Category Archives: chickens, etc.

Poultry extra

Okay I swear this will be the last poultry post for a while on this (ahem) gardening blog, but it was a big weekend around here last weekend.

Six appears to be the magic number.

IMG_1621She’s not exactly doing the Hovercraft thing, but her tail is quite fluffed out.  She was giving me the warning crackle the whole time I visited.

Here’s Chicken Patty with her six foster chicks.  She’s doing very well with them, though admittedly she was getting kind of bored in the dog kennel I had set up for her in my gardening shed.  So, I moved her and the babies out to the Chicken Tractor, which is (conveniently) set over the goose/turkey nesting box.  Considering the geese and turkeys have other sleeping arrangements, this works quite well for Patty and her little brood.  The babies are five slow-growing Cornish like their adopted mama and one little red broiler.

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And Yoli, our goose, hatched six goslings this weekend, of the 9 eggs she was sitting.  Isn’t she just the prettiest bird?  Look at that refined, beautiful head of hers.

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Here’s the back end.  Can you count three little legs?  Must be warm in there…

Poultry update

IMG_1539Nixie Knox says, what’s all that racket?

As of Wednesday, 3 June, our household has 74 feathered creatures.  The tally:  50 day-old chicks (40 meat/10 egg), 5 teenaged bantams, 3 teenaged egg-laying chickens, 7 egg-laying chickens of various ages, 3 guineas, 3 turkeys, and 3 geese, with Mother Goose sitting on 10 eggs which are probably duds.

That is a LOT of poultry, people!

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Chicken Patty, doing time in solitary confinement

The grand experiment for the day?  Chicken Patty has gone broody again (!!) so I put her on a nest in a dog kennel and then stuck a chick under her last night.  Shhh.  It appears to be working!  Another chick tonight…

IMG_1543hisshissHISSS!

Baby Goose is called Jeffrey (from Charlotte’s Web of course), though it’ll be a long time before we figure out if he’s really a he.  This gosling was hatched out by our ever-patient turkey hen Ruby on Mother’s Day.  She ignored him as she had her own little baby to tend to, so he went right in with his parents the same day.  Considering Yoli (Yolanda, the goose) was sitting, I figured Mel the gander would either attack him or would care for him:  let’s just say that hanging out with Dad all day has been great for Jeffrey.  He’s HUGE.  Mel’s done a great job.

IMG_1554Ruby and baby, quite happy in the meadow

Baby Turkey has no name other than Thanksgiving Dinner.  S/he is doing so well with Ruby.  Ruby flew into the pen with the geese and our tom turkey Earl a couple of days back so they’re all happy together in there.  In general, parent-raised poultry is the best thing ever.  They may be shy of people but I swear their brains and their bodies grow much better this way.

The bantams.  Ah, the bantams!  I have three roosters of the 5 birds, and I have no idea: they could ALL be male.  Sigh.  They moved in with The Big Girls about a week ago.  The guineas hate them, but they’re too fast for even the guineas to peck.  The three are trying to crow but it sounds like a bunch of chicks with headcolds.

The three egg-laying chicks used to be four, but we lost one, one of the two Buff Orpingtons.  I have had the remaining three spend their days in the garden and greenhouses, nights in the temporary coop.  Living in a little temporary coop all day makes them stupid, I think:  letting them out and dealing with what little damage they do out there is fine as a half-step (kind of like finishing school) before life with the Big Girls.  They’ve learned to forage, scratch, and get dust-baths, all without fearing for their lives.  They move from the temporary coop to life in Gen Pop on Friday.

And the fifty peeping babies.  Sigh, babies!  With luck this will be the absolute last year I have to order chicks.  (With luck, crossing fingers, burning sage, doing a voodoo dance, etc.)

IMG_1583Verloe says, come join my flock!

On pecking order

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Little, but big enough for trouble

“Man, I cannot believe the slugs in the greenhouse,” I said to Tom.  “They completely deleaved my Arkansas Traveler tomatoes.  And I had the bantam chicks in there too for the day….Wait.  Uh oh.”

Yep.  Not slugs, chicks!  Buggers.  The thing to know about chickens is that their existence is very monkey-see, monkey-do.  So I am quite sure one little chick got a taste and the others joined in.  Tiny as they are, they can do some damage.  I am not worried about the tomatoes, though; they’ll be fine.

“Well, I do need to get them out of the temporary coop, and move them in with the Big Girls.  And the baby chicks need to move to the temporary coop, and then THEY need to move into the coop, probably earlier than they’re comfortable, when the rest of the chicks show up in early June.”

“You mean you’re moving them all to Gen Pop?  Is that safe?  Poor birds.”

