ladies take the winter off from egg laying, as nature intended, so that means from November through January we only get a couple of eggs a day if we are lucky. Now that the days are gradually lengthening, a few more of the ladies are starting to lay again. It’s definitely worth the wait for their large to extra large eggs with their lovely orange yolks, and it shouldn’t be too much longer before we will have enough to sell again.
There are signs that spring is around the corner. On the occasional sunny day, the bees can be seen coming and going from the beehives, and it’s always a thrill to see activity outside the beehives again and know that the bees have survived the cold, damp winter. Our turkey hens, Eleanor and Prudence, have been exhibiting some different behaviors recently which I’m thinking means they will be ready to mate soon, and it won’t be too much longer before we have turkey eggs. I have never tried a turkey egg, but I am looking forward to it. In addition to the eggshell having a beautiful speckled pattern, I have read that turkey eggs are rich and delicious and are especially good for baking because they give a light and fluffy texture to baked goods. We are drawing up plans for a small nesting house for the turkeys in hopes that one of them will go broody and raise a batch of turkey poults for us. So although we are all waiting for the sun, I have a feeling that no one is waiting for it more anxiously than me!
We’ve had quite a spell of wild weather here at the farm recently. It started out the Monday before Christmas with a big windstorm that blew down lots of nearby trees and knocked out our power for 63 hours. We all survived that just fine thanks to our wood stove and our generator which kept us warm and with lights and enough power to operate our electronic devices and keep us from going stir crazy. We woke up Christmas Eve morning to find that our power had been restored and that 2 inches of snow had fallen. It was the perfect beginning to Christmas, although I had a feeling that the turkeys would not be quite as excited as I was to see the snow. Most of our chickens have become accustomed to snow over the years, but the first time a chicken sees snow it is typically very wary of setting foot on this mysterious white stuff covering the ground. Fortunately for our chickens, when they peer out of the coop door to see their first snow, they can choose to stay inside the coop and have their morning food and water in the comfort of the coop without having to venture out into the snow. Eventually they get brave and tentatively step into the snow and realize it’s not going to hurt them, and then all is well in their chicken world again.
The turkeys, however, do not have the same luxury of staying in the coop to avoid the snow. That’s because despite my many attempts to convince the turkeys to sleep inside the chicken coop, they prefer to sleep outside on their high roost no matter what the weather. On this particular morning they woke up to not only snow covering the ground but also covering them! They would need to fly down off of their roost in order to get food and water and also to preen and dry out their feathers since they had been getting snowed on for several hours before sunrise. But they were hesitant to fly down onto the snow-covered ground having never seen snow before. Almost every morning when I go out to feed the chickens and turkeys, the turkeys are already foraging and roaming the pasture, but the morning of their first snow the turkeys were still on their roost when I came out to feed everyone. I looked up at them on the roost, and I saw that Ringo’s feathers on his breast and underside were soaking wet and he was shivering a bit. Prudence and Eleanor looked like they were ready to get out of the snow too. I felt sorry for them and thought that they would be happier if they were down off their roost and on the covered chicken coop porch where they could get a respite from the snow.
The turkey roost is six feet off the ground, so I had to get a step stool from the garage so I could reach them and try to get them down off the roost. It was pretty awkward trying to wrangle the turkeys down from their roost onto the ground since they are big and heavy and when they flap their wings it’s pretty easy to get smacked in the face! I managed to coax Prudence and Ringo to step onto my arm so that I was able to bring them down off the roost, but I had to grab Eleanor since she is less tame. I finally got them all down and onto the coop porch for breakfast. Prudence and Eleanor spent much of the day on the porch while Ringo explored the snowy pasture. I hoped that the snow would encourage the turkeys to spend the night in the coop, but by the afternoon Prudence and Eleanor had begun exploring the snow, and the turkeys spent the night on their outdoor roost as usual. The next morning there was still snow on the ground, but this time the turkeys flew down off their roost and ran to great me for breakfast as usual.
2015 in Review
I always get a bit nostalgic at the end of the year, and looking back at 2015 it was quite a memorable year at the farm. Without a doubt, the most exciting thing to happen at the farm was the addition of turkeys to our flock. We bought four turkey poults from the farm store in April and soon fell in love with their curious and adorable ways (Turkey Lurkey). We had a very enjoyable three weeks of raising them in the house before they became so big and adventurous that they had to move outside to their coop. All four of the turkey poults grew up to be Turkey Boys, and although they were truly a stunning sight to behold when they were all strutting at the same time, by the time they were three months old they had started to fight, so I rehomed three of the four boys. I bought two young turkey hens from a farm a couple of hours away, and now we have what will hopefully be a happy trio of breeding turkeys consisting of Ringo, Dear Prudence, and Eleanor. The turkeys have quickly become among my favorites of the farm family.
We had our hearts broken a few times this year when we lost Coco Puff, Ramona, Squeeky, and Lil’ Red Rooster. I think Coco Puff died from a reproductive disorder (Farewell Funny Lady) as seems to happen all too often with pet chickens. Squeeky died in a freak choking accident while we struggled to help her but were unable to. I’m not exactly sure what the cause of Ramona’s death was, but something seemed to have been ailing her for a while, and one morning I found her dead in the coop. Lil’ Red Rooster went missing in November, and we assume he was taken by a hawk. We went into Lockdown mode on the farm after Lil’ Red’s disappearance and a coyote sighting on the trail camera. We implemented extra security measures including installing automatic chicken coop doors on the two coops in the front pasture, so now everyone is locked into their coops safe and sound at night whether we are here at dusk to close the doors or not. We bought two silver laced cochin banty hens (Little Ones) to be Millie’s new coopmates after we lost Coco, and I’m glad we did or else Millie would have been quite lonely after having lost both Coco and Lil’ Red. Next year I am planning to get a silkie banty rooster, the same breed as Millie, and maybe we’ll let her raise up a batch of banty chicks.
We had a productive year in the garden (Garden Goodness), preserved lots of food for the winter (Putting Food By), learned how to use the pressure canner (Eat Your Veggies), and had our best squash season ever (Squash-a-rama). The ladies supplied us with plenty of eggs throughout the spring and summer for ourselves, our family, friends, and neighbors, laying an all time record of 20 eggs a day on several occassions! Our two bee hives also had a very productive year, and we harvested several pounds of honey (Honey Days). I bought myself a third bee hive for my birthday present this year, and next spring we will do a hive split to establish a colony in the new beehive. We undertook a major pasture renovation project this fall (Fall at the Farm), by rototilling, seeding, and moving the girls off of the upper pasture. By next spring, the upper pasture should be fully revegetated with grass and nutritious legumes for the ladies. Amidst all that happened this year at the farm, we also tried to remember to take some time to enjoy the Simple Pleasures.
It can be hard to predict chicken behavior and even harder to understand the pecking order. It’s not uncommon for there to be pecking and squabbles among the ladies and gents. It’s impossible to micromanage the flock dynamic, although I’m not ashamed to admit that I have tried on more than one occasion. We’ve recently introduced a few new members to the flock and moved chickens from one pasture to another, and I’m happy to report that we have peace at the farm. It’s been a month and a half since we brought the turkey hens, Eleanor and Prudence to the farm, and they have settled in nicely. The turkeys tend to keep to themselves, but I think they do identify themselves as part of the overall flock. The turkeys sleep outside at night, while the chickens are locked safely in their coops. In the mornings when I go down to open the coops, the turkeys are roaming the pasture, making various loud calls and yelps as if wondering where the rest of their flock is. As soon as they see me, the turkeys come running for their breakfast treats, and Eleanor is now eating out of my hand along with Prudence. I put out some food for the turkeys, then I let Brown Rooster and his ladies out of their coop, and then I let Ramon and his ladies out of their coop. Despite my efforts to try to distract the turkeys and keep them away from the feeder by Brown Rooster’s coop, so that he and his ladies can get their breakfast before the turkeys barge in, the turkeys go wherever and do whatever they want. The chickens are gradually getting used to the turkeys, and somehow everyone manages to get a full belly by night time, despite my worrying and micromanaging.
I’m very pleased that Brown Rooster and Ramon are coexisting together in the same pasture. It’s been over a month since we moved half of the chickens down to the front pasture to let the upper pasture rest over the winter. This move included bringing Brown Rooster down to the lower pasture. There were a couple of sparring matches at first, but nothing serious, and now that Brown Rooster has accepted Ramon’s dominance they are getting along fine. I also moved Raquel’s four bossy daughters down to the front pasture. Having been raised by the boss lady of the flock, Raquel’s daughters are quite bratty and entitled to say the least, They were constantly pecking the shyer easter egger hens in the flock, which are among my favorites, and I felt sorry for them. So when it came time to choose who was moving down to the slightly less predator proof lower pasture, Raquel’s daughters were at the top of the list. They are doing just fine in the lower pasture, although they are not quite so sure of themselves now that they have the turkeys and Ramon’s bossy girls to contend with!
Now that Raquel’s daughters have moved down to the lower pasture, the older girls in the upper coop are all getting along well. Raquel, Rhoda, and Rosie, our 5 and a half year old ladies seem to appreciate not having a Rooster around. Now that there is no rooster in the upper coop, Raquel is exhibiting a bit of rooster-like behavior, which is not uncommon in flocks with no rooster. Typically Raquel is a pretty quiet chicken. As the boss lady, she usually communicates to the others in the flock with her body language, or a quiet growl if another hen is getting on her nerves. But as the dominant hen, it is her responsibility to keep an eye on things, and just the other day I heard her giving a loud rooster-like alarm call when one of the feral cats got a bit too close to the coop for her comfort. Violet’s three daughters, Rosalie, Dusky, and Midnight, are no longer getting pecked by Raquel’s daughters, and our other easter eggers, Buttercup and Reina also seem to enjoy the absence of Raquel’s daughters.
I’m also very happy that we have peace in our fourth coop that houses our three little banty hens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa. After the first couple of months of pecking and chasing while Millie asserted her dominance over her new roommates, they have finally settled into their roles, and everyone is getting along nicely. Millie allows Salt-n-Pepa to eat treats with her at the same time out of the same treat dish, and the other day I even saw Pepa give Millie a peck on the head with no repercussions from Millie. That was something I never thought I’d see, but it made me realize that the chickens will eventually sort out the pecking order on their own, without too much micromanaging from me.
Wild at Heart
We’ve had our female turkeys, Eleanor and Prudence, for a month now. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that heritage turkeys are not just larger versions of their cousin the chicken. They are entirely different beasts, and turkeys are truly wild at heart. When we had the four young tom turkeys, one or two would occasionally jump over their pasture fence. When the toms would jump over the fence, they would always stay close to home, and they could usually be found walking back and forth along the outside edge of the fence, looking for a way back in. This is not the case with the turkey hens. We’ve had a couple of scares with disappearing turkey hens. The first time was the same night that Lil’ Red Rooster went missing. When we got home from a night out in town, Eleanor was not sleeping next to Prudence as she always did, so while Sean searched for Lil’ Red out back, I searched for Eleanor in the front, to no avail.
The next morning, I went outside to search again. It wasn’t long before I heard Prudence calling for her friend with the distinctive turkey yelp, and Eleanor calling back from way down the hill in the blackberries. The lost call of a turkey is a plaintive call, and it was sad to hear the two friends calling back and forth trying to find each other. I began searching in the blackberry for Eleanor by walking along the few trails that Sean had cut in the upper portion of the thicket in the summer to make it easier to pick blackberries. But the trails don’t go very deep into the blackberry, and from what I could tell Eleanor was still at least 25 feet further into the blackberry than I could get on the trails. Soon Sean joined the search and eventually we caught sight of her under the brambles. We had only had Eleanor a couple of weeks, and she was not yet tame enough to eat treats from our hand, so we had little chance of catching her. As soon as one of us would get within a few feet of her, she would turn around and head deeper into the blackberry. So we gave up the search and went in for breakfast. I kept going back outside every half an hour or so to see if Eleanor had made her way out of the blackberry. After a few hours, Eleanor had finally returned to the pasture. Eleanor walked along the outer edge of the fence, while Prudence walked alongside her on the inside edge of the fence, both calling happily to each other now that they were reunited. It took me a little while to chase Eleanor back inside the fence, with her running around the driveway for a few minutes, and then Brown Rooster escaping through the open gate, but eventually everyone was back where they belonged.
