Friday, June 6, 2014

...and then there were 25!

At the moment we have 25 animals. Not sure what happened or when we decided to go from a couple dogs, a cat and a few chickens; to bunches of chickens, four ducks, two dogs and a cat. We're starting to sound like that song...there was an old woman who swallowed a spider...then a bird...then a cat...then a dog...you get the picture.

We ordered baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  At the time of ordering, Keith decided that we needed baby ducks too! So in addition to the 15 chicks (minimum order), he ordered four ducklings - Black Swedish Ducks

The ducklings were born April 14th and arrived a couple days later. They were adorable.

Who knew that ducks grow exponentially faster than chickens? Seven weeks old and they are full-grown ducks.  The ducklings are duck-size now.  The four do everything together - from one end of the yard to the other.  Quacking and waddling all around the yard.  We've named three: The Joker, Mr. Freckles Blackfeet and Spot.  Still working on the final duck name.  Well, we're still working on Spot too - just haven't come up with a better option yet.



My Mother's Day present...a Duck House!

Then on May 19th, the new baby chicks arrived.  We started with 16 (the hatchery sent an extra one for warmth), but unfortunately we lost 5 within the first two days.  There was some initial fear that we might have some disease affecting the chicks. We called the hatchery to let them know - stressing that we did not want them to ship any replacements. We never wanted 15 chicks in the first place. The rest of the flock seems to be thriving and getting bigger every day. Feathers are starting to come in and they are getting bolder.  We do have one runt that seems to be well-behind the others in growth, but all in all doing well.  So we have 11 left - 6 Black Giants and 5 Buff Orpingtons.  


Our brooder in the shed

Right as the baby ducks arrived, one of the older chickens died.  Reba was one of the New Hampshire Reds and was just a few months shy of 3 years old.  She had been acting a little weird and sluggish for a few days and I just had a feeling that she was dying. It is so hard to watch and feel so hopeless that you can't help.  From the 2011 batch, only Big Brown Betty, the Soul Sisters (Aretha, Etta and Gladys), the Wilson Sisters and Doris Day remain.



So 25 animals at the moment - 11 chicks, 7 chickens, 4 ducks, 2 dogs and 1 crazy cat.  A co-worked should be taking a few of the baby chicks. That still leaves us with a whole lotta birds.  What were we thinking?

Friday, April 11, 2014

I've been a very bad blogger

I could blame it on the weird weather of this past year. In fact, I think everyone can blame many of our woes on the winter of 2013-2014.  I could blame it on the ever increasing requirements of my "day job".  I could blame it on my chickens full-on egg-production strike.  I could even blame it on the balanced calendar with this current school year starting at the end of last July.  I could probably find a few other very seemingly valid reasons as to why I haven't been a very good blogger.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same.  I've been a bad blogger.  But, never one to give up easily, here I go again.

In some ways last year flew by at lightening speed.  I know we had a successful garden.  I canned gallons of tomato sauce.  But when I look back on the season, it seems like we planted, blinked, and then everything was gone.  Before we could take a breath, school was back in session and then winter started.  Literally.  Winter started at the beginning of November and ended 5 months later.  This winter was the coldest, snowiest and longest since moving back to Indiana.  Propane was rationed and we relied on our fireplace to help keep our home toasty as the winter winds blew outside. 

April is finally here again.  The birds are singing, there are buds on the trees, the grass is turning green and there's another chance of snow coming next week.  Sigh.  Huge SIGH.

The one good thing that has come out of this miserable winter is eggs.  For some reason, the chickens have decided to start laying eggs again.  The girls had all but completely stopped laying for the entire winter.  I had to buy eggs several times during the peak of holiday baking season.  As we headed into the half-way point for March, out of nowhere, the girls started laying again.  We are getting eggs almost everyday and generally at least 2-3.  One day we gathered 8 eggs!  That's one from each girl.  They must be as excited as we are that Spring is finally at our doorstep.  Or they got the memo.  We had decided that these chickens were going to be donated to the local soup kitchen.  They would be replaced by the new baby chicks scheduled to arrive sometime in May.  