The one thing that I know about chickens is that they need Their People (i.e., at least two others the same age).  What makes Chicken Patty and Queen (Bloody) Beatrice so sad is that they’re “only birds,” as Chicken Patty’s “people” are all in the freezer and Bea’s “people” are likewise very dead.  Bea we don’t worry about so much because she’s Queen and everyone defers to her.  Chicken Patty, the largest bird, is the most picked-upon.  And so it goes:  move the bantams in, they’ll get picked on; move the babies in, the bantams will pick on THEM, then the new egg birds will move in during July and the babies will pick on THEM.  (Let me be clear:  the picking (pecking) only occurs at group events like trips to the feed bowl or while waiting for the dirt bath.)  There’s safety in numbers though.  Everyone will work it out, eventually.

On Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, our turkey hen Ruby hatched:

IMG_1218One fuzzy baby goose

and

IMG_1222one adorable turkey poult.

My mother’s comment:  “Does this make you a grandmother?”

More chicken madness

Wow!  Commit to a fence, commit to more poultry, or at least that’s what it seems like this year.

IMG_1187-1Could YOU resist?

In one bold move on Wednesday, we doubled our egg-laying population.  Yep.  We should Just Say No to the feed store but as you know it’s hard.  We came home with four more chicks, seen left to right: one Silver-laced Wyandotte, two Buff Orpingtons, and one Black Sex-link (which is a Barred Rock/Rhode Island Red cross).

img_1184Note  how big their eyes are in their heads, and how their tails point up and their wings down.  This, as well as their tiny size, are bantam traits.

The bantam chicks are (thankfully) getting kind of big, or, well, bigger.  They’re due to join up with the Big Girls soon (our 7 laying hens and 3 guinea hens) as, well, our meat and egg bird order shows up on the first week of June.  It would appear that the three black-ish ones are not Ameraucana bantams but instead are Golden Sebrights.  The white one, my daughter’s personal favorite, is still a mystery as to what variety s/he is; and the little buff colored one in the center is a feather-footed creature who is quite fast, so I have been calling him/her Mercury.  This one is probably a Cochin.

Tom’s rationale for getting four more birds went as follows: “Well, the bantams are only half-sized.”

My rationale for the bantams was that they’re good setters.  However we have no idea what sex they are:  we certainly don’t need five banny roosters.

But, yeah:  crazy.  If all goes according to The Grand Chicken Plan, we’ll go into the fall with 7 old egglayers, 3 relatively worthless guineas, 12 new egg-laying pullets, 5 bantams, and 2 egg-bird roosters.  Thirty-eight meat birds are destined for the freezer.  And Chicken Patty will finally get her man:  we’ll keep one of the meat roosters as well as one red broiler pullet.  Thirty-one chickens!

On broody hens

img_1020Ruby isn’t our only broody girl around here.  Our should’ve-been-dinner pullet Chicken Patty is feeling the urge too!

Maggie, our black Australorps, was the only other girl that we’ve had who’s ever sat for more than a day.  And Patty, who is such a dear of a bird, is the funniest Angry Hen that you could meet.  (When they’re broody, see, they get all pissy and puffed-up fluff-the-neck-feathers “mean.”  Like, that is going to stop me from getting those eggs.  Wait!  I forgot about the fact that their beaks are quite sharp…)

Anyway, with no roosters around here (yet) our Patty is sitting on duds.  I am surprised, though, by her persistence.  It means she’s not had the urge bred out of her, which makes me recommend these slow-growing Cornish all the more from Privett Hatchery.  They’re great.  She’s great!  We plan to save a rooster and another hen from this year’s meat birds to make more Chicken Patties.  Wouldn’t you?

On nature, tooth and claw

sad_henSad Ruby on Friday

I have a bit of an update on Ruby and her eggs.

Early Friday morning, I exited the house on critter chore duty and I was greeted by the sweetest sound.  “Goodness,” I thought, “Earl has learned to imitate Ruby and her sweet coo,” when actually it was our Ruby that I was hearing…and seeing!  How in the world…?  What happened?  Why is she out and about, why is she not sitting on her eggs?

She couldn’t have gotten out on her own, and I was right.  Apparently, a raccoon got into the brood chamber and attacked her, and eaten all her eggs.  We were all so sad, but not as sad as Ruby herself.

She’s safe now, back on a bunch of (dummy) chicken eggs, and I have thrown the Chicken Tractor over her nesting chamber, so now she’s doubly (triply, counting the new fence) secure.

But that particular raccoon won’t be bothering her again.

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Mean omnivorous bastard.  Our daughter wanted to make a coonskin cap out of him.