About a week later, I discovered Prudence was missing. Luckily, it was daylight this time. I could hear her down in the blackberry, flapping around rather noisily and making a rather distressed sounding call. I was a bit concerned that something may have grabbed hold of her by the frantic flapping and calling sounds that I could hear, and so off I dashed into the blackberry again. It wasn’t long before she flew up and perched on a blackberry branch about 10 feet in front of me. Prudence was much tamer than Eleanor from the start and had been eating out of my hand from the first day we got her, but she still wasn’t tame enough for me to pick her up. I walked slowly toward her hoping not to scare her deeper into the blackberry. I got within in a couple of feet of her and grabbed her quickly. There was a great flapping and a bit of a struggle to get her out of the blackberry, but I was determined not to let her go. I managed to get her back up into the fenced pasture without too much trouble.
Although we had tried to give the turkeys a variety of structures and shelters to meet their needs, we began to wonder if the ladies were jumping over the fence in search of something else. Wild turkeys nest in trees to protect themselves from predators, and heritage turkeys are pretty closely related to wild turkeys. I had read that heritage turkeys prefer to sleep outside, and we have found this to be true. Despite our providing them with a luxurious turkey coop and several roosting structures with cover overhead to keep them out of the rain, they prefer to sleep out in the open. During the day they will take shelter from the rain, but as soon as it’s time for bed they will roost out in the open, typically on the highest roost available. At bedtime, the turkeys always seemed to be investigating each of their roosting options, jumping from one structure to the next, and never seeming quite satisfied. So Sean built them yet another roost, consisting of a split log mounted on top of a 6 foot post, and this time I think we have a winner. Since he put the new roost up, the ladies have slept on it every night, and no one has jumped over the fence.
I have worried many a night as I hear the rain falling outside, knowing that the turkeys are sleeping out in the rain, but in the morning everyone is just fine and no worse for the weather. They have a very large thick coat of feathers, and although the top layer may be wet, they are warm and dry underneath. This morning was the first hard frost of the season, and I noticed that Ringo had a white coating on the top of his back feathers. I reached out to see what it was, and it was a layer of frost! I have a feeling that it won’t be too long before I wake up to a dusting of snow over the farm, including over the turkeys. I will try to keep my worrying to a minimum, as one of the requirements of a heritage turkey breed is their genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of living outdoors, and if what I’ve seen so far is any indication, these are some hardy and self-reliant birds and are already among my favorites on the farm.
We got home from an evening in town last Sunday night, and when I went on the rounds to close all the coops up for the night, Lil’ Red Rooster was missing. We searched in vain in the dark for a half hour, but it was no use, if he was still alive he would be hunkered down in the brush and would not make a sound until daylight. This was the case when Brown Rooster went missing a couple of years ago (Where’s Brown Rooster). Thankfully, that story had a happy ending, but this time we were not so lucky. We have not seen feathers or sign of a struggle, Lil’ Red Rooster is just gone. I suspect that a hawk got him. I’ve seen hawks fly low over the chicken yard on more than one occassion, and I’ve seen Lil’ Red dive deep into the bushes near the back porch after I glimpsed a quick flash of a hawk flying low overhead. Lil’ Red Rooster was a charismatic little guy, and I always enjoyed watching him prance along the back deck with his curly feather hairdo giving him a certain jauntiness. He was well known for appearing outside the door by the dining room table just as we would sit down to eat, demanding that THIS food dish be filled up, even though his other food dish by the back door still had food in it. He was a spoiled member of the flock to be sure, and probably the only rooster in town with two food dishes on the back deck. He was an excellent protector of his ladies, first with Coco Puff and Millie, and later for Millie, Salt-n-Pepa. Now he joins his brother Henry in that chicken farm in the sky (R.I.P. Henry). I’ve been seeing an increase in the number of posts on the online poultry forums that I follow about predator attacks over the last week, and now with the loss of Lil’ Red we are increasing our security measures at the farm.
We bought a trail camera this summer to give us a better idea of how many predators frequent the farm at night, and we’ve gotten some interesting photos. Mostly raccoons and feral cats, which we knew were here all along, but I wanted to know how close they were to the lower pasture fence at night. The raccoons appear to be pretty regular visitors to the area surrounding the lower pasture. We’ve also captured images of coyotes three times since we got the trail camera, including one last Wednesday walking along the edge of the driveway very close to the lower pasture. The lower pasture has a a solar-powered four-foot tall electric netting fence around the perimeter and is not as secure as the upper pasture. On these dark, rainy days, the solar charger does not charge very well, so we’ve had to hook up a car battery to the fence to keep it charged. The coops in the lower pasture also do not have the fancy $200 electric chicken door like we have on the main chicken coop that closes at dusk and opens at dawn. I had been leaving the door to Ramon’s coop open at night, counting on the electric fence to protect them from predators, but now I am closing his coop door at night. The ladies in the upper chicken yard are also under increased security measures. Their coop attaches to a secure run that is safe from raccoons and other large predators, but the run could be accessed by small burrowing predators such as weasels through the network of tunnels created by moles and voles under the chicken yard. So now I’m closing the ladies in the coop without access to their secure run until I open it up in the morning. And now with no Lil’ Red Rooster to keep them safe, the little banty hens, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa only get to free range when we are supervising them. Hopefully with these added security measures in place, we can keep our feathered friends safe over the long dark fall and winter.
Fall at the Farm
Fall has arrived at the farm, and we have been busy trying to finish up our outdoor projects. I’ve picked the last of the summer veggies, planted the garlic, and started preparing my new pumpkin bed for next year. I did the final bee hive inspection of the year which involved removing a few frames of honey from the hive that stored the most honey this year and putting them into the hive that didn’t put away as much honey to make sure that both hives have enough honey to get them through the winter. I also put a piece of burlap covered with pine shavings in the top of the hives to help absorb condensation and keep the hive from getting too moist over the winter. We also got a huge truckload of 30 yards of wood shavings delivered to spread in the muddy areas over the winter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my chicken keeping adventures, it’s that rain + chicken poop + bare ground can be quite a mess and is not healthy for chickens, and now with the addition of the turkeys we have a noticeable increase in poop! With an especially rainy winter predicted for this year I’ll need to keep on top of manure management, and the huge pile of wood shavings will be an important part of keeping the pasture in good condition.
We added a new project to our fall chores this year, which was rototilling and reseeding the upper chicken pasture. It’s been 2-1/2 years since we started using that pasture, and the constant scratching and pecking by the chickens has definitely taken its toll. The grass has been overgrazed in areas, weeds that the chickens don’t like to eat have become established, and there are lots of bare areas with deep holes from the chickens dust bathing. We decided to move all of the ladies off the upper pasture until next spring or summer when the grass should be reestablished. Half the ladies will remain in the upper chicken yard where there is a large coop and secure run, as well as a smaller temporary pasture that we set up for them. Our favorite ladies will stay up above, these include Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, Ruby, Twitchy, Squeeky 2, Buttercup, Reina, Grace, and Violet’s chicks from last summer – Rosalie, Dusky, and Midnight (you may notice that Ramona is missing from this list, and I’m sorry to say that she passed away a few weeks ago at 5 years of age from an unknown cause).
We moved the other half of the ladies, basically the unnamed ladies, and Brown Rooster down to the lower pasture where Ramon, his ladies and the turkeys live. The lower pasture has the coop we built for the turkeys that they do not use, and we decided this could easily accommodate half of the flock from the upper chicken yard. The lower pasture is not quite as secure as the upper pasture in terms of predator protection, so we decided to move the chickens that are not quite as friendly down to the lower pasture. There have been a few sparring matches between Brown Rooster and Ramon, but nothing too serious, and I’m hoping that they can learn to avoid each other and coexist over the winter. Interestingly, the turkeys seem to be acting as peacemakers of sorts and tend to break up some of the rooster interactions. Time will tell, and I am keeping a watchful eye over everyone to make sure that this experiment is a success.
The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful, and so are you. – The Beatles
I am very excited to announce that we finally have turkey hens at the farm! After the first four turkey poults that we bought all grew up to be Turkey Boys, I began looking for some turkey hens to buy. I wanted them to be the same heritage breed as our boys, which is Narragansett, so that we could raise purebred heritage turkeys if we decide to raise turkeys. I also wanted them to be about six months old so that they were old enough to be certain that they were in fact hens, and also so they would be about the same age as our boys. After a couple of months of searching on Oregon Homesteaders Classifieds and Craigslist, I finally found some turkey hens. They were a bit far away and they were not cheap, but 4 hours and $80 later we were back at the farm with the two turkey hens I began planning for almost a year ago.
For the first week at the farm, the new hens lived in their own enclosure with a poultry net over the top to give them time to adjust to their new home and keep them from flying away. The first few weeks after bringing in new poultry are always a bit of a nervous time, and they are quarantined and watched closely to make sure that they are healthy before introducing them to the rest of the flock. The person we bought the turkey hens from had made a comment about how much turkeys eat, and the hens looked a bit undersized for their age. I couldn’t help but wonder if they hadn’t been fed quite enough at their previous home, and the first few days after we brought them to the farm they were ravenous and seemed to eat constantly. I replenished their food several times a day and gave them a vitamin supplement in their water. After a week of watching them closely, they seemed to be healthy, and they were tame enough that I felt confident they would not fly off into the neighbors trees. We decided it was time to give the girls names, Prudence and Eleanor, and to introduce the girls to the tom turkeys, George and Ringo.
George and Ringo did not pay much attention to their new female companions at first, and whenever we were in with the turkeys the boys would strut and display to us and seemed to ignore the turkey hens. The turkey hens also did not seem too interested in the tom turkeys, although after bossy Ms. Henny the chicken started chasing the turkey hens, the turkey hens began to seek the protection of the tom turkeys. The first week after we introduced George and Ringo to the girls, the boys continued to sleep on top of the turkey coop, and Prudence and Eleanor slept on a lower structure. Tonight for the first time, the boys decided to sleep on the lower structure with the girls. Prudence is a bit friendlier than Eleanor, and Prudence will come running to me for treats and will eat out of my hand. Eleanor is a little more cautious around humans, but I’m sure she will warm up to us with time and a few more treat training sessions. All in all, everyone is getting along well, and we couldn’t be happier with our little turkey flock.
Who’s the Man?
Our two tom turkeys have been getting along well with Ramon the rooster and his ladies for several months now, but I think Ramon is a little jealous of all of the attention the turkeys have been getting. Ramon has always been very calm and friendly toward us, comes running over to us for treats and is easy to pick up, but I guess I haven’t been giving him enough attention lately. A couple of times in the last week or so he has jumped up on my shoulder when I’ve been bent over tending to chores in his pasture. The first time he jumped up on my shoulder he let out a big cock-a-doodle-doo right next to my ear, which I am pretty sure is his way of announcing to everyone else that he, Ramon, is in fact the king of the chicken/turkey yard. So I thought it was time to give Ramon a bit of recognition for being such a good rooster.
We have had four roosters at the farm for quite a while now, and while I love them all for their beauty and their interesting behaviors, Ramon is probably the best rooster. Ramon is very vigilant and protective of his three ladies, and while he certainly expects a bit of romance now and then as payment for his services, he never chases the ladies about the pasture or harasses them like I have seen Brown Rooster do with his ladies. Of course, Ramon wasn’t always so well behaved around the ladies, and there was a time in his younger days that he was a bit overly amorous. Thankfully he has grown out of that stage and has matured into a very well behaved rooster. We will most likely use him to sire some chicks next spring.
Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn) is our special needs rooster and still suffers from some sort of mystery condition which causes his legs to be weak and stiff and not work very well. He lives in a separate pen to make sure he gets enough to eat and drink and doesn’t get bullied by anyone. I visit him daily, and give him some lap time and hand feeding every day or two. I let a few of the oldest girls into Reuben’s pen once a day, which he seems to enjoy since he gets to be close to the ladies, and which the ladies also enjoy since they get a break from Brown Rooster. Brown Rooster is our youngest rooster, and at 2-1/2 years old he is still a bit frisky. Despite having close to two dozen ladies to call his own, there are still several looking a bit feather-bare on their backs due to a bit too much rooster love. The older hens generally give Brown Rooster a wide berth, while the younger golden comet hens still haven’t figured out that there are strings attached when he calls them over for a tasty treat he has supposedly found in the pasture. Brown Rooster is not quite as calm around people as Ramon and Reuben are, and often times will run off in a panic making a loud alarm call if I do something as unexpected as go into the chicken yard wearing a different color pair of pants than my standard blue jeans.
