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.