On the chicken rush

_dsc2575The child and I went online last weekend to put in this year’s chicken order (meat and egg birds).  The online catalog at our normal place was down (weird, but perhaps just a fluke) so we went looking around the other online hatcheries to see what we could see.

What we could see was booked chicken orders going from now to June!

As you might know, I am a glass-half-empty kind of person.  I wouldn’t say I always skew negative, but I do so more often than not.  But (but!) I think this uptick in chicken-rearing is a good thing.  More people are giving it a try, it would appear.  As you know, my perfect world would have most houses with backyard greenhouses AND chicken coops, so my inconvenience seems like great news to me.

Eventually, we would like to be self-sufficient in chickens, both as meat and as layers…that day will one day come.  Last weekend, though, I just wanted to mail in my check for my 50 birds, expecting them at the homestead in early June.  And it would appear that June is the earliest I can get them, isn’t that strange?  So, on June 2nd, I expect to receive a call from our post office about a box of 50 peeping chicks…_dsc2577We got two more bantam chicks on Thursday due to another trip to the feed store.  Actually, the child wanted two white Brahmas but the minimum order from our hatchery was five and (gosh) I almost hesitated and said “sure,” sucker that I am…then I remembered I could probably take her to the feed store and find her a single white bird, satisfying her singular desire.  So here it is, the cutie.  Tiny little thing two weeks younger than the other baby bantam Ameraucana:  we have no idea what kind of bantam this white one is, but the other unseen small one is a frizzle Cochin bantam: crazy!  Chicken crazy!

Happy fuzzy Easter chicks to you all!

On that nesting instinct

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Doesn’t she look cozy?

Our girl turkey, Ruby, has gone broody.  Nothing would make us happier than if all the hard work of sitting on a nest for 28 days actually yielded a turkey poult or two, but I’m not overly hopeful.  I don’t know how effective our tom, Earl, has been as far as mating goes:  Ruby hasn’t been the most cooperative of mates, you see.  She’s a flighty girl all around.

So flighty, actually, that finding her nest was something of a challenge!  Every day she’d fly out of the pen with the geese, in search of fresh greens and general mischief (well, mischief is something the geese excel at, whereas Ruby just kind of tags along, hanging with “the bad crowd”).  At one point in her time out of the pen, she found a nesting site, and for longer and longer periods, she’d simply be “gone,” apparently sitting.  That time stretched into a longer and longer period until last Friday when she didn’t return to the pen at all.  Huh.

Saturday morning came, afternoon, evening; snow threatened for Sunday so we moved her, and her clutch of 7 eggs, to the goose/turkey egg hutch (mostly ignored by the intended poultry; the guineas, though, love it and it’s there that I find their three eggs a day).  She’s been sitting ever since.

It is interesting to note that, for the first time in many years, wild turkeys have been spotted in and around the area.  About a month ago I noticed the geese and turkeys running in their pen, very agitated; I went outside and saw twelve, maybe 15, wild turkeys in the field just behind their pen.  Whooshwhooshwhoosh, all the wild birds flew away, gigantic brown birds, without a peep or a sqwawk amongst them.  A few days later two wild toms ran in front of my car as we went into town for some errands, and then, last week, I saw Ruby in the same field behind her pen with…two toms!  She was chasing them, though.  Can I tell you how gigantic these birds are?  They look easily to be 1.5 times the height of Earl, which means they’d come up to my waist, easily.

So I do not know if Ruby was tramping around or if she was merely being territorial; I suppose time will tell if those eggs yield some wild-looking poults.

You know it is spring when…

img_0940…it is really fun to go to the feed store!

Coincidentally, spring is when our daughter becomes amazingly hard of hearing, at least as far as anything I have to say to her.  “Now, don’t squeeze them honey.  Honey?”

We picked up three Ameraucana bantams at the store on Saturday.  Yep:  tiny birds who lay blue or green eggs.

On onerous hormones

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This bill was made for pinching

(Good golly I wonder what kind of blog traffic I will get with that post title.)

Spring!  Yes, spring:  cute little fuzzy chicks and goat kids and all that; lovely little bulbs poking through cold soil, little seedlings growing under their lights, mild breezes…what’s not to like about SPRING?

Well, around here, this wonderful season coincides with our male poultry’s sexual maturity.  For months now, the tom turkey has been strutting his stuff (and mostly ignored).  One gander, the Christmas goose who never got cooked, has turned fire-spitting mean.  He doesn’t hiss at me as I am She Who Brings Food, but he’s flown at and pinched our daughter and has given both Tom and the dog the bum’s rush any time they come near.  I thought:  well, fine, that Christmas goose shall soon be cooked, leaving us with the nice gander and the nice goose.