Lil’ Red Rooster is almost as good of a flock protector as Ramon, and Lil’ Red watches over his little harem very attentively most of the time. It’s clear that he is very fond of Millie, our little gray silkie banty hen, and he usually stays very close to her side when I let her out to free range with him. He’s not quite as attached to Salt-n-Pepa yet, but hopefully that will come with time. There are times however, when I’ve gone out to check on Lil’ Red and his ladies and he will have gotten bored supervising his girls and is up by the main chicken yard staring longingly at the full size hens, leaving Millie, Salt-n-Pepa to fend for themselves. The majority of the time the roosters are good boys, and as well as watching over the ladies they are a pleasure to have around the farm so we will always have a few in the flock.
I feel like all I ever do is write about vegetables these days, which I suppose is fitting since they have been dominating my time and my dinner plate for the last several months. We’ve been eating zucchini, crookneck, and spaghetti squash for quite a while now, and anyone who has seen me in the last several weeks knows that I have been bringing squash with me wherever I go in the hopes that someone will be gracious enough to take some of it off of my hands. It was finally time to harvest the winter squash, and if the pantry and freezer weren’t already full enough they certainly are now. Butternut, acorn, and delicata squash are in storage for the fall and winter, and there are still a few more that may mature on the vines. With the amount of squash I’ve harvested and put away, I think we will be eating it a couple of times a week through next spring!
I also harvested the last of the potatoes which were volunteers from last years crop that were growing in one of the squash beds. The potatoes had sprouted lots of interesting nubs and smaller potatoes, making them almost too photogenic to eat! If the rain holds off for a few more weeks, there are still several summer veggies producing that I will be able to continue to harvest. Eggplant, anaheim chilies, bell peppers, and still more tomatoes are on the vines. The basil is going strong after being harvested three times already, but I can never have enough pesto in the freezer so I’ll definitely be making more of that. The lemon cucumbers are still producing, so I made another half batch of lemon cucumber dill pickles today, bringing us up to about 18 pint jars. Okay, with that off my chest I promise to write about something else in the next blog. Spoiler alert – with any luck it just may involve some turkey hens!
Eat Your Veggies
These last few weeks I had been feeling pretty satisfied with my progress in putting away the garden goodness for the winter. But there was still one thing nagging at me, well over a dozen things actually, tall leafy green things – the kale forest that stood so proudly in the garden. The best way to preserve it for winter is to can it, and since kale is a low-acid food it needs to be canned in the pressure canner. My husband had canned a half dozen jars of kale as an experiment last summer, and they made such delicious greens over the winter that we decided this was the way to go. After the frenzy of canning and freezing the last few weeks, my to do list had grown pretty short, and I could no longer ignore the kale staring me in the face every time I went up to the garden. The only thing preventing me from getting around to canning it was my fear of the pressure canner. Until now I’ve done all of my canning using a water bath canner, but that method can only be used for canning fruits and foods that are high in acid. I had been canning things like applesauce, jam, plum butter, tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa, chutneys, and pickles for several years using the water bath canner. But I couldn’t safely can the kale in the water bath canner, and the freezer was already reaching maximum capacity. It was finally time to take my canning game up a notch and get over my fear of the pressure canner.
It was a beautiful sunny weekend morning, the perfect day to set up my outdoor canning station on the back deck and get to work. I picked a big garden trug full of kale and began spraying the leaves with the garden hose to get any bugs off of them. Then I removed the tough inner rib and gave them a rough chop. As I worked, I soon had a curious audience of onlookers. Lil’ Red Rooster, Millie, Salt-n-Pepa all gathered around my work station gazing up at me as if to say “surely with this bounty of kale there was a treat to be had?” And indeed there was, I am a sucker for those feather-footed Little Ones. After blanching the kale and getting it packed in the jars, I was ready for the scary part. I fired up the propane burner and set the pressure canner on top of the burner. I watched anxiously. I began to have flashbacks of my college chemistry lab and a Bunsen burner mishap. The propane burner was blazing away. Loudly. In the interest of safety I thought perhaps it was time to put in a call to my husband to make sure I had the valve opened the proper amount. Good thing I did, as I was quickly, albeit calmly advised that it should not sound as loud as a jet engine, and I better turn it down pronto.
After another several minutes of watching anxiously, I put in another support call, this time to my mom-in-law, the canning master of the family. After a quick refresher course, I was feeling better about this whole undertaking. Now all I had to do was watch, wait, set the timer, oh and watch and wait some more. By lunch time I had finished, and I had 8 pint jars of kale to show for my efforts. I was strangely exhilarated, almost as if I had jumped out of an airplane or some similarly daring adventure sport that I would certainly never partake in. Pressure canning was enough excitement for me! A few days later I made a batch of marinara sauce in the pressure canner just to reconfirm what I had just learned, and now I am happy to say that pressure canning is not so scary after all and actually is kinda fun.
Putting Food By
It’s been a fabulous summer in the garden this year, thanks to an early spring and record setting warm temperatures this summer. We had 27 days above 90 degrees, an all-time record for the Portland area. All of this hot weather has kept me busy in the garden, weeding, watering, and harvesting, but the fruits of my labor have made it all worthwhile. We’ve had such a bountiful garden this year that I have been putting food away for the winter for months. We have a 5-cubic foot freezer that we bought for storing the occasional purchase of a locally raised 1/2 pig or a 1/4 cow, but we did not make a large meat purchase this year so I have been filling up the freezer with fruits and veggies. Every once in a while someone will say they would like to see what’s in my pantry, so I thought I’d give you a peek into what we’ve put away for the winter.
The first things to ripen at the farm in the spring are of course the berries. We grow strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and besides turning some into jam I have also frozen several quarts of each for making desserts over the winter. The wild blackberries grow like, well weeds, all around the perimeter of the portion of the property that we try keep fairly well maintained, so I can’t help but pick several quarts of blackberries to freeze when they are staring me in the face every time I am out doing my chores. The rhubarb grew to new heights this year, with several garden visitors asking “is that rhubarb?!” due to its tremendous size. Due to the abundance of blackberries and rhubarb, I experimented with blackberry-rhubarb crisp recipes this summer. I came up with one that I like so much that I decided to freeze several quarts of pre-mixed and measured blackberries and rhubarb so that I can make it throughout the winter. I also made a delicious rhubarb-raspberry jam this year, and a rhubarb five-spice chutney as a special surprise to go along with the new five-spice chicken recipe I discovered that my husband is loving this year.
The greens have been growing like crazy, and thankfully Sean has been helping out with keeping on top of the kale harvest which is especially productive this year. We have blanched and frozen quite a lot of kale and chard so far, and I’m also hoping to get around to canning some kale in the next couple of weeks. The broccoli also did well for the second year in a row, so I guess I’ve finally figured out how to grow it, and I was happy to have enough to put some in the freezer since it is one of my favorite vegetables. The potato harvest was a good one this year. I rotated crops this year and moved the potatoes into a bed that had lots of composted chicken manure, and they did very well. I harvested 30 pounds of Yukon gold and Red Lasoda. I also harvested about 20 pounds of red and yellow onions. The golden plum trees had a bumper crop this year. I picked a five gallon bucket in no time at all, I didn’t even need to use the fruit picking apparatus that Sean made for harvesting the ones high up in the tree. Since I still have some plum butter in the pantry from last year, I gave the plums to Sean for his beverage making endeavors.
This has been the best year for squash and cucumbers in recent memory. I’m growing zucchini, yellow crookneck, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and delicata squash, and lemon cucumbers. I have managed to (barely) keep up with the zucchini by freezing about 12 pounds of diced and shredded zucchini for making curry zucchini soup and other tasty things over the winter. I’ve also frozen a bunch of zucchini fritters which are one of my favorite ways of dealing with excess zucchini. I also froze some crookneck squash for making a delicious scalloped crookneck squash, potato, and chèvre recipe that I discovered this summer. I harvested a small mountain of lemon cucumbers which I turned into about 20 pints of my famous garlic dill pickles. There are at least a dozen spaghetti squash ready to be picked, and since those don’t store as long as the other winter squash, I am planning to cook and freeze several of those. There are a lot of acorn, butternut, and delicata squash getting close to being ready to be picked, and I am seriously considering asking my husband to make me some sort of mini root-cellar so that I can store all of the potatoes, onions, and squash in a place that is the right temperature for storing them to maximize their storage life.
The tomatoes and basil have also had a good crop this year. I’ve roasted many batches of tomatoes, onions, and garlic and frozen them for making pasta sauce over the winter. I also made a few quarts of tomato soup, and with lots more tomatoes on the vine I will continue roasting and canning those for the next few weeks. As the nights are starting to get a bit chilly, I picked most of the basil and have put away 10 1/2-pints of pesto in the freezer.
There are a few other things in the garden not quite ready for harvest yet. The eggplant are coming along, and I’m hoping that we still have enough warm days for them to get a little bigger. There are dozens of anaheim chilis in various sizes on the pepper plants, and I’ll be picking and roasting those over the next few weeks. And of course there are dozens of leeks I need to do something with. I always get a bit carried away planting leeks and end up with way too many to eat. Thankfully they overwinter well, so I will be picking them to enjoy throughout the fall and well into the winter.
The pantry also has a few things that I canned a year or two ago or have been gifted by fellow canners that we are still working our way through – marinara sauce, apple sauce, turkey stock, peaches, plums, zucchini relish, chutneys, Summer Sweets including several kinds of jam, and our own honey (Honey Days). Now that I’ve made a list of all of the garden bounty that I’ve put away for the winter, I realize that my next project needs to be making an inventory of everything that we have in the freezer and on the shelves so that we can be sure to eat our way through it all over the winter!
It’s been almost two and a half months since we brought home the newest little members of our flock, Salt-n-Pepa, and they have settled in nicely. We got Salt-n-Pepa to be Millie’s roommates after her coop-mate Coco Puff passed away a few months ago (Farewell Funny Lady). Millie is a very small bantam chicken, and she lives in a small coop on the back porch, so we were looking for a couple of similarly small chickens to keep her company. Millie would definitely be the boss in this relationship, so we also needed a mellow breed of chicken that didn’t mind being henpecked too much! Due to the small size of bantam chickens (they are usually about a quarter of the size of a standard chicken) they lay very small eggs and are somewhat of a novelty chicken. As a result, there are not a whole lot of people breeding them or selling them, so I was very happy to find a pair of 3 month old cochin bantam hens on Craigslist. Cochins are a very round breed and are heavily feathered on their legs and toes, so they look rather like a miniature pom pom. In addition, they are supposed to have a gentle temperament and don’t need much space. They seemed like the perfect fit to be Millie’s new coop-mates.
For the first month or so after we brought home Salt-n-Pepa, we had to keep them separated from Millie with a screen through the middle of their coop. The reason for this is that it allows the chickens to see and hear each other and get used to each other, without allowing the older resident hen to attack the newest members of her flock. It took quite a long time for Millie to accept Salt-n-Pepa, and for a while I was worried that she would never accept them. Every time we would remove the screen to allow Millie to interact with Salt-n-Pepa, she chased and pecked them mercilessly. So the screen would go back in for another week, and we’d try again. Eventually the peckings lessened, Salt-n-Pepa grew bolder and stopped running in fear from Millie, and a sort of peace, if not quite friendship developed.