We also ordered baby ducks that should be arriving sometime next week, but that's an entirely different story.

More to come as Windy Acres finally emerges from its winter hibernation.





Monday, April 22, 2013

Garlic, Worms and Coyotes, Oh My

Finally, the weather is getting warmer.  The trees are starting to bloom and  the grass is turning green. We had a lovely warm evening on Sunday, and I was able to let the chickens out into the yard to enjoy some time with the grass and bugs at sunset.



Many birds seem to be back in Indiana - robins, red-winged black birds, etc.  The birds have been singing and acting a little crazy.  For some weird reason, other birds (not the chickens) have been flying into and hanging out in the chicken coop.  It's like they wait for me to open the door so they can join the girls.  Do other birds eat chicken feed?  I've asked some other people with chickens and they have been seeing the same thing - very strange.  I have flashbacks of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" as I walk into the coop - having to duck and crazily wave my hands to keep the birds from attack (I may be over dramatizing the issue just a little bit).

Spring literally puts more "Spring" into my step.  I'm not even bothered by the rain because it means everything will be coming back to life. The grass is turning a vibrant green, the trees are flowering - everything is awakening from a long winter's nap.  The garlic we planted in late fall is growing quickly.  I just wonder if it will be ready for picking by the time I need to plant the summer vegetables. But I'll worry about that later.


Our weeping cherry before the spring rains have a chance to knock off all of the blooms.
Spring wakens all the critters.  The coyotes are yelping and howling from all sides whether early morning or late at night.  This of course causes the giant dog (my nick name for Sandy Claws) to bark at full volume from inside the house.

Then there are the worms. Icky, disgusting, creepy, slimy, worms/nightcrawlers.  This is the first year I have ever noticed them as I head outside to close the coop at night.  I usually set out with my handy dandy giant flashlight/spotlight.  One night I happen to shine the spotlight toward the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something brown and shiny move.  Whatever I saw, quickly disappeared.  Perhaps it was just a bug, I think to myself.  Then I waved my light in another direction, and I see something else.  This time, I realize that it was a worm - diving quickly back into its hole to avoid the light.  I continue to wave my light back and forth across my path and all I can see are worms - giant, man-eating worms.  I run quickly to the coop only to see more worms!  They are everywhere.  Worms so big that they are actually moving the straw as they slink back into their disgusting worm chambers of horror.  I did in fact scream after locking the chicken door and running back to the house (all the time waving the light to clear my path).  When I enter the safety of the living room, I ask my loving husband if he had heard me scream.  To which he answers "Yes, but you only screamed once, so I assumed you were ok". Nice.  He also lets me know that he has noticed the worms before, he just chooses to ignore them.  

Why am I just noticing this slimy nighttime horror show now?  Are they larger than normal due to the longer winter?  Where are they coming from?  Was there a nuclear accident nearby that mutated these repulsive creatures beyond their normal size, sending them to the surface to feed?  I can take alot of things - but I truly hate worms.  They gross me out.  I know they are needed, and I know they make the soil for the veggie garden ready for planting.  When I have my garden gloves on, I can sort of handle it if f I accidentally touch one while working in the dirt.  But I don't like seeing them at night and I certainly do not want to walk on them.  All you fishermen drooling at the thought of catching a fish with those big juicy worms - you can have them. Yuck.




Monday, March 18, 2013

Will Spring Ever Come?


For a long time, I have held tight to the notion that winter lasts for 5 months in Indiana - November through March - and have often argued this point with others. When I say the word winter - I don't necessarily mean snow blowing solid for five months. But I do mean wearing gloves, scarf and a winter coat for five months. That means cold mornings and cold nights. That means an extra blanket on the bed and the heater on in the Little Deuce Coop. In fact, our aptly (or ironically) named Windy Acres enjoys a strong and measurable wind chill most days. Think if we had named our place something more like Windless Haven - weather would be different? Hmmm...