Until this weekend, that is, when I saw the Nice Gander sitting on the nest and laying an egg.

How could I be so wrong?  This goose (because that’s what she is) is huge, and also fairly aggressive toward the dog and my husband.  The other goose, well, looks like a goose:  she’s delicate, she’s actually nice, she sits on the nest box a lot.  Ah.  What to do now:  I still don’t need three geese.

My daughter remains confused by the whole turnabout with the gander’s behavior.  In about three short months he went from an easily petted, come-up-to-you-for-food kind of guy, and liked being around the girl.  Now, well, now he attacks.  “It’s not his fault,” I told her, “he’s actually just kind of sick.  He’s got this thing called ‘testosterone poisoning.'”

“Will he get better, or will you kill him, Mama?” she asked.

“Well, let’s hope we all learn to get along, kiddo.  You have to be careful around him, and he has to be careful around anyone, or else.”

We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog…

img_0598…to bring you goose eggs!

On untamed creatures

img_0525Excuse the blur that is this moving target:  I accept her wild-eyed, floppy-combed self, bad habits and all, and she mostly accepts mine.

Farm animals keep you honest.  Really, they do.  They have schedules, they have needs, they don’t accept much slacking on the parts of their owners.  It’s actually a good and deep relationship that can develop, even if it’s between you and a simple chicken.

When we got our most recent batch of laying hens two springs ago, I almost drew the line on Pauline, the white Leghorn.  Leghorns (excepting Foghorn) are egg-laying machines (indeed:  many white industrial eggs come from Leghorns) and they’re skittish:  I like a more calm bird.  But my daughter really wanted that little yellow chick, and I conceded, with reservations.  Sure enough, she’s an egg-laying machine.  And she’s easily spooked!  Such is the monkey-see of chick-raising, her habit was picked up by all four other chicks, so much so that only in puberty did they come back to their true, calm natures…while Pauline remains a squawking idiot.

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But hey, a flighty, squawking egg machine can be a lot of fun!  I think often about all her sisters and cousins who’re spending their short lives, 5 to a cage the size of a cat carrier, laying endlessly until they become soup or–horrors–nuggets.  Pauline lives her life as she pleases, flying out of the coop and henyard, determined as ever to satisfy her desires.  It only took me about a week to realize I wasn’t getting a daily egg from her, only one every other day:  as the only white egg of the bunch, hers are distinctive.  A bit of bushwacking and building-searching led me to find her cache hidden behind a hay bale and atop barncat Edie’s straw-bale bed.

The morning rush

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Clown car or nesting box?  You decide.

On bird dreams

There’s a pretty hard and fast rule about farm animal ownership:  there shall be no sleeping in on the weekends.

Somehow, in my deepest dreamy slumber at 7:30 in the morning on Sunday, I could have sworn I heard a turkey.  Our hen turkey, to be precise.  She wasn’t alarmed, she was simply making her typical cooing noise.  Hmm.  I woke up and still heard it.  Considering our bedroom is on the second floor and the turkeys were supposed to be locked up for the night, I, uh, thought I was still dreaming.

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Nope:  not dreaming.  She’d flown out and onto the porch roof outside the bedroom, and was asking for her breakfast.  That’s pretty good for a bird brain, don’t you think?

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And here’s the birthday girl’s interpretation of our turkey.

On the incredible egg

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Eggs from Maggie (Black Australorps, pictured) and a little one from our pullet Chicken Patty (slow-growing CornishX).  First eggs tend to be smaller, but Maggie always lays our biggest ones so perhaps the comparison is unfair.  It’s easy to tell who lays what egg if you only have 7 layers.

Eggs.  One small package, one thing so ubiquitous, humble and yet so miraculous.  They’re cheapened, of course, by the crass way we treat battery hens; I would lay insipid eggs too if I had to live their lives of horror.  But a farm-fresh egg from a well-treated hen, laying even in the depths of a greenless winter…now that is a little bit of wonder.

My family is quite happy eggs are back on the menu now that the girls are laying again.  I had hoarded them during the girls’ peak moult from Thanksgiving-Christmas.  But now it’s breakfast for dinner again!  There is nothing quicker or more delicious than a simple fried egg steaming and hot on a plate, or even a more gymnastic poached egg sitting atop a salad.  Add toast, or maybe some potatoes.  Cheap wealth in eating.

I think back to the day when Bonnie laid our first egg.  So perfect, so precious!  Not our effort, but still we gloated.  And we fought over it too if I remember correctly.  One egg, split three ways.