Salt-n-Pepa are about 5 months old now, and they should start laying eggs very soon. As bantam hens, their eggs will be very small, about a third to a half the size of the eggs that our full-size chickens lay. Once they are laying, I’m hoping that Lil’ Red Rooster will take a better liking to the girls so they can benefit from his protection when they are out free ranging. Lil’ Red is very fond of Millie, and so whenever she is out and about, Lil’ Red is not far behind. Salt-n-Pepa will often wander off to a totally separate area of the yard with no thought of the potential dangers they face when leaving the watchful eye of their Lil’ Red Rooster. This morning I let Millie, Salt-n-Pepa out for a few minutes while I was up taking care of the girls in the main coop. One minute Salt-n-Pepa were right outside the fence around the main pasture, and the next minute they were nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, they are not very good at coming when called with a “Here, chick, chick” which loosely translated into chicken means “I have treats for you if you come over here to get them.” I will need to step up the training since it is very useful to have chickens that come when called. This morning I was looking around for them after they wandered off, when I heard the distinct alarm call a chicken makes when a threat is perceived, and it was coming from way up in the garden. I ran up there as fast as I could, hoping they had not encountered something dangerous like a weasel (Where the Wild Things Are). Much to my relief, when I got up to the garden I found that they had made the acquaintance of the cute little bunny rabbit that has been visiting the garden. I’m not sure if the chickens were more afraid of the bunny, or if it was the other way around, but either way I was thankful for a happy ending.
Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty – John Ruskin
It’s certainly been a busy summer at the farm. There’s the daily and weekly chicken chores – feeding, watering, poop scooping, coop cleaning, and tending to the occasional ailment. There’s been time spent socializing Salt-n-Peppa and getting them integrated into their new family with Millie and Lil’ Red Rooster. Many enjoyable hours have been spent with the turkeys training and socializing them so that they will grow up to be well-behaved, friendly tom turkeys. The garden is doing very well this year thanks to all of the warm weather, but it’s also taken lots of time weeding and watering it to get it to its bountiful state. And of course lots of time has been spent keeping up with the harvest and putting away fruits and veggies in the freezer and pantry for the winter. In the midst of all this, I try to remember to take time, even if it’s only a few minutes a day to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Here are some recent ones.
It’s been almost four months since we brought home four tiny turkey poults from the feed store, and they have grown up into huge 10 pound boys already. Yes, that’s right, they are all boys. I seem to have bad luck in the male to female poultry ratio, and regardless of whether we are hatching our own, adopting, or buying baby chicks, I always seem to end up with more males than females in the bunch. Turkey poults are sold unsexed, which means they cannot determine the sex of the birds at hatching, so you take your chances when you buy them regarding what sex they will grow up to be. We decided to buy four, which is two more than we intended to keep, to give ourselves better odds of winding up with a hen or two. A couple of the boys were slower to mature, and I kept hoping that perhaps one or two may still be a girl. I had recently decided to name my favorite turkey Gladys, but at this point the turkeys are all strutting and displaying male traits, and I can no longer deny that Gladys has in fact grown up to be George. I have another favorite in the bunch that is my best lap turkey, who I’ve decided to name Ringo. I allowed Ringo to jump up on me at will when he was younger (and when I thought he would grow up to be a hen), and I thought it was sweet when he would jump up on my shoulder. Now that he’s about 10 pounds, I’m realizing that this was not the best habit to get into, as having a huge bird launch itself toward your face is a bit disconcerting to say the least. He is a good boy though, and I am still allowing him to jump up on my lap, let’s just hope I can train him to give up the shoulder jumping!
The boys have all grown up to be very handsome, and so far they get along pretty well. There has been a little bit of fighting, but nothing too serious. I recall from our days of too many roosters that there comes a point that you either need to give the boys more room to roam, or reduce the number of boys living together in close quarters in order to keep everyone safe and happy. We don’t have the room to keep four male turkeys, and I have realized that it is time to rehome a couple of the boys. I am also on the lookout for a turkey hen or two to add to our flock, and in keeping with the Beetles theme for turkey names, hopefully we will soon have an Eleanor Rigby or Prudence to call our own.
We’ve been having record setting high temperatures the last couple of weeks, and while its been a bit tough on us and the chickens, it has been great for the garden. It seems like everything in the garden is a few weeks ahead of schedule this year. I tried to rotate the location of most plants in the garden this year, and I think that has also contributed to the success of the garden. I’ve picked lots of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and I think I have about 8 quarts of berries in the freezer set aside for making jam later in the summer. We’ve been eating lots of chard and kale and also have put away several pints of kale for the winter. We’ve harvested the first of the zucchini, and there are tons of blossoms on the plants. The lemon cucumbers and the winter squash plants are all growing by leaps and bounds. The potatoes started off looking great, although they died back a bit in the hot weather, so I’m about to dig up a few and see if they are ready to harvest. At this time last year, I was bemoaning the sad state of my tomatoes, which got off to a slow start due to the cold evening temperatures and then suffered heavy flea beetle damage. This year the tomato plants are large and healthy, have all set fruit, and it looks like a few tomatoes are just starting to ripen.
We’ve had a few garden pests to deal with this year, mainly the birds who love the berries. Normally I wouldn’t consider birds to be a pest, but the first couple of years after I planted the berries we didn’t use any sort of bird protection, and I am not exaggerating when I say that the birds ate all but a handful of the berries. So the last couple of years we have taken measures to protect the berries from the birds. This year we covered the strawberry bed with chicken wire which worked well to keep the birds out but did nothing to keep the rodents from burrowing up into the strawberry bed and indulging in quite a few strawberries. I’m not sure what we will do to prevent this next year. The bird netting over the blueberries works pretty well, although occasionally a bird will figure out how to get under the netting to get to the berries but then can’t figure out how to get out, so I’ve ended up leaving one end of the netting open to give the birds an escape route. We are going to try a different type of netting and a different way of installing it next year to see if we can find a better system that doesn’t pose a risk to the birds.
This year we’ve been seeing rabbits at the farm for the first time. I see them most often at the edge of the grassy areas, within hopping distance of the safety of the blackberry thickets. I have seen a rabbit on the edge of the garden a few times, and it looks like it’s been sampling the chard and broccoli, but thankfully there hasn’t been enough damage to bother doing anything about it. It is fun to see rabbits hopping around the farm now and then, I just hope they continue to behave themselves and not do too much sampling of the garden goods!
Outsmarted by a Chicken
I have had chickens for five years, and I thought I had them figured out, until today that is. The chicken yard is mostly an open grassy area. When we set up the fence a few years ago, we decided to fence off two small Douglas fir saplings and the surrounding bit of ferns and small native shrubs to protect them from overgrazing by the chickens and eventually provide a bit of shade for the girls as the trees matured. I noticed about a month ago that a couple of our young golden comets had taken an interest in these fenced off areas and were flying in over the top of the fence and laying the occasional egg or two under the cover of the dense vegetation. I have been keeping an eye on these areas for eggs, and I thought I was managing to get them all. Today, we decided to remove the fence from around the trees so we could pull out the blackberry that was growing inside the fence, and I discovered a stash of 21 eggs! Here I thought I was doing a good job of looking for eggs, but apparently someone else was doing an even better job of hiding them from me.
I think the problem arose due to the several broody hens (Wishin’ and Hopin’) that we have had for the last several weeks. The broody hens sit in the nest box almost all day, every day, making it difficult for the other hens to get some time in the nest box to lay their eggs. Even though we have six nest boxes to choose from, inevitably the ladies all want to lay in the same couple of boxes. One of the broody hens, a sussex, is extremely ill-tempered when she is broody. She puffs herself up almost as big as a Thanksgiving turkey and will peck anything that comes near her, so the other hens give her a wide berth. With a couple of hens camped out in the favorite nest boxes all day, some of the ladies resort to finding other places to lay their eggs. I have been finding a small pile of eggs every day in the corner of the coop, and I’ve seen Squeeky-2 drop an egg in the middle of the pasture on more than one occasion recently.
I had noticed a slight decrease in the number of eggs laid recently, but I was attributing it to the several broody hens (they don’t lay eggs while they are broody) and the extremely hot weather we have been having. But now I know there is another reason for the decrease in the number of eggs in my egg basket lately. Since we took down the fence, I have seen the comets exploring anything and anywhere that looks like a good hiding place, so I can see that I am going to have to up my egg hunting game in order to keep up with these clever ladies.
This is my third year as a beekeeper. Every year I learn a bit more, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of it. Our two hives appear to be doing very well this year. Hive Rosalind (named after Queen Rosalind) was started in April 2013, and Hive Rosemary was started in April 2014. The early spring we had this year allowed the bees to get an early start on foraging. There has been a lot of activity inside and outside the hives for the last few months, and there is a good amount of honey being stored for the winter. We have only harvested a small amount of honey the last two years since I wanted to be sure to leave enough in the hives for the bees to survive the winter. I just don’t see the point in harvesting all of the honey from a hive, only to have to feed the bees refined sugar over the winter. After monitoring the hives for a couple of years, I am getting a better understanding of their cycle of storing honey in the spring and summer and relying on it as a food source to get them through fall and winter.
I’m also getting a better sense of how their population cycle varies throughout the year. Last spring I underestimated how quickly Hive Rosalind was increasing in size. Although I split that hive into two hives, thus creating Hive Rosemary, (Hive Splitting Day) in mid-April in an effort to prevent it from swarming, it ended up swarming a month later (Swarm Season). Due to our early start to spring this year, I was keeping a close eye on Hive Rosalind in an attempt to prevent a swarm this year. The bee population increases in early spring to provide more foragers to bring in pollen and honey to the hive. I added another box to the hive in mid-March this year, which serves two purposes. It gives them more space to store honey in the top of the hive, and this frees up space in the lower part of the hive for the queen to lay her eggs. If there is not enough space in the upper part of the hive for the bees to store honey, they will start storing it in the lower hive which means there is not enough space for the queen to lay eggs. When this happens in the hive it becomes “honeybound” and can bring about the decision to swarm. I think this is what happened to Hive Rosalind last year, so this year I added another box a month earlier than last year, and fingers crossed, it does not look like the hive is going to swarm this year. They are busily putting away honey, and I decided there was enough for us to harvest a bit more than we have the last two years.
Last week we removed three frames of honey from Hive Rosalind. The frames are covered with bees when they are removed from the hive, and we use a large feather to brush them off the frame back into the hive. Although it seems like the bees would get mad and refuse to leave their honey, this method works quite well, and it has always gone very smoothly for us. After we remove the bees from the frame, we put it in a cooler to keep the frame free of bees until we are finished collecting all the frames, and then we take them into the house. We use the crush and strain method of separating the honey from the comb, which is just like it sounds. We scrape the honey and comb from the frame, crush the comb to release the honey, and strain it through a fine mesh strainer. Our harvest yielded 7 pounds of honey which came out to almost 6 pints of honey. It was very exciting to finally be harvesting an appreciable amount of honey. Beekeeping is not an inexpensive hobby by the time you add up the costs of the hive, bees, and equipment, and it’s a bit like chicken-keeping in that way. Just like the saying that the first dozen eggs from your backyard chickens costs $500 dollars (or more in our case if you build a poultry palace!) there is probably an equivalent saying that the first jar of honey from your beehive costs $500, but in any case it is well worth it, both for the beekeeping experience itself as well as for the delicious honey.
Wishin’ and Hopin’
It’s that time of year when a few of the ladies go broody and start sitting in the nest box all day and all night in their overwhelming desire to hatch a brood of chicks. These girls are so devoted to their task that I can’t help but think of that old Dusty Springfield song “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’….” It is quite entertaining to behold a broody hen. Even the most gentle and calm chicken becomes transformed into a growling, puffed up, pecking monster. We have three broody girls at the moment, Henny, Violet, and Millie. Two of these girls have proven to be excellent mothers, but since we added 10 new chicks to the flock last year we are not planning to let any of the ladies hatch chicks this year. Our two momma hens last year were Raquel (Raquel, Reinvented) and Violet (Chick Love), and the year before that Mille hatched two chicks (Momma Millie). Although they won’t be hatching any chicks for us this year, their efforts are not entirely in vain. It’s been a little sad here at the farm with the recent loss of our beloved Coco Puff, but having a few broody hens around does lift my spirits and give me a chuckle every now and then. It’s hard not to laugh at the sight of a broody hen leaving her nest for the short break she will take once or twice a day. She will puff her feathers out to make herself look as big and intimidating as she can to let the other hens know that she is not in the mood to be messed with, and then she will dart around the chicken yard at a furious pace, first running over to get a drink of water, usually dropping a huge poo on the way, then she’ll peck at the grass for a few moments, take the quickest dust bath ever, and then dash back to the nest box for the next 12-24 hour shift. I have to admire their commitment. Maybe next year we will consider hatching some more chicks since it is such a fun experience, and who knows, maybe one day we will even hatch some baby turkeys.