When we moved back to Indiana, I really had no idea how flipping cold this state was! When we would visit family, it tended to be in the warmer months or when we were moving between states. We moved from Connecticut and most would assume that Connecticut was colder. I beg to differ. The mountains (ok...hills by Colorado's standards) tended to break up the weather systems. Nor Easters whose very name can send shudders down your spine, didn't really hit as far inward as where we lived. In just our 2nd winter in Indiana, we "enjoyed" wind chills of 50 degrees below zero! A coworker describes Indiana as both colder and hotter than Ireland, and I would say that goes for Connecticut as well. 

Here we are in the middle of March with more snow showers on the way. Maybe we haven't had feet of snow like other states, but we have had our share of snow - accumulating, blowing, wet, dry and constant snow. We've seen a blizzard and an ice storm that kept everyone home. Every once in a while, Mother Nature has teased us with a day above 40 or even 50 degrees - only to see the mercury plummet right back down. In late February, we took a short vacation to the Grand Cayman. Upon our return, it proceeded to snow every single day the next week. Every single day! Not necessarily accumulating snow - but does that really matter? When you're cold - you're cold - snow or no snow.

As you know the chickens have been on some sort of egg production protest for quite some time and the longer this winter hangs on, the longer the protest. This past week, when the temps dared to reach above the freezing mark, the girls actually left us two eggs a day for four days in a row! Irish luck in time for St. Patty's Day. Egg count all winter has never been better than 1 egg per day between 9 chickens. When the days were the coldest, it might be only 1 egg every 4 days. So maybe this is a sign that spring is on the way. I did see some robins be-boppin' around. According to the calendar, Spring starts on Wednesday, March 20th. My money is on early April, no matter what some fuzzy groundhog may have seen on February 2nd. He doesn't live in Indiana.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Windy Acres 2012 Highlights - The Good, The Bad and the Wonderful

The Garden

The weather had a huge impact on the vegetable garden – and not in a good way. 2012 was the year for extremes – tons of rain and then drought – a very cool start to May (I vividly remember freezing at a baseball game) that moved to a 100-degree blazing hot summer. Probably one of the worst years when it comes to bounty from the garden. Yes, we had an abundance of cucumbers – but that was about it.  I canned plenty of jars of relish - and I don't even like the stuff.  The tomatoes were almost a complete bust – that’s two years in a row. We need to find some sort of fungicide that will help prevent blight. That will only help one issue - that won’t prevent the weather extremes that tormented tomatoes.

We did try something new this year.  We planted a fall crop of garlic and onions. I am eager to see how they fair through this bitter winter so far (over 14" of snow in one week).  Hopefully this will kick the spring off with a pungent bang!

The one thing I love about gardening is that next year, I can start all over again.  Clean slate - clean beds - renewed hope.  I forget the pain of the past and start each spring with a renewed vigor.

The Chickens

Egg production was less than desired – to put it mildly.  The entire year I feel I have been in a battle with the chickens. Each day’s walk to the coop has the background music from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” playing in my head.  Will there be an egg?  Will there be feelings of elation or deflation?  We have had weeks and months where we’re lucky to get one egg every other day out of 9 hens.  The reduction started when the girls were molting.  Then we had one of the hottest summers on record.  Egg production almost stopped.  I lost one of the oldest hens due to the extreme heat.  The girls are very picky with their egg laying atmosphere.  They don’t like it too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy or too snowy.  You get the picture.  We had a short window where production picked back up to around 3 eggs per day. But that didn’t last very long.  Then winter snuck up on us.  As of this writing, I haven’t had an egg in about 6 days and the hens haven't left the coop in 6 days.

I am about at a point where I have to make a decision about these 9 birds.  I wanted chickens for eggs.  Not just pets.  Yes I have named them and am attached to them – but I still wanted chickens for a reason - to provide my family with the kind of eggs you can’t buy in a grocery store.  Physically, these hens should still have plenty of ova left by which they can create and lay eggs.  This group has been laying for just about two years.  I can’t believe that all 9 hens are done at the same time.  On the other hand, I can’t keep feeding non egg-producing hens.  I had already decided that we would get some new chicks in the spring (get a jump –start on the Easter supply at our local Tractor Supply with mail-order chicks).  Then it takes approximately 20 weeks before they start laying eggs.  At the earliest, it will be toward the end of July before we see eggs.