Yes, it is winter

img_9743Deep snow, friends.  Deeper than usual.  Not as cold as elsewhere but…somehow the geese don’t mind.  When I am doing critter chores I free the geese and turkeys to follow me around.  Such flapping and squawking!  Such freedom,  flying out of their pen.  And then they land in the snow, erp.  Er, a little help here?  Please?

On health, safety and welfare

To keep up accreditation in our field, we architects must attend seminars that address certain areas of our profession.  The majority of the credits we need are in the area of “Health, Safety, and Welfare,” a general category meant to keep our knowledge current so our buildings don’t collapse and kill people.  (Granted, these seminars are usually bone-dry boring affairs run by building products manufacturers to sell their products, so attending these seminars is not, for me, an irony-free affair.)  Anyway!  I think of this phrase often now that I sideline in animal husbandry.  If you’re going to take on the responsibility of having animals, anything you do must benefit their health, their safety, and their welfare.

dscn3623Coop construction, July 2006

I am so glad we built the Taj Mahal of chicken coops, really I am.  Never intended to house more than a dozen or so birds, our coop could easily accommodate another dozen, but I am glad it does not.  Why?  This cold weather is why.  Those girls are going nowhere.  Even if I do leave the door open and shovel them paths to tread in their yard, it’s just too cold for them outside.  They are (and will remain for the foreseeable future) cooped up.

Cooped up, and bored.  Sorry, girls.  I do try to bring them treats a couple of times a day, and I do need to freshen their water, which freezes.  (In their boredom they flipped and pecked the heated dogbowl I set in there; fearing barbecued chicken, I removed the bowl, and now schlep water often.)  During the day I turn a 40 watt light on for them too; it’s on for about 10 hours.  They’d started laying again (whew!) around Christmas before the light went on so I don’t think I am overstimulating them to produce, and the light is too faint to really warm the place up.

dscn3632Secretary of the Department of Chicken Homeland Security: yours truly, July 2006

Our pellet gun has gone a long way to defend the Chicken Homeland.  A good strong fence over and above the chicken run would help too with aerial threats but it’s not in the cards if I have my Daisy handy.  Last year I strung deer netting over the run and awoke one morning to find a hawk INSIDE the run.  What the…?  The girls were in the coop as is the usual overnight situation but I had the hawk to deal with.  Tom and daughter were out of town.  What to do?  As usual when defending the Chicken Homeland my adrenaline kicks into high gear and I ran outside in fuzzy slippers and bathrobe with the nearest weapon I could find:  a cast-iron skillet.  It was not the hawk’s best day.

The geese and turkeys have their own pen and shed, and I have to chase them all into the shed every night.  Sometimes the geese adamantly refuse to go into it and I let them stay out.  Considering they don’t really sleep at night (they doze most of the day, in turns) being in the shed is no fun for them.  We’ve had no threats to the Greater Poultry Homeland, though.

Now that we’re getting a goat or two, plans are changing.  Dogs are the greatest threat to goats, dogs and their wild coyote cousins.  Again, the goat(s) will be cooped up at night in their own shed inside a sturdily-built fence.  Considering that goats are great as poison ivy and brush eradicators, we’ll use electrified fencing to give them access to day browse.

So, yeah, you’ve got to do a bit to keep your critters safe, secure, happy and healthy.  Owning them, though, is so rewarding that the daily details of addressing their needs are really much more of a pleasure than a burden.  Skillet days excepted, of course!

On turkey hormones

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Pft!

Maybe it’s the wacky weather, but our tom turkey has hit sexual maturity.  (Re:  weather.  The less said the better, as I would rather not jinx us, but let’s sum up by saying 1* to 63* in 4 days, and all 18 inches of snow is now melted and has moved through our basement.)

Is it all the sun?  He has been practicing the traditional pose for about a month off and on (mostly off) but his “on” switch appears to be thrown, and stuck.  As I blearily did critter chores pre-coffee this morning, I kept hearing this noise.  Pft.  Pause.  Pfftt.  I realized it was the tom.  Apparently, he needs to suck in some air to fluff up!  Such…puffery!

Of course our hen turkey wants nothing to do with him.  She’s escaped the pen twice today.

img_9268He:  HeybayBEE.  You come here often?  She:  Psst, lady!  Get me outtahere!

On big poultry (or, And then there were five)

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Our goose (isn’t she pretty?)

So.  I mentioned feeding the turkeys and geese some cabbage yesterday.  I figured I should show you them, too.

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Tom has started calling our tom turkey Travis.  I’m not in love with the name, though.  That’s the hen in the front:  she’s impossible to take a clean picture of because she loves to peck at the camera.