Farewell Funny Lady
It is with a heavy heart that I write this week’s blog. Yesterday we said goodbye to our silly and sweet girl, beloved lap chicken, Coco Puff. I am very attached to many of the ladies and gents here at the farm, but if the number of photographs taken, and nicknames bestowed on a chicken are any indication of the degree of our attachment to her, then Coco Puff was by far and away at the top of the list. We called her by many names, Coco Puff, Puffer, Puffer Fish, Ms. Puffington, and she was my husband’s best girl, his Superchicken.
She lived in a small coop with her best friend, Millie, on the back porch. There is a window in a small room off of the kitchen that opens into the coop, and this allowed us to visit the girls often and hand out treats through the window. When the weather was nice, we would let Coco and Millie out of their coop where they would free range under the watchful eye of Lil’ Red Rooster. He loves his girls and is a devoted escort. They would make their rounds through the yard, scratching and pecking for bugs and tasty green things, occasionally venturing all the way up to the vegetable garden, take a break for a sunbath or dustbath, then usually end up on the back porch where Lil’ Red Rooster would lead them over to his food dish and let them eat every last bite without having any for himself. They were an adorable and happy little family that gave us many smiles and laughs as they went about their chicken business. Coco Puff’s great charm was due to the large tuft of feathers on her head, which is called a topknot. This gave her an endearing appearance, but it also partially blocked her vision. She couldn’t always see where she was going, and on occasion she would run right into your legs or another object when she was running somewhere fast. She had a certain way of cocking her head to the side so that she could see out from under her feathers which was also pretty cute. She had an adventurous spirit and a lot of attitude. She towered over Lil’ Red Rooster, and when she wasn’t in the mood for love, rather than running away to escape his amorous advances, she would simply stand up as tall as she could, look down at him and give him a growl, and if that didn’t work a swift peck to the head would do the trick. All in all, she was a rather hilarious lady, and we loved her all the more for it.
Coco went quickly and peacefully which we are thankful for. She had something wrong in the egg-laying department, which may have been the cause of her demise. She only laid a couple of normal eggs early this year, then for a few weeks she started laying eggs without shells and with only the thin membrane that holds the egg together. I had not seen her lay any eggs for a few months, and I was worried. Every week or two there would be a day where she obviously didn’t feel well and would sit very still in the coop all day, with her head bent forward nearly touching the ground, and she would drink a ton of water as if trying to flush something out of her system. Then a day or two later she would be back to her normal spunky active self. I suspected these bouts of not feeling well were due to a reproductive issue, so I took her to the vet last month. It was a relief to hear the vet say that she was not laying internally and that she could not feel any eggs backed up inside her. The vet did say that her shell gland felt thin or weak, but that a chicken could live a perfectly healthy life without reproducing so that was not necessarily cause for concern. She gave us a week-long course of antibiotics just in case there was an infection in her shell gland. A few days after she finished the antibiotics, Coco had a several day long spell of not feeling well, her longest one to date, and I had a feeling that Coco’s days may be numbered. But then after about four days, she returned to her normal self and, for the last several weeks and up until Thursday evening she seemed fine.
Friday morning, I noticed that she was not feeling well. By Saturday afternoon, I could tell that things had gotten serious. She had not left the nest box yet, which was unusual. Even on days when she was not feeling well, she would still leave the nest box to get a drink of water and then usually sit on the floor by the coop door. I picked her up, and we sat on the back porch for a while. I stroked her feathers, and she sat with her eyes shut tightly which I knew was a bad sign. She was so non-responsive that I thought it was likely that the end may be near, but still I hoped she would have a few more days with us, and I considered taking her to the vet after the holiday weekend. I put her back in the nest box, and went up to the garden to plant the tomatoes. When I checked on her about an hour later, she was gone, still sitting peacefully in exactly the same pose she was in when I had set her back in the nest box. Now Millie is left without her BFF, and we are left without our Puffer Fish. Farewell funny lady, you will be missed.
A Garden For Us All
I love to garden, and I have grown a vegetable garden almost every year since I was in college. Since moving to the farm, getting a flock of chickens, and two beehives, my philosophy on gardening has changed a bit. I don’t garden just for myself anymore, I garden for all of us. I grow lots of chard and kale, more than we could ever eat ourselves, since the chickens love it, and it makes a great treat for them, especially in the late summer when the grass is turning brown and their access to green stuff is a bit diminished. I always leave a few kale plants in the garden over the winter so that we’ll have kale early in the season when the old stalks resprout in the spring. Typically when I pull up the old kale plants I throw them in the chicken yard for them to devour, but this year when I went up to the garden to pull the old kale and put in the new starts, I found myself unwilling to pull the old kale since it had started to flower and was covered in bees. I decided to leave most of the kale for the bees, although I did cut a few stalks to give to the girls since every time they see me walking toward the house from the garden they come running toward me hoping for a treat, and I do like to indulge them with some fresh greens now and again.
The same thing goes for the leeks. I leave the ones that I don’t get around to harvesting in the fall to overwinter, so that I will have leeks to enjoy throughout winter and into the next season. The leek stalks do get a bit tough after a while, so I eventually pull out the old ones and plant new leeks in late spring. This year when I went to pull out the old leeks, I saw that they were about ready to send up their huge flowering stalks which the bees absolutely love. So I decided to try transplanting a few from the leek bed to other locations around the garden so that the bees can enjoy their flowers, and I can get started planting this year’s garden. The artichokes are another plant that I have left in the garden partially for the bees. The variety that overwinters in our region produces fairly small artichokes that take a lot of work for not much reward in the eating department. But the plants are beautiful, the bees love the flowers, and I love seeing the bees gathering pollen and nectar in the garden, so it’s worth the space they take up to have a few plants that are bee magnets in the garden.
So far this spring I’ve planted the potatoes, kale, chard, broccoli, onions, and leeks. The tomato and pepper starts are in the greenhouse and are about ready to transplant into the garden, and the cucumber and squash seeds have been planted and will be ready to plant out in a few weeks. I am hoping for better luck with the strawberries this year. I had allowed the strawberry bed to turn into a dense jungle of old plants, runners, and offshoots last year, and a rodent of some sort set up camp in the strawberry bed and ate a ton of strawberries before they even had a chance to ripen. The good thing about living on the farm is that I have a large space to garden in and even with all the bugs, slugs, and four-legged critters dining on the garden, we still manage to have more than enough for us. I have started seeing a cute little rabbit hopping through the backyard recently, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it started hopping under the electric deer fence and sampling the garden goods. We also have an adorable family of chipmunks that spends much of the day darting back and forth across the back deck, stopping every once in a while to pose cutely on a piece of garden art. The other day I saw a chipmunk on the back steps munching contentedly on something for quite some time before I realized it was a green strawberry! Oh well, as they say, you can’t fight Mother Nature, and I don’t really want to. Sometimes it’s best to just let it bee.
The turkey poults are almost four weeks old, and they are quickly becoming my favorite feathered friends here at the farm. For the first three weeks, we raised them in the house under a heat lamp in a large wooden brooder box. Just like the chicken chicks we’ve previously raised, the turkey poults need to be kept very warm until feathers start replacing their baby fluff. There are many similarities between turkey poults and chicken chicks, so we weren’t expecting too many surprises. Before we got the turkeys, I did quite a bit of research, and one of the things I read was that the immune system of turkeys is more sensitive and slower to develop than in chickens, and that the survivability of turkey poults is lower than for chicken chicks. The first three weeks are an especially critical time to make sure that all of the turkeys are getting enough to eat and drink, their bedding is kept clean and dry, and that they don’t get chilled. These things are all easy enough to do, and since I work from home most days, I was able to keep a close eye on them to make sure they got off to a good start.
There are a few differences between turkey poults and chicken chicks. One is that in contrast to chicken chicks which tend to be fearful when you put your hand into the brooder to pick them up and will run in the opposite direction, turkey poults are very curious and will run over to your hand to investigate it. When you do manage to catch and pick up a chicken chick, they will try to escape and fly out of your hand, whereas when you pick up a turkey poult they will more often than not sit down and make themselves comfortable. These differences make turkey poults very easy to interact with and makes them a lot of fun. Another difference between turkeys and chickens is that turkeys grow fast! At three weeks old, they were twice the size that three week old chicken chicks would be, and as a result the turkeys were getting crowded in the brooder that we had raised chicken chicks in until they were six or seven weeks old. So we began leaving the screened top off of the brooder box so that the turkeys could perch on the top and have a bit more area to hang out in. For the first few days they behaved themselves and did not venture beyond the edge of the brooder. Then one day when I left them unattended while I left the house for a few hours, the turkeys jumped down onto the floor and began exploring their surroundings. They were soon discovered by my husband and returned to the confines of their box, but not before leaving a few presents for me to clean up!
Thankfully, the turkeys had just turned three weeks old, and they all seemed strong and healthy so I felt comfortable moving them out to the new turkey coop. The coop is not quite finished, but it’s close enough to being finished for them to move in. The enclosed rear portion of the coop is finished, which is where they will live for the next couple of weeks. They will still have the heat lamp turned on to keep them warm at night until they finish growing in their feathers between six and eight weeks of age. The front portion of the coop is an open air sun porch where the poults will spend a couple of weeks transitioning from living inside the coop to living outdoors, before we eventually give them access to the pasture. This staged transition to living on pasture is important to help them develop their immune systems, and apparently eight weeks old is another important time for young turkeys when they typically get put out on pasture and when their immune systems face new challenges.
We will keep the turkeys separate from the chickens until they are a few months old, have adjusted to life outdoors, and are at least as big as Ramon the rooster. Then we will redo the pasture fencing and let the turkeys share the pasture with the chickens that live in the front pasture, Ramon, Henny, Penny, and Little Miss. I am hoping that we will have at least two females in our batch of turkeys, but it is too soon to be able to tell the sexes at this point. The turkeys have already begun to strut and display to sort out the pecking order. I’ve read that the dominance displays of both males and females can look fairly similar at a young age, and so it cannot be conclusively used to determine their sex. I have to say that seeing these tiny turkeys lower their wings, spread their tail feathers, and circle each other in a dominance display may just be the cutest thing I have ever seen. I can’t wait to figure out which turkeys are toms and which are hens, but in the meantime we are having lots of fun watching them grow up.
Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn) is my favorite of our four roosters. As a chick, he was a few weeks older than our other roosters, and he was the first to mature. I thought for sure he would be the alpha rooster of the flock, and for a short time he was, but he gradually lost his standing and now he’s become somewhat of an underdog. Which is why he is my favorite and has been getting special treatment for the last five months, because after all, who doesn’t root for the underdog? Last fall was when the Trouble with Roosters began. Reuben had developed some sort of trouble with his legs and was having difficulty walking, which is when his roommate, Ramon, began antagonizing Reuben. I separated them, and due to Reuben’s disability I put him in his own private enclosure since I certainly couldn’t put him back in with the ladies that were guarded by Brown Rooster. A month after Reuben was moved into his own quarters, there was a security breach, and Brown Rooster got in and attacked Reuben. Reuben had a large patch of feathers pecked off his head, and for the next several days he didn’t look very good and did not move around much. For the next few weeks I honestly wasn’t sure what Reuben’s fate would be.
The only way Reuben could walk seemed to be with the aid of a vigorous flapping of his wings and a large dose of willpower by which he was able to propel himself forward a few feet at a time. I was not sure what the cause of his disability was, so I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about treating it. He did not have any apparent external injury to his feet or legs, so I suspected it was either a genetic condition, a virus, or a nutritional deficiency. I couldn’t do anything about the first two potential causes, so I hoped it was a nutritional deficiency that I could correct. It was possible that since Ramon had been bullying Reuben, he may have also been preventing Reuben from getting enough to eat. I began putting a powdered vitamin supplement in Reuben’s water, and I hoped for the best. There was one period in the winter where I realized he had a terrible case of mites. He wasn’t able to groom himself very well, and he never took dust baths anymore, and the mites had definitely taken advantage of his condition. We gave him a bath in flea and tick shampoo and set him by the wood stove to dry out. Since the weather had turned cold, I convinced my husband to let him stay inside for a while, and he spent about a week in the living room. He wasn’t getting around much, it was all he could do to get into his pet carrier at night and hobble out in the morning for breakfast.