Friends and Family

We love it when people venture out to Windy Acres.  We had the pleasure of playing host this year with visits from my brother and his wife, my friend Pam and her family, and to Keith’s cousins from New York.

2012 also brought us Justin.  He came to live with us on Christmas Day 2011.  The year has been filled with school, basketball, baseball, and band.  We’ve had ups and downs but all in all a wonderful year getting to know each other and building a family.  The adoption was finalized on December 19, 2012 – one day before his 13th birthday.  A Christmas gift for which that we are so very thankful.

Here's to 2013 - new adventures, and more consistent updates from yours truly on all that is Windy Acres.  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Our Summer Vacation - Day 1

We have been planning our first real family vacation with Justin for a while.  It was a bit up in the air, but we had a general idea of going off-roading and then down to Holiday World. The plan was finalized that we would go to the Badlands Offroad Park in Attica, Indiana on July 7th, then head down to Terre Haute for a night to visit with some friends.  Spend a little more time off-roading at Redbird SRA in Dugger, Indiana on July 8th and then head down to Lake Rudolf in Santa Claus, Indiana. We had rented a cabin for a couple nights and planned to spend a day at Holiday World.  That was the plan and as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men....can go oh so horribly wrong.

Saturday, July 7th started out ok.  We knew it was going to  be a hot one (forecast called for 104 degrees), but we had AC in the Bronco.  Keith had been working on the Bronco for 6-months to get it ready.  There had been many a long nights welding, cutting and other mayhem going on in the garage to prep this truck for the trip.  We met my brother (whose birthday was the same day), and jumped on the highway.  The trip is about 1.5 hours or so.  We got to the Badlands about 10am.  The day was already hot and getting hotter by the minute.  After paying, getting out flags and wristbands, we headed to the parking lot to offload, air down and get everyone ready for the adventure. 

We finally headed out around 10:30am with Keith in the lead.  Keith turned down one path and no more then 10  minutes into our ride, we got stuck.  Keith tried several maneuvers but we just seemed to keep sinking into sand.  We were on a slant that just kept getting more slanted.  Keith couldn't get out of the driver's side door and the passenger side (my side) was getting closer and closer to the dirt.  Justin was strapped into the backseat.

My brother worked his way to the front of the truck to try and get our winch running - but there seemed to be no power (later on I would remind Keith that I had asked him if he had tested the winch lately).  So Johnny got back into his Jeep to work his way to the front front and see if he could winch us out.  After several attempts, we heard a large SNAP.  Come to find out something had broke on Johnny's right front axle.  Things were going from bad to worse.  We just kept digging in deeper while the temperature continued to rise.  We had to resolve ourselves that we needed help.  The Bronco was buried down to the body.  So we called the Badlands office.  The challenge was trying to explain exactly where we were.  We weren't far - but didn't know our exact coordinates.  We thought we had it figured out - but when more time went by without seeing anyone - we had to call back in.  We did have a couple guys on ATVs stop to see if we needed help.  

We are about 45 minutes into this adventure by this point - sitting at a decent angle.  All the while our son was talking constantly in the backseat (he tends to get a tad chatty when nervous).  Finally, the dude from the Badlands showed up with his Jeep Cherokee and a winch (Yay!).  He of course wanted Keith's help, but we were still stuck with no way to open either door to the Bronco.  After several maneuvers, the Bronco was finally free. As we came up out of the hole, we heard another large bang immediately followed by the sound of air escaping and we realized that we blew the front passenger tire.  But that problem seemed minor in comparison. We thought we could pump the tire back up, but we soon realized that the tire was ripped in the back - there was no fixing.

We were able to get the Bronco out onto the road to get the tire changed.  The heat continued to rise by the minute. Keith was sweating and seemed very shaky.  He was drinking tons of water and Gatorade.  I looked at Keith and realized that he was going to pass out.  I called his name and grabbed his arm as he began to fall forward, helping him back down into a squat.  Keith is diabetic, so Karen and I thought that his blood sugar was low.  He was coherent enough to let us know that his glucose tube was in a pack - but not really sure which pack.  So as Johnny changed the tire, Karen and I dug through three different packs (note - Keith likes bags and packs the way most women like black shoes) to find the glucose tube. Keith downed the tube and after a little while, the tire was changed and we thought that Keith was back into a decent shape.  