We got them as babies at the end of June from Privett Hatchery.  The geese are production Toulouse and the turkeys are Bourbon Reds.  I ADORE them:  they make life on the farm so very fun.  Since Day One, they’ve been friendly and people-focused:  you have to train baby chicks to like you, so having these six little instantly amenable puffballs of fluff was quite a surprise.  The turkeys bonded with the much-larger geese and the geese bonded with our much-larger daughter.  We’d let them out in the grass and they would follow her, running, flapping, after her as she’d tear off, giggling.  We would do our nightly play sessions with them after dinner all summer and fall.  It was like having six feathered dogs following us about the property in the evening.

Six, and now five.  One turkey, a girl, was the highlight of our Thanksgiving feast.  Heirloom turkey is quite different than your average Butterball bird.  It’s really tasty, for one; the meat is darker, and very juicy.  Another difference is there isn’t a lot of meat.  Bourbon Reds are medium-sized birds, and our birds can fly, and do.  (You won’t see even a half-grown broad-breasted production bird fly.)  So we didn’t have a lot of leftovers, which, frankly, was fine by me.  Turkey can get tiresome.

It took about forever for the turkeys to get large enough that I could discern if I had boys or girls or both.  The geese took lots less time, but that’s mainly because they matured so much more quickly, not because the job of sexing them is easy!  Toulouse geese and ganders look a lot alike, so you have to look for more subtle clues:  the boys, for example, have more prominent eyebrow ridges, and are more aggressive with strangers and dogs.  I had one tom turkey and two hens, and I have one goose and two ganders.

img_8120The three boys out front,  yelling at the dog.  The two girls are hanging back but are also giving the dog a piece of their mind.

They all fly, incidentally.  If they get anxious and see me come outside, at least four of them (usually two geese and two turkeys) will fly out of their pen and run to me.  It’s dark outside now while I am writing this.  If I were to, say, open the back door right now, I will get honked at by the geese!  uh-WAYYahhAHH!  I usually let them out in the evening still, just before dark:  the turkeys come out of the pen and hang out with me as I do my chores, and the geese come out and fly up and down the side yard.  I always wonder what they think when they see all the Canada geese flying overhead.  Do they think “I can do that,” or do they think “Hey, cousin!”

For the most part, these guys don’t eat very much, at least not when the grass grows.  I pastured them and they pretty much would mow the grass down to nothing for us.  I just moved their pen around.  Now, during the winter, I supplement their feed with lettuces, veggie peelings, fruit, and on occasion whole cooked root veggies: they love anything we give them, frankly.  And this little factoid (i.e., that they love garden goodies) is making me adjust my planting plans for next year.  Gotta grow the critters some grub too…

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Got some food for us?

On egg season

img_7859“Lady, I don’t care WHAT you have in that bowl.  I am not coming out into that snow,” says Pauline. Or maybe she’s just photo shy because she looks so shabby?

Eggs are seasonal commodities in the farmyard.  It is true that we’ve bred chickens in such a way that we encourage a long laying cycle, and my girls are definitely commercial-quality laying hens.  But once we get less than 14 hours of daylight a day and/or the temperature drops to freezing, even the eggiest bird cries Uncle*.

This makes sense.  Egg production takes a lot of energy, and it’s now really cold outside.  (If given the choice of staying warm or laying eggs in the dark and cold, which would you choose?)   Similarly, the majority of the girls have just passed their second season, so all five of these two-year-olds are moulting.  Feather making takes energy too, especially in the winter.   So we have some mighty foolish looking birds strutting around the snowy henyard right now.  The only ones sporting every feather are Beatrice (the oldest) and Patty (the baby).

The pinch-hitting guineas, who are also two years old, are moulting too.  They give Pauline a run for her money in terms of looking mangy.  I was going to relocate these three guineas to the freezer but I really should do it when they’ve got their feathers:  plucking pinfeathers is not what I call a fun time.  Unlike the chickens, egg-laying in guineas is definitely seasonal:  usually from April to September, then fuhgeddabout an egg until next year.  If you can find where they lay them, that is.

So the seasonality of it all is hitting me, right when I get antsy to make some pies and custard.  Darn.  I will just have to wait, cease our usual breakfasts of eggs, and start getting stingy.  I’m getting an egg a day now, which means I can have a cake in 3 days, a custard in 6…

*Of course there are things we can do to increase production.  We can trick them by keeping a light on in their coop at night, as exposure to a single bulb will have them thinking spring is here again.  We can keep them in the coop year-round, with the lights on:  with just one light the coop stays above freezing.  But, well, why push it?  I will just hoard eggs and put a light on in the coop for these extreme cold nights (like last night when it dropped down to 10*).

On Thanksgiving preparation

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Eight pounds of fresh local goodness:  them’s some pretty berries.  (And no, they’re not all for T-Day, it’s our year’s supply.)