Eventually Reuben had to move back outside. Most mornings he would stay in his house until I came out to give everyone their breakfast. I would sit down in front of Reuben’s door, he would manage to stand up, and then I would help him out of his house, put him on my lap and hold his feeder and waterer up to him so he could have breakfast. Then he would flap his way a few feet over to the table that he would spend the rest of the day sitting under. Often times when he sat down, one of his legs would be stretched out behind him, and he looked like he was doing the splits. It certainly didn’t look comfortable, and I began to wonder if we should euthanize him. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I still sensed a will to live in Reuben in the way he would stand up every morning when I came out to give him his breakfast.
About a month ago, Reuben started getting around a bit better. He no longer just sat under his table all day, and I would occasionally see him standing up or moving to different areas of his enclosure to sit in the grass in the sun. One night a couple of weeks ago when I came out to close up the main coop for the night, Reuben was waiting by the door of his enclosure. It seemed like he had noticed the ladies were going into their coop for the night, and he wanted to be let out of his enclosure so he could go into the coop too. Brown Rooster was already inside the coop, so I opened Reuben’s door to see what he would do. Sure enough, he hobbled slowly over to the main coop and began walking up the ramp to the door. I couldn’t let him go inside or Brown Rooster would attack him, so I scooped Reuben up at the last minute and returned him to his enclosure. This incident gave me hope, and I took it to mean that Reuben was feeling better and was ready for company. Another recent change in Reuben’s behavior is that he has begun crowing again. It had probably been three months since I had heard Reuben crow until a couple of weeks ago when he began belting out his melodious crow. His crow is my favorite of all of our rooster’s crows. The last week or so I have been letting a few of the ladies into Reuben’s enclosure during the day, and it’s easy to see that he loves these visits. He watches the ladies with great interest, stands up tall and proud and walks around a bit, crows repeatedly, and generally struts his stuff. He even tried to mate with Rhoda, but alas she was too quick for him and ran away just in time! It is great to see Reuben’s condition improving as the weeks go by. I’m not sure if he will recover his leg function 100 percent, but he definitely seems to be enjoying himself these days. I have no doubt that it was worth the effort to nurse him back to health, and hearing his crow ring out across the yard brings a smile to my face every time.
Save the Bees
I have been amazed and fascinated by bees since we got our first bee hive two years ago (The Bees are Here). We have been fortunate with our beekeeping thus far, and we added a second hive last year (Hive Splitting Day). As winter turned to spring, I began watching the bee hives for signs of life, hoping that both hives would survive the winter.
I had been spending quite a bit of time sitting in the chicken yard with my ailing rooster Reuben, making sure he was getting enough to eat and drink, when I started noticing something I had not seen before. The bees had discovered his waterer, and despite the fact that there were several water sources closer to their hive (including the one on the back deck pictured above), the bees began making regular trips to drink out of Reuben’s waterer. On the coldest mornings when I would go up to visit Reuben, I would notice several bees had not made it back to the hive the night before and were floating in Reuben’s waterer, waterlogged and apparently dead. I scooped them out of the water and put them on top of the little table in his pen. The next time I came out to visit Reuben, the bees looked better after having dried out a bit, and now they only looked half dead. I picked up a bee, held it in my hand, and gently blew on it. To my surprise, the bee moved its legs a bit. Wow, I thought, these bees were amazingly not dead after not only spending the night outside the hive, but drenched in cold water!
I brought several bees inside the house and put them on a napkin under a lamp. When I returned to check on them a couple of hours later, they had started to recover and were showing signs of life. Gradually they got up on their feet and started walking around a bit. I inverted a plastic bowl over the top of them just to make sure they did not stray too far. I put a drop of honey on a toothpick and soon they were gobbling it up through their proboscis. Now that was a pretty cool thing to observe. After a couple more hours, the bees were all very active and appeared ready to return to their hive. I put the lid on the container and carried them outside to the hive and off they flew to rejoin the hive. This was a truly amazing experience, and I confess that I did do this a few more times. Occasionally when I would be up with Reuben, breathing into my cupped hand, my husband would see me and yell up “Are you giving mouth to mouth to the bees again?” Once the warmer spring temperatures arrived, I saw fewer bees floating in Reuben’s waterer in the morning, and I didn’t feel the need to save every bee. Both of our hives are now bursting at the seems, and now my thoughts have turned to wondering whether one of our hives will swarm this year as one did last year (Swarm Season). Not that that is a bad thing, especially out here in the country where a bee swarm is not likely to cause anyone to panic. A bee swarm is a sign that the bee colony is strong enough to reproduce, and it is also an amazing behavior to observe.
We lost another one of the good ones this week, one of my favorite ladies, Squeeky. Although all of the hens come running over to me when I go up to the chicken yard with breakfast, it seemed like she always had a special greeting for me. While the rest of the ladies would immediately start gobbling up their breakfast, she seemed more interested in getting a bit of attention from me than in joining the fray of pecking chickens squabbling over breakfast. She was one of my best Lap Chickens, and when I would go up to the chicken yard in the afternoons and sit down quietly for a few minutes to observe how everyone was doing, Squeeky would almost always come over to me and sit in my lap. She didn’t need to be bribed over with treats to let me pet her like some of the more independent chickens, she just really seemed to enjoy the attention. I liked Squeeky and her two BFFs, Squeeky2 and Twitchy so much that I tried to breed them with Reuben last year so that I would have more of these beautiful ladies that laid such lovely large brown eggs, but that unfortunately did not go as planned.
I had noticed that Squeeky did not seem to be feeling well for a couple of weeks. At this time of year, after taking the winter off from laying, the egg laying season begins again. For hens that are healthy and that have no reproductive disorders, they go about their business as usual, busily scratching and pecking about the yard until nature calls and they need to make a trip to the nest box to lay their egg. For a hen that has trouble in the egg laying department, their behavior is different and they don’t have the same spring in their step as they did before the onset of egg laying season. This was the case for Squeeky, and she had been moving a bit slowly lately and didn’t have much of an appetite. I had also noticed a small bulge near her vent (where the egg comes out) and it was plucked bare of feathers as if something was bothering her down there. I had been a bit worried about her and was keeping a close watch on her.
A couple of days ago I gave the ladies some corn scratch as a treat, one of their favorites, and Squeeky indulged herself, perhaps a bit too much. Shortly after treat time, I heard Squeeky making the high pitched hiccup/sneeze type noise they make when they are trying to dislodge some food from their throat. Usually, it only takes a few times for a chicken to dislodge whatever is stuck, but poor Squeeky could not dislodge it and her hiccups/sneezes kept getting more and more violent, and I could tell she was choking and was in distress. I tried in vain to help her by tapping her on the back a few times and screamed frantically across the farm for my husband to come help. We did not know how to help her, but we tried everything we could think of to no avail. She was gone in a matter of minutes. It was a horrible, sad thing to see, and made worse by the feeling of helplessness to do anything to prevent it.
There is a bit of a silver lining to the story. After she passed, we decided to do a necropsy to see if she was suffering from internal laying as I suspected. We felt her abdomen and instead of feeling firm and fleshy as it would in a healthy chicken, hers felt squishy like it was full of fluid. We made a small incision in her abdomen, and fluid and some egg yolk came out. I won’t go into further detail, but we examined her a bit further, and it did look like she was suffering from internal laying, which is fatal and is usually a long slow wasting away disease, so I guess it was probably better that she went now rather than suffering for many weeks to come. Over the years we’ve lost several of our ladies, and it does get a bit easier each time we have to say goodbye. This was such a sudden passing of Squeeky, and it was made worse by the fact that I did not have the opportunity to prepare myself for her passing or to give her a proper goodbye. Rest in peace, Squeeky, thank you for brightening my days with your cute chicken ways.
Spring is Here!
After a short and mild winter, spring has arrived at 5R Farm and gardening season is underway! The garden beds have all been spread with compost thanks to the contributions of our chickens as well as a friend’s abundance of composted horse manure. The cool season vegetable seeds have been started in the greenhouse – onions, leeks, spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, and broccoli, and the chard and onion starts that I overwintered in the greenhouse have been moved out to the garden. The strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries have all started to show spring growth, and I have been making lots of berry cobbler to use up the frozen berries from last year to make room for this years upcoming harvest.
The longer days mean that the chickens have resumed egg laying, and we are getting over a dozen eggs a day. One day last week the girls gave us 20 eggs in one day, a new record! Our newest 10 hens that are in their first year are laying like champs, and many of our older hens which range from 3 to 5 years old are still laying, way to go girls! Going out to the coops to collect a colorful basket of eggs is one of my favorite times of the day.
I’m very happy to report that both of our bee hives survived the winter, and there has been lots of activity outside of both hives. I’ll be doing the first hive inspection of the season on the next sunny day to check in on the ladies and see if they have enough room in the hive, or if I need to add another hive box to give them room to grow. I had thought about adding a third hive this year, but it doesn’t look like we will have time to get around to it this year since we are in the midst of making preparations for the turkey poults we will be getting next month. Stay tuned for pictures of the new members of our farm family.
Best Friends Forever
One of the things I really like about chickens is observing the relationships they form with each other and how they interact with each other. Chickens are very social animals, and they form strong bonds with their flock mates. In our flock of 30 chickens, it is very apparent that the chickens that have hatched at the same time and grown up together are more often that not BFFs. Having a BFF means you always have someone to hang out with, but having a BFF is not always as nice as it may sound. Pecking is one of a chicken’s favorite ways of communicating, and there is no exception when it comes to BFFs. I have sometimes wondered if the dominant hen in a BFF pair doesn’t enjoy the relationship a bit more than the submissive BFF, who could also be referred to as the receiver of many pecks. Although I suspect that the pecks bestowed upon ones BFF may be more of a gentle “I love you but sometimes you annoy me” peck than a “get out of my sight right now you silly hen!” peck because when a hen gets pecked by her BFF, she usually continues to remain in the presence of her friend, instead of squawking and running off in the other direction as I have seen many a hen do.
We still have four of our first hens that we raised from chicks in 2010. Rhoda and Raquel are from the first batch of chicks we got, and Rosie and Ramona joined them a few months later. Both of these pairs are very strongly bonded, and they spend much of their day together. Being the oldest in the flock, they dominate the other hens, and they share a love of enforcing the pecking order by pecking pretty much everyone else in the flock, especially at treat time. What’s interesting however, is that even though the four of these older ladies are vastly outnumbered by the younger hens in the flock, Rhoda and Raquel will still not let Rosie and Ramona into their inner circle, and Rosie and Ramona are just as likely to get pecked by Rhoda and Raquel as anyone else in the flock. Similarly, Rosie and Ramona show no interest in expanding their circle of friendship to include any of the other hens.
Many of the hens in our flock we got as chicks in 2012, and there are several other BFFs in this group. What’s also interesting is that within this larger group, the hens of the same breed tend to form the closest bonds with each other. The sweet peas were a great example of this and were pretty much inseparable. The black australorps are another breed that spends the majority of their days together. Unlike the other BFFs, the australorps have allowed a stranger into their circle by adopting Ruby. I was very happy to see this because Ruby doesn’t have any hatch mates to be her BFF. She was one of six chicks we got a couple of years ago of which 4 turned out to be roosters, and the only other female chick sadly died. Ruby is also a black australorp, and apparently that’s good enough for Squeeky 1, Squeeky 2, and Twitchy who have granted Ruby BFF status. The australorps typically sleep side by side on the roost at night. This is contrary to Rhoda and Raquel, and Rosie and Ramona, who although they spend their days together, have decided to spend their nights apart. Based on my observations, I suspect this is due to a disagreement over what is the appropriate number of pecks that should be given to ones BFF while settling in on the roost for the night. Nevertheless, come morning, all pecks are forgiven and the BFFs are back together again.
It’s getting a bit messy here at the farm due to the more than five inches of rain we’ve had in the last week. The ladies don’t mind the rain too much, and if it’s just a light rain most of them will spend much of the day outside. Along with the rain comes the earthworms, one of the ladies favorite things, and they love to scratch in the mud hoping to dig one up. In the morning when they leave the coop after a rainy night, they hit the pasture at a full run, hoping to be the first to gobble down a big juicy nightcrawler! During the day when the heavier rain arrives, most of the ladies have the common sense to perch on the roost under their sun and rain shelter or go inside the coop or their covered run to get out of the weather. We have one breed of hen, the speckled sussex, which we have found to be very adventurous and which can be seen exploring the far reaches of the pasture even in a torrential downpour. It’s actually quite entertaining to look out into the chicken yard during a downpour and see most of the ladies huddled together on their perch and one or two of the sussex still going about their business in the pasture. Lil’ Red Rooster is also quite the free spirit and refuses to seek shelter from the rain. As a result, he often goes to bed soaking wet, but by morning his feathers are dry and he’s ready for another day in the rain.