We headed back to the parking lot to load Johnny's Jeep onto his trailer and decide on next steps.  Do we go back home and get another car? Johnny and Karen headed home and we decided to go to a restaurant to cool off and get some food (still thinking that Keith's problem was low blood sugar).  We sat down, ordered some drinks and our food. When it arrived Keith took one bite and realized that he was going to be sick. He ran to the bathroom but only made it as far as the bin of dirty dishes toward the front of the restaurant. Here we are in a tiny little restaurant in a tine little town with Keith getting really sick in the bathroom. I headed up front to see if he was ok and if he wanted me to call 911 - which he did.  Which also told me how sick he was. The restaurant workers got him some cool towels while I called 911. A policeman was first on the scene, quickly followed by the ambulance. By this time Keith had stopped sweating and was cold and clammy. The EMT workers took Keith while I paid the bill on the food we hadn't touched (for some reason they felt the need to pack it to go - even though I told them that really wasn't necessary). So I headed out to the Bronco with Justin and the leftovers to follow the ambulance to the hospital. By this time the temperature was well over 100 degrees and the AC had completely stopped working.

The hospital is actually in the next town of Williamsport, Indiana. A small 16-bed facility with an ER and a helipad in the parking lot. They were wonderful. Keith was in bad shape with full blown heat exhaustion. His blood pressure was low and he was dehydrated. He took 3 liters of fluids. We hung out there for about 3 hours to ensure that everything was back to normal.  When it was time to leave the hospital, we were once again torn as to what we should do. Keith was feeling much better, so we decided to go on to Terre Haute to meet our friends for dinner. We hadn't seem them in a very long time and Terre Haute was slightly closer than home, and we did have hotel reservations. So we threw out the lunch leftovers the restaurant had insisted I take (they had been sitting in the Bronco for 3+ hours by this time) and braved the heat for a couple hours more (remember the AC had stopped).

We pulled into the hotel at 5:30pm - just 1/2 hour to spare before we were supposed to meet Jerry and Stacie. We cooled off for a few and then got back into the Bronco to head to Wise Pies for some pizza. Just as we pulled into the parking lot across the street, BANG and that old familiar sound of air escaping.  We had just blown the SPARE tire. Unbelievable. Keith pulled on into a parking space - might as well eat while we wait for AAA. 

AAA showed up and he was the one that discovered it was a bolt on the axle that was too long and than in fact cut the tire as we turned and bounced in just the right way. So it was decided to load the Bronco onto the trailer and have it towed home. Figure we'll get a rental car for the rest of the trip. Keith wasn't planning on unloading the coolers and other stuff that was in the Bronco, until I reminded him that everything we needed for the rest of the vacation (cabin at Lake Rudolf, Holiday World) was in the Bronco. We said goodbye to our friends with promises not to wait 10+ years to see each other in person again. The AAA driver agreed to take us to the hotel and let us unload the truck (he even lowered it for us). He also reminded us that the Budget was the ONLY rental car place open on Sundays in Terre Haute, so we better get their early if we want a chance at getting a car.  

With a $20 tip in hand, AAA headed toward Greenfield with the Bronco.  We headed to an air conditioned hotel room figuring we'll worry about the rental car and the rest of the vacation tomorrow.

And that was just the first day of our family vacation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

End of the Chicken Molt Revolt

Editor's Note - If you have ever seem the movie Platoon - read this with Charlie Sheen's voice in your head - has much more impact.

I think I can finally say that the Great Chicken Molt Revolt has ended.  Truly, these were dark times. 

The chickens were molting and all energy seemed to be spent on new feathers rather than new eggs. There were feathers everywhere. It looked like the girls had been fighting off coyotes with the amount of feathers found flying in and around the coop. 