Countdown begins until my favorite holiday of the year:  Thanksgiving!

Really, I have this vision of myself as someone who is moderate in most things except politics and food.  I go NUTS for this holiday, people.  Not being terribly religious (nor much of a shopper) the Christmas season leaves me pretty cold, especially since it starts before Halloween.  Thanksgiving, though:  of course I can get behind a holiday that celebrates belt-loosening gluttony with lots of family and friends around.

I have to kill a turkey first though.  Sigh.  This, this is a big hurdle.

Meet Chicken Patty

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Okay, it’s Patty for short.  Completely juvenile on our parts:  other names suggested were Kiev, Cacciatore, Fingers and Nugget.  She’s actually much prettier than this photo suggests.

The child protested when she learned that last Saturday was Chicken Relocation Day (chicken yard ==> freezer) and asked about her friend.  Friend, I asked?  I remembered there was one of the meat girls who was actually not as skittish as the others.  This girl, she assured me, was her friend.  So, we spared her.  Child-sized tears have great power.

We’ve been paying reparations ever since in the form of lots of kitchen scraps and scratch.

The end of this year’s meat chickens

Lucky girls:  six of our last round of meat chickens have had an extended life on Death Row.  How could this be, you ask.  Have they not run out of appeals?  Did the governor issue a stay of execution?  What could be the reason, as these girls are now 16 weeks old or so and are quite large enough to be considered freezer fare.  Well, I confess I have simply been busy.

I have been quite pleased with this last batch of meat birds.  As per fellow bloggers’ suggestions, I tried Privett Hatchery in New Mexico and got the turkeys, geese and slow-growing Cornish X chickens at the end of June.  Here I admit that despite my best-laid plans (and $100) I am not much of a fan of The Chicken Tractor.  Confinement is confinement.  Therefore, Round 2 of the Meat Chickens (a smaller batch of 16 birds) got to live in relative freedom* within the chicken yard with the egg birds.  They ate a mix of grower and regular feed, got access to dirt baths, grass, bugs, their own mini-vineyard of grapes, got to fly up on the coop’s perches at night, had fun dodging raindrops by running into the Chicken Condo, and in general got along as members of low standing in the egg birds’ pecking order.  For me, it was a much more amenable situation:  I did not worry about them at night, I didn’t need to move the tractor daily, and the birds were happy doing chicken-y things.

It helped that the genetics of this particular batch of birds worked better in a chicken yard than in true confinement.  I had three sad birds from the first batch who never grew as rapidly or as well as the first 20-ish, and I had them live with the egg birds, too, but these big-breasted babies were so misshapen and had such leg problems that I needed to lift them over the threshold of the coop morning and evening.  The threshold is a whopping 7″ off the ground so it shows how truly effed-up Cornish X broilers have been bred.  Listen:  I am still a bleeding heart at heart, and each chicken’s life is precious to me.  I cannot in good conscience let any animal in my care suffer a life of horror or hurt, and these poor birds’ inability to even jump off the ground bothered me profoundly.  How could they ever have escaped a predator, I wondered.

Anyway, it is time for the last six to go.  We’ll see how many chickens we still have in the freezer at the beginning of next year’s chick ordering season.  Having never done this before (hell, I didn’t even eat meat until a year ago) I have no clue if I have over- or underestimated the needs of my family and friends.  Next year’s Meat Birds might not be so numerous, or even, necessarily, birds bred to just be meat birds.  We might just try breeding our own, and intend to start with a batch of relatively rare meat/egg birds: the Chantecler.

* Re: confinement.  The chicken yard (50’x80′) is a rather porous affair.  There are two holes in the fence and the chickens can get out but mostly choose not to:  the egg birds and guineas walk out in the early evening for a bug/grass dinner, and the meat birds, being timid, stick by the pond, or at the chicken yard’s perimeter.  Everyone knows there are hawks about and that it’s safer in the yard than not.  As long as they get their needs met (shade, shelter, dirtbaths, water, plentiful food, a dark nest) they are all quite happy staying within the yard.

Boy? Girl?

Politics is an entirely depressing topic for me now.  How about turkey sex instead?

When one is pregnant, one spends a fair amount of time wondering what the child’s sex might be.  It’s a giddy time.  I wouldn’t say this time is AS giddy, but…I am still somewhat in the dark as to the sex of my geese and turkeys.