Although the girls don’t mind the rain and the mud, I try to keep the mud under control. One of the down sides to a muddy pasture is that when the girls get muddy feet, they tend to get the eggs dirty in the nest box. Also, the ladies are constantly drinking out of mud puddles instead of drinking the clean water in their waterers. While this is not necessarily the worst thing in the world, it is a possible way for parasites to be spread depending upon how clean the ground was before the puddle formed. At one time, we spread many wheelbarrows of gravel in the chicken yard to make a mud-free pathway for the humans (and the chickens if they cared to use it) to get from the secure run to the coop to the shade shelter. Of course we should have known that the ladies are never content to leave any stone unturned, and they ended up scratching the pathway into oblivion in short order. Now whenever the pasture gets muddy, instead of hauling up gravel, I bring up a few loads of wood shavings from the once massive pile of 27 cubic yards of wood shavings I had delivered a couple of years ago, which is now down to a measly couple of yards. That was one of the best purchases I made since we got the farm – 27 cubic yards of wood shavings delivered for I think it was $100! Anyway, all I have to do is bring up the wood shavings in a garden trug, dump them onto a muddy spot in the pasture, and the chickens will spread it out nicely while they scratch and peck in the shavings searching for bugs. We make quite a team, and before you know it, the eggs are once again clean in the nest box and the girls are drinking out of their waterers like proper ladies.
I never paid too much attention to the winter solstice until I became a chicken enthusiast. The passing of the winter solstice marks an important change in the seasons and is a time for celebration among chicken keepers. The days begin to get longer, and that triggers an increase in egg laying for chickens since their laying cycle is related to the amount of daylight they receive. Most of our ladies will turn three years old this spring, and our original ladies, Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, and Ramona will be turning five years old! We decided last summer that we needed to add a few new hens to the flock to supplement the decreased egg laying of our older hens.
Last summer, Violet hatched seven chicks for us (Chick Love), three of which have grown up to be our lovely ladies Rosalie, Dusky, and Midnight. These ladies are now eight months old, and they started laying eggs several weeks ago. They have added brown, pastel green, and olive green eggs to our egg basket. We also bought four day-old gold comet chicks for Raquel (Raquel, Reinvented) which she happily adopted and raised up into hens that are lovely to look at and have an attitude to go with their good looks just like their momma. The gold comets are now six months old and have started laying medium brown eggs. Brown Rooster is quite fond of the new additions to the flock, which I’m sure is a relief to the older ladies who now get a bit of a reprieve from his amorous ways.
The most recent additions to our flock are three black copper marans hens that I bought a few months ago to give Ramon some company (Ramon’s New Lady Friends). These girls were a bit skittish when I first brought them home, but they have settled in nicely to their new home, and I’ve grown quite fond of them. So fond in fact, that they have recently been named, which is saying something since not all of our ladies have names – although to be honest, more of our ladies have names than not. Ramon’s ladies are now known as Henny, Penny, and Little Miss. I have long thought that Henny and Penny would be cute chicken names, but the last time I named a couple of chicks Henny and Penny they grew up to be Henry and Lil’ Red Rooster. This time around however, I know the receivers of these names are in fact ladies because they are now five months old and have started laying eggs. Ramon is also very fond of his new ladies. When I first introduced them, Ramon seemed to have forgotten his manners, but over the last couple of months he has remembered how to behave around a lady. He can often be heard calling the ladies over for a tasty treat he’s found in the grass or be seen standing guard, on alert with his head held high watching for potential dangers while his ladies scratch and peck around the yard. I’m not sure who’s more fond of our new little ladies, the roosters or me, but I do know that we are all glad that they have joined our flock!
Chicken Spa Day
Last time I wrote about the chicken chores here at the farm, and today I’m going to tell you about a few other somewhat embarrassing things we do to keep the ladies and gents healthy and happy. Chickens are very good at keeping themselves clean and healthy, and a good part of their day is spent grooming and preening their feathers. They also take dust baths and sun baths as preventive measures to keep naturally occurring external parasites such as mites and lice under control. They scratch and peck the ground in search of tasty morsels to eat, and in so doing this typically keeps their toenails worn down to the appropriate length. But despite these beneficial chicken behaviors, every once in a while we need to help them out a bit to keep them as healthy as they can be.
During the colder months, we conduct monthly inspections of our chickens to monitor for the northern fowl mite, a common parasite in wild birds that can be easily spread to backyard poultry flocks. The northern fowl mite is a bloodsucking parasite that can have many adverse effects on a chicken including anemia, decreased egg production, decreased ability to withstand and overcome other diseases, and even death in severe cases. When we had backyard chickens for two years, we never had a problem with mites, but since moving to the farm where the chickens have much greater exposure to wild birds, mites have become something we have to deal with. We start inspecting the chickens in the fall which is when the mite population tends to increase. I round up all of the chickens into their 10 foot x 10 foot secure run, which typically takes much calling and bribing with treats. Then one by one, my husband will catch each hen and hold her in inspection position so that I can examine her vent. Mites, being the unpleasant critters that they are, tend to congregate near a chicken’s vent, which is the hole under their tail where everything that comes out of a chicken comes out. I lift up the chicken’s tail, part the feathers, and look for mites or their eggs at the base of the feathers. Regardless of whether mites are present or not, all the chickens get a thorough application of diatomaceous earth around their vent and under their tail and wings which helps prevent the mites from getting established. Then every hen gets a few meal worms as a treat, and I record my observations in my chicken record keeping book. This gets repeated for each and every hen and rooster, and typically takes about an hour and a half to do the whole flock.
While doing the mite inspection, we also take note of any other issues that may need addressing. If a chicken feels lighter in weight than usual, I make a mental note to keep an eye on her to make sure she is eating and acting normally. Occasionally I will go in to the coop at night when everyone is on the roost and feel each chicken’s crop (the pouch in their lower neck that stores food before it is digested) to make sure everyone has a full crop for the night. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the crop is empty in the morning which indicates the chicken has digested her food overnight as is normal, and this is also something we check for during monthly inspections.
Occasionally a chicken will get a very long toenail or two that is for some reason not getting worn down during her daily scratching activities. If a toenail has grown so long that it is preventing her from walking normally, we have occasionally trimmed a toenail with a dog toenail clipper. Then there are the rooster spurs, which are quite another matter. Most of our boys have grown very long spurs which curve back around toward their leg. There are a few methods of trimming rooster spurs, all of which take more effort than trimming a toenail. Ramon’s spurs are the longest, and we did recently trim off the tip of one spur which was threatening to start rubbing on his leg. We used a small hack saw to cut off the tip, which was not the easiest thing in the world to do as you can imagine. Luckily, Ramon is a well-behaved boy, and he did not object much to this strange procedure. We’ll need to do some further trimming of his spurs as well as Brown Rooster’s spurs in the coming months, so I need to figure out the easiest and most comfortable way of undertaking this strange task. I did a lot of research before getting chickens, and I thought I knew everything there was to know. Nowhere did I read that I would have to give my chickens pedicures, but I don’t mind, it’s just one more of the interesting things I’ve learned how to do in my chicken keeping journey.
Most days I spend 15 to 30 minutes doing chicken chores. The first thing I do after I get dressed and brush my teeth in the morning is make the rounds to check on the ladies and gents. Until recently, I had to go up to the main coop first thing in the morning to open up the door and let Brown Rooster and his ladies out into their pasture. For Christmas I got an automatic chicken door opener which is on a light sensor and opens up automatically after the sun comes up and closes at dusk. Even though I no longer have to open the coop door, and all of the coops have feeders with food in them at all times, I still like to make the rounds first thing in the morning and bring everyone their breakfast. One of the girls’ biggest joys in life is eating, and I tend to indulge them a bit since it’s so fun to see them diving into their breakfast. The first stop is Coco Puff and Millie’s coop which is right outside the back door. I can usually hear them squawking for their breakfast through the mudroom window while I’m getting everything ready. After visiting Coco Puff and Millie, I let Lil’ Red Rooster out of his bachelor pad coop, which is also by the back door, and I put food out for him. The next stop is the main chicken coop where Brown Rooster and his ladies live. Lastly, I go down to the coop in the front pasture and visit Ramon and his ladies. After all that it’s time to head back into the house and make the humans their breakfast!
On frosty mornings like today, I also have to defrost a few waterers for the chickens by taking out the tea kettle and pouring hot water over them. We have three electric waterers that keep the water from freezing, but there are several other waterers in the chicken yard that still need to be defrosted. You may wonder why all of our waterers aren’t the plug in kind, well at $60 each, we decided three was enough! Equally important on cold winter days is making sure that the coops are relatively clean and that means scooping poop. On cold days the chickens tend to spend more time indoors, and an accumulation of poop in the coop combined with the moisture in the air from lots of chickens breathing can make for an accumulation of ammonia in the coop which is bad news for their sensitive respiratory systems. I scoop poop 2 to 3 times a week, whatever the weather is, to keep things tidy and keep the ladies healthy. At night I make another quick round of the coops to make sure everyone is inside for the night, and then I close the coop doors to keep them safe from predators.
In addition to the daily and weekly chores, there are the less frequent chores that are a bigger job when they need doing. One of the girls’ favorite things to do is scratch about the pasture looking for bugs to eat. Eventually their favorite scratching spots become devoid of grass, and the girls continue scratching in the bare ground until they’ve made a depression big enough to take a dust bath in. After dust bathing in the same hole for a while, it eventually becomes so deep that they abandon it in favor of a new dust bath, and the result if left unchecked would be a moonscape of serious magnitude! A couple of times a year we fill in the holes with extra dirt we’ve stockpiled from another project, sand, or even clumps of sod. This year we got a truck for the farm, so it made the job of filling holes a bit easier since we could drive a load of sand right up to the pasture and then use the wheelbarrow to move it into the pasture. After filling holes, I engaged in an exercise of futility, which was trying to reseed the bare patches with grass seed. Of course the girls are always on the lookout for something new and exciting to scratch up and potentially eat, so I don’t have high hopes of much of the grass seed I planted coming up next spring, but I figured it was worth a try. In the rainy season, the bare ground tends to get a bit muddy in the pasture due to the pitter patter of so many chicken feet. Every few weeks I bring small loads of wood shavings up to the pasture and spread them in the muddy patches. This is the one chore that the ladies actually help with, and they can’t wait to get their feet and beaks into the piles of wood shavings and spread it out in search of creepy crawlies to eat.
My biggest chicken chore is cleaning out the chicken coops. I do a full coop clean out once or twice a year. If I’ve been vigilant with my regular poop scooping then I can usually just clean the coops out once a year. This is a full day job for the main coop. I start by filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with the pine shavings from the floor of the coop and bring them up to the garden to compost. I won’t bore you with the remaining time-consuming details of the coop cleaning, but suffice it to say that it’s a dusty, poopy, messy job!
I am fortunate to have a very handy husband to take care of the many chicken chores that require construction skills. It seems there is always a reason that we need to build something new for our feathered friends. The first projects back in 2012 were building the main coop, secure run, fenced pasture, and the shade shelter for the main flock. As time went on, we added three bachelor pad coops for the roosters, including one in a new fenced pasture in the front yard, a small coop on the back porch for the city chickens (Coco Puff and Millie), a small nursery enclosure in the main coop for raising chicks, and a separate fenced enclosure in the main chicken pasture to isolate frisky roosters or sick chickens. The most recent additions are a repurposed truck canopy shelter and water station in the front pasture, in preparation for the two turkey hens that I hope to add to our flock soon. Once we actually get the turkeys, it wouldn’t surprise me if an additional project or two come to mind. No matter how well we try to plan ahead, there always seems to be just one more project that we need to make everything just perfect.
