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.