This is the goose…or at least I think it is

These six birds, mere babies really at nine weeks, are our start at a new phase of bird ranchery:  breeding.  If we have a boy and a girl, that is.  Statistically, I figured having three birds of one sex would not be so great.  (The hatchery does not sex the ducks, geese and turkeys they sell.)  And so far, I think I have one goose and two ganders.  The turkeys, though?  Not a clue!  The turkey poults do look a lot alike.  When we had the other turkeys come to visit, I did notice that two of the baby turkeys imitated the toms’ braggadocious fluffing-out.  And two of the birds also have bigger wattles below their beaks.  Hmm.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

These birds are on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy’s list of endangered barnyard animals, and both are listed as “watch,” meaning their numbers aren’t dire, but are endangered.  The geese are Production Toulouse (bred for meat, generally) and the turkeys are Bourbon Reds.  Both breeds are active foragers, and the geese, especially, are known as quiet, calm birds.  (Having hissy mean geese was a deal killer for me because the kid is active in their care.)  I LOVE them all.  They are all so curious and sweet, the turkeys especially.

I really do not know what I will do if I have three toms, though.  I still intend to breed, so I am wondering how adult toms do with little poults around, does anyone know?  Am I heading toward disaster if I go get more babies next spring to (hopefully) mate with the toms?

Oh:  the odd girl or boy out of each set, should I be so lucky to have sets?  Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.  Yes, it will be hard.  But here’s hoping next year we’ll have our own home-hatched little poults and goslings running around…

Those sad turkeys

Well, our mail lady came through and found the owners of those wayward turkeys yesterday.

I know there’s no commandment about coveting one’s neighbor’s poultry, but…I was kind of sad to see them go. It appears they belong to a neighbor about 1 1/2 miles down our road. Our road is a twisty-turny one that follows the creek behind our house, and that creek hits the river a mile down from us; these turkeys somehow either crossed the river (!!) or simply followed the bank to the road, and meandered their way down to our farm.

Okay, those were some sorry-assed looking turkeys, so how was it I could just give them back? Give them back without, you know, punching the guy? Well it helped that I was not here at the time. So my hubby got to do the handover and he didn’t yell. The guy was actually really grateful and happy to get them back. It seems they had been gone for a long time.

Newsflash!

Wow!  Look who just showed up on our property today:  four starving, badly abused turkeys.  They came to the right place, poor things.

Sometimes things go missing

Okay, now is the time of year when the girls begin to start laying less eggs. Less light = less eggs.

Wrong!

Sneaky buggers just have been flying the coop and laying them elsewhere. The compost will be happy.

On farm critters

2008 has definitely become the Year of the New Barnyard Animals, whether we intended it to be or not.

I am certain other farmstead types know of this: you buy a farm, you buy animals (or otherwise acquire them) at an alarming rate. Well, this is our fourth season here and we have fortunately only had a slow acquisition of animal life here. Some animals, though, have just showed up. Like Pigeon, our favorite thief. And now meet our new barn kitty, Little Edie.

She is a dead ringer for our own (indoor) black cat, Echo. Echo is also not at all thrilled she has arrived, but then again Echo has always had issues. She scares the heck out of our dog, too, but the chickens/ducks and chicks/poults/goslings seem unintetresting to her. And of course we think she is pregnant. Tom wants to let her have her kittens, but that is beyond irresponsible, not only for the kittens themselves but for the wild birds that come through our land. I am just fine with having one spayed barn cat, as long as she likes to catch mice and voles. Luckily, she’s a fine hunter, having caught four mice and one vole to our count, after a week of farm life.

The slow-growing meat chicks are just that: slow! I am happy about that. They seem to like to run around and scratch and even jump on a perch, so they are definitely not the same as our last batch of meat blobs. The poults are still quite adorable, and still quite tiny. They still live with the goslings (who are of course getting huge). The goslings groom them, and the poults love to sleep on their backs, so it’s a decent relationship. I swear the poults look like miniature ostriches. They still have their googly eyes and bordering on ridiculous skinny little legs. I adore them. The goslings are also beyond cute: they chirp so readily, and follow you around the lawn. They cannot get enough grass, it would seem. Once they get their feathers they will have their own patch of grass to eat but for now they’re in the tractor during the day. They eat down the whole patch of grass under it. Mowing AND fertilizing!

The ducklings are ducks now. Whew! That didn’t take long: how about a month? They are now bigger than our biggest chicken, Maggie, who’s a quite gigantic seven-pound Black Australorps. They are a cream color, and they are so soft. If you can catch them, that is.

That’s all for now; quite enough critters, if you ask me. Next year will be the year we actually breed poultry on the farm. Step by step, not all at once…let’s just say we like things to progress at a manageable pace around here.

I (heart) long weekends

Busy weekend here! (Too busy here to blog, apparently.) Hope you are all enjoying sunshine wherever you garden. And look what the ducks learned to do:

Please excuse the poor photo quality, as it was taken through a window.