Ramon’s New Lady Friends
As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, we had some Trouble with Roosters. Ramon was being aggressive towards Reuben, and I decided to separate them. Reuben got moved up to the main chicken yard, and that left Ramon all by himself in the bachelor pad coop. I didn’t want to leave Ramon alone for too long and take the chance that he would become aggressive towards us or to his future replacement coop mates. I already had a short list of chicken breeds that I hoped to add to our flock one day, and here was my chance. I wanted to get chickens that were old enough that I could put right in with Ramon, but I didn’t want chickens that were past their egg laying prime either. At the top of my list were the breeds of chickens known for laying chocolate brown eggs, and of these I was really hoping to find some cuckoo marans or black copper marans. I looked on Craigslist every day to see if anyone was looking to rehome a few chickens of the breeds that I was interested in. After a few weeks of patiently searching Craigslist, I finally found someone with three black copper marans pullets that were 11 weeks old. They were a little younger than I wanted, but I decided to go take a look at them.
I drove to a small farm in Birkenfeld, a scenic one hour drive from us. I could tell within a few moments of talking to their owner that she loved her chickens as much as I loved mine, and that they were healthy and had been well cared for. She showed me an egg laid by the last batch of chickens she had hatched from the same mother, and the egg was a beautiful dark speckled brown. The hens had the leg feathering that is characteristic of the french breed standard, which was a good sign that these hens would also lay a dark brown egg. I decided to bring them home. She offered to sell me a rooster of the same breed so that I could raise more black copper marans if I decided to. Although it was tempting, and black copper marans roosters are very handsome, I explained to her that I already had more roosters than I needed and that it was because of my roosters that I was here buying more hens in the first place!
When we got back to the farm, I put the ladies right into Ramon’s coop so that they would learn where their new home was. It’s been well over a year since Ramon was with any ladies, so I was hoping that he would behave himself and be a gentleman – well as much of a gentleman as can be expected from a rooster that is! After a couple of hours I let the girls out to meet Ramon, and it was love at first sight. He set right to work escorting the ladies around the pasture, and they seemed happy to follow his lead. They should start laying eggs in another couple of months, and hopefully they will contribute a nice dark brown egg to our egg basket.
The Trouble with Roosters
Two of our roosters, Reuben and Ramon, have been living in their own bachelor pad for a year and a half, and they had been doing quite well until a few weeks ago. I visited them nearly every day to check up on them and bring them treats, and they seemed happy and healthy. They didn’t have any ladies, but they had a lush green pasture with plenty of room to roam and bugs to hunt, and it was a pretty good life for a rooster. Reuben has been having some sort of trouble with his legs for quite some time, which causes him to walk very stiff-legged. Over the last few months he has had more and more difficulty walking. Not only are his legs stiff when he walks, but he seems to have trouble balancing at times, and his legs also seem to be getting weaker. He still walks around to eat and drink and peck at the grass a bit, and he always comes over to me for treat time, but usually he just sits and suns himself in the grass. The bachelor pad coop is elevated about 8 inches off the ground, and about a month ago Reuben started to spend hours at a time underneath the coop. It didn’t look too comfortable to me, and I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to spend his days there.
When I went to give the boys their treats a few weeks ago, Reuben was inside the coop and he didn’t come out when I called. I had to coax him out of the coop, and when he came out I could see that his comb looked like it had been injured and had some scabs on it. Ramon is the dominant rooster of the two, and he is always demonstrating that with his body language which involves some intimidating movements and getting really close to Reuben. Reuben has always turned the other cheek to Ramon, and I had never observed any hint of fighting between them. But on this day when Reuben came out of the coop, Ramon was a bit more aggressive toward Reuben, and in one quick motion he lunged at Reuben and pecked at his comb, leaving a little speck of blood. Reuben let out a little yelp and tried to run away on his wobbly legs. I watched the two of them for another minute or two, and it soon became clear that something had changed in their relationship. Reuben was definitely frightened of Ramon. It was sad seeing our once majestic big black rooster debilitated and unable to make a quick escape from his aggressor. I have read that when an alpha rooster starts to age and show signs of weakness that the other roosters in the flock will start picking on him and take him down a few notches in the pecking order. The pecking order can be ruthless, especially for a sick or injured bird. Although Ramon was already the dominant rooster, this change in his behavior toward Reuben had me more than a bit concerned. I had recently lost a hen to just this sort of bullying behavior, and I was not about to let that happen to Reuben.
I scooped Reuben up in my arms and carried him up to the main chicken pasture. It’s at times like this that I am so glad that I spent the time with my roosters to tame them so that I can pick them up without any difficulty whatsoever. We still had the temporary fencing up in the main chicken pasture that we had put up to separate the four teenage roosters a few months ago. I put Reuben in this fenced enclosure, got his food and water set up, and brought up a pet carrier that he could use for a temporary shelter to sleep in at night. I could tell immediately that Reuben was relieved to be separated from Ramon. He walked about his new accommodations a bit, had some food, and began to let out a few cock-a-doodle doos, which I hadn’t heard him do in a while. I imagined that Reuben was telling Ramon that he was back up in the main chicken pasture living the good life and in sight of the lovely ladies again.
It’s been 3 weeks since I separated Reuben from Ramon, and Reuben seems to really be enjoying himself. I bring him breakfast every morning, and he always wobbles over to greet me. Violet’s three chicks are now five months old, and are the lowest chickens in the pecking order, and they have discovered that they can fly over the fence into Reuben’s quarters to share in his breakfast and that they are not subject to the pecking that they get from the ladies when they try to eat breakfast with the rest of the flock. Reuben gets a little company which I think he enjoys. My sweet husband has built Reuben his own little rooster house (which puts us up to bachelor pad #3 now!) and is currently making a few other improvements to Reuben’s area to get it ready for winter. Although I’ve grown attached to all of our roosters, I have a special place in my heart for Reuben. Maybe it’s because he was so cute as a young rooster (Rooster Cogburn), or maybe it’s because of his big soulful black eyes. I’m not sure how much longer Reuben will be with us, but he’s one of the good ones, so I want to give him the best life possible while he is around.
The Sad Girls
It’s that time of year when the ladies go through the process of molting. Their feathers fall out by the handful, and they grow a new shiny set of feathers. For some ladies, it’s a gradual process and they don’t look too much the worse for it, but some ladies look downright ridiculous for several weeks. It’s not just their appearance that is sad, but I think they actually feel a bit sad too. The ladies going through the worst molts tend to lurk around the outskirts of the flock and some even hide inside the coop until their feathers have grown back. For a couple of weeks I saw Twitchy walking backward while ducking her head down as if she was trying to back out of some awful prickly sweater that someone had subjected her to. There are a lot of bare chicken butts to be seen scurrying around the chicken pasture, and I can’t help but try to stifle a laugh as I stalk them with my camera and try to capture the worst offenders. Here are some of my favorite photos from this year, and there were some good ones from last year’s molt too.
It’s been a year since we moved to the farm full-time, and what better way to celebrate than by counting down the reasons I love living at the farm.
17) the beautiful walk to the mailbox
16) the starry sky at night
15) snow days
14) fires in the wood stove
13) forest views
12) hearing the tree frogs
11) tending the honey bees
10) garden bounty
9) summer sweets
8) lil’ red rooster
7) my greenhouse
5) wild things
4) the little things
1) and of course, more chickens!
It’s been a good year for our bees at 5R Farm. The hive that we started with in the spring of 2013 survived its first winter, and was bursting at the seems by spring 2014. I decided to split the hive in April (Hive Splitting Day) which is a commonly used method of increasing one’s number of bee hives. It’s also a method of managing the population of the bee hive, and if done correctly, preventing swarming which occurs when a hive is overcrowded. In my case I think I did the hive split a couple of weeks too late since it swarmed anyway (Swarm Season).
I’ve been keeping a close eye on both hives all summer to make sure that the hives were healthy and had a strong population capable of putting away enough honey to get them through the winter. The hive that I took the split from and then swarmed went through a noticeable decrease in its population, which had me worried for several weeks. Thankfully, the queen seems to be a good queen, and the hive population rebounded nicely. Even so, I noticed during a hive inspection in August that the hive did not have as much honey as it did at the same time last year. The amount of honey that a hive needs to get through the winter varies according to the climate, and at least 50 pounds of honey is the recommendation for our location. That may sound like a lot, but if you consider that there are thousands and thousands of bees overwintering in the hive and depending upon the honey they’ve stored as their main food source from October through March or April, then it seems entirely reasonable. This is why I leave the majority of the honey in the hive over the winter, and I only harvested a couple of pounds of honey this summer. The bees need honey for their winter survival, and if there is leftover honey in the hive come springtime, I can harvest it then. Since the hive did not have as much honey as it did last winter, I started feeding the hive a 2:1 simple syrup in August, which would allow the bees to put away additional honey for winter.
I was doing my last hive inspection of the year a couple of weeks ago and evaluating how much honey they had in the hive, when suddenly I saw the queen! I had named her Queen Rosalind when we installed the hive a year and a half ago, but I had not seen her since. I knew she was in there and was doing her job since I could see that she was laying eggs in a good pattern and that new bees were developing, and so I had not really looked for her because I like to be as unobtrusive as possible when I inspect the hive. I was going about the inspection when suddenly there she was, Queen Rosalind in all her glory. In one of my beekeeping books it says “as you inspect your frames, it is a great moment when you find the queen. Suddenly, you feel like a real beekeeper.” And it’s true, it was an exciting moment!
The second hive that we started this year built up a large population and was able to put away quite a lot of honey. I have not named this hive yet, and I’ve just been calling it the split hive, but with the excitement of seeing the queen in the other hive I decided that I really do need to name this hive too. It’s just so much more fun to be able to call a hive by its queen’s name instead of Hive 1, Hive 2, etc. I probably could have harvested some honey from this hive, but since I am still learning how much honey a hive needs to get through the winter I decided to leave all of their honey in the hive. Winter is a tough time for bees, with hive losses becoming increasingly common, so I want to give my bees the best chance of survival possible. If both of our hives make it through this winter, I will feel like I’m doing something right. I would like to start a third hive next spring, either through another hive split, or I’d also like to put out a bee bait box and try to catch a swarm. I already have the location for the new hive picked out, so now I get to spend the winter thinking up queen bee names.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that an abundance of roosters goes hand in hand with raising chickens. We already have four adult roosters who are permanent residents on the farm, which is at least two more than we really need, so when four of the seven chicks Violet hatched this spring turned out to be roosters we again found ourselves having way too many. Last summer we resorted to the Coq au Vin method of dealing with our excess roosters, and although it was difficult, we were comfortable with our decision. We were prepared to do the same thing this year, but then fate seemed to smile upon our boys and presented me with another option. I was doing field work outside of Banks one day when I met a farmer who had recently begun farming as a second career and was raising pastured chickens. We chatted for a bit, and I soon discovered that he and I shared many of the same opinions regarding raising healthy, happy animals to provide food for our families. I spent the day working along the stream that bordered his property and admiring the beautiful setting and his happy flock of hens.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I began to put two and two together. Our four teenage roosters were four months old, and they were starting to eat a lot. Sean would be on tour this fall, which would mean that we wouldn’t be able to harvest them until late November, and that would mean that Sean would need to build them their own coop where they could keep dry during the rainy months ahead. These were all manageable things, but I started to wonder if there wasn’t a better solution for all of us. I thought back to the farm I had visited a few days before. There were about 100 young hens free ranging on a very large pasture, and I had only seen one rooster. I wondered if the farm couldn’t use a few more roosters to keep watch over the flock. I called the farmer and reintroduced myself to him and told him that I was looking for a home for some fine young roosters that we had been raising organically on our small farm and would he possibly be interested in giving them a home with his larger flock. He said yes he would be happy to buy all four of them, and I made plans to drop them off later that week.
When we arrived at his farm he had a temporary pen set up where the roosters could be gradually introduced to their new flock, as well as the two livestock guardian dogs on the farm. When introducing new chickens to each other it’s important to keep them separated with a barrier that they can see through so they can get used to each other but that also keeps the existing flock from asserting their dominance over the new chickens (chickens can be pretty merciless when enforcing the pecking order!). The livestock guardian dogs would also need some time to learn that these new roosters were now part of their flock and were to be protected along with the ladies. It’s been a several weeks since we brought the boys to their new home, and by now they should be integrated with their new flock and living the good life with many acres to roam free.