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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.