Each evening, there would be the slow sad walk to the nest boxes to search for any signs of eggs. We might get one egg every other day - if we were lucky. Sometimes less. Some days all that was found were broken egg shells - sacrifices and carnage left behind in this great battle. As we approached Easter, I had to hoard whatever eggs we found, just to have enough to color. I would throw down the gauntlet everyday proclaiming "I better see more eggs or you might find yourself as soup!"  But they knew that my words were empty and that I could never follow-through on the threat.

Part of the problem is that all but one of the girls are all around the same age, so the molt seemed to hit all of them at the same time. If we were a bigger farm, we would stagger adding new hens to the flock to maximize egg production and to stagger situations like the one we have had for the past couple of months. Add to the mix a totally wacky end to winter/start to spring (cold, hot, cold, hot, rain, cold, hot, rain, etc.) and you have the perfect storm.


I would categorize this batter between the chickens and their need to molt and my need for eggs as a draw with both forces walking off the battle field (aka the Little Deuce Coop) just a little battered and bruised. Egg production seems to be back to a level closer to normal. The girls look better and we are getting 3-4 eggs per day.  What will we take back with us as we attempt to live a normal life of peace and harmony?  What indeed. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zombie Cannibal Chickens

Ok.  Maybe not zombies. I may have zombies on the brain (pun definitely intended).  We've been watching AMC's "The Walking Dead". 

Egg production has been low. Beyond low. And it's got me flumoxed. Maybe one egg one day and then zero eggs the next.  We are not getting even one dozen eggs a week! And considering that at one time the girls were on a pretty regular schedule of 3-4 dozen per week, I'm a tad worried. 

There have been signs that the chickens are eating the eggs - yolk on the eggs left in the nest, broken shells, etc. I have always known that if an egg broke - the girls would go after it like flies on you-know-what. Now I am starting to think that they are purposely breaking the eggs.  I don't know if it's one chicken or all of them. The whole concept is gross. Yuck. 

I've done some research on the main reasons this phenomenon can happen in small backyard flocks, and I don't think that any of them truly pertain to my girls. With working full-time, it's just about impossible to gather eggs during the day.  Also, I don't honestly know which hens lay and which hens don't.  Guess we are going to have to install some sort of chicken web cam. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dead Shrew


Stop hanging around OUR coop!

Courtesy of the Girls: Grace, Doris, Ann, Nancy, Etta,
Aretha, Gladis, Big Brown Betty, Reba and Pat

New Year, New Starts, and New Family

The fall went by in a blur.  Egg production picked back up (and has since gone back down).  Halloween, birthdays and anniversaries came and went.  In fact, Keith and I celebrated 18 years of marriage.  Wow how time flies.

As to the comings and goings of Windy Acres - I tend to focus on the life of the four-legged and feathered critters and not so much on the two-legged ones.  So this one is about our family. 

Since the day we met, Keith and I had always said that we wanted to adopt kids someday - no matter if we had our own or not.  We also decided that if we were going to adopt, we wanted to adopt from within the state.  We didn't want to adopt a child from a foreign country - we wanted to open our home to a child here in Indiana that needed a home. So, in November of 2010, we decided to move forward and start the process for what is called SNAP - Special Needs Adoption Program.  For Indiana that basically means any child that is 2 years or older.  We attended the Foster/Adoption training classes offered by the Department of Child Services.  We had our home study completed in December 2010, and was formally approved as pre-adoptive parents by the SNAP council on February 28, 2011. 

During this past year, we had a couple of interviews.  Then at the end of October, we were picked to interview for Justin, a 6th grader down in Lawrenceburg, Indiana..  We were very excited and as always, tried not to get our hopes up.  In fact, as interviews go we thought this one had been our worst. Then on Tuesday, November 1st we got the call telling us that we had been picked as Justin's pre-adoptive parents!  November and December were a complete whirlwind - trying to somehow make it through the holidays and getting to know our soon-to-be son at the same time.  There were many trips back and forth to Lawrenceburg.  On Christmas Day 2011, Justin came to live with us permanently.

We feel so blessed and happy to have Justin in our lives.  Are there challenges? Of course, but the reward is so much bigger. We look forward to all that this adventure has to offer and look forward to the beginning of a new family with 3 two-legged critters at Windy Acres.