Thursday, October 13, 2011

Something Funky is Going On

Something weird has been happening with the chickens.  Egg production has dropped off significantly the last two weeks.  Last week I gathered a total of 11 eggs between 10 chickens.  It's like they all got together and decided that a different chicken would lay an egg each day.

"No - it's your turn Doris.  I layed on Monday and Big Brown Betty had Tuesday.  Aretha and Etta are taking the weekend shift, the Heart girls (Ann and Nancy Wilson) are both taking Thursday." - said Reba.

Everyday I would look at the one lonely egg in the nest and then look at the girls and say "Really?  One egg?" - ending with my best Albert Brooks impression with "Come On!  You're killing me here". 

I know that things can decrease with winter - but it's not winter yet!  I hooked the light back-up to a timer so that the girls are getting 14 hours of light a day.  Maybe they need to get used to that.  I have never seen such a drop from the entire flock.

I will say that life around Windy Acres has been fairly busy.  The farmers have been harvesting the soy. 

Coyotes have been active in the area.  We can hear them every night - howling and yelping as the train rolls through.  One coyote was literally hanging out in the field in front of the combine as it went down the rows.  We were really surprised and fascinated.  I watched him for about 1/2 an hour with a spotting scope.  He seemed to have no fear of the combine and seemed to have done this before.  We think he was on the lookout for fleeing field mice.  He did eventually catch something.  He was very aware of our presence but had much more important things on his mind.

There has been a Great Horned Owl hanging out as well.  I went to the coop the other night and from up within the tree directly above the coop, the owl came swooping down and then out across the field, giving me quite a startle.  Its wing span was enormous.  We've seen the owl other times as well - flying across the soy fields the same night as the coyote. 

I just wish I could pinpoint the issue.  I have regular clients that buy eggs about every other week and I have had to halt sales for now.  This week has been a tad better, so hopefully it was just a strange anomaly among a flock of semi-strange birds.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Harvest Time..which means canning time

July and August has been a battle of wills between me and the Sun.  After so much hard work went into building the raised beds and planting the garden, I was not going to let the weeks of 90 degree hot steamy summer days kill everything.  So I babied and tended to the garden each and everyday.  The effort has been paying off in cabbage, zucchini and yellow squash, peppers, along with pounds of cucumbers. 

So what does one do with pounds of cucumbers?  One makes relish - or at least I did this past weekend.  The funny thing is that I don't even like the stuff.  I am not big on vinegar based food items (which I have been told quite often that I am missing out).  This was my first attempt at dill relish and I hope those vinegar lovin' people in my life enjoy it cause you're going to be getting some as gifts this fall. I may even go ahead and try some sweet relish as I think I still have enough cucumbers left to give that a try.  That I may actually use in potato salad, macaroni salad, egg salad, deviled eggs, etc..  6 little plants make for TONS of cucumbers!

Someone asked me the other day if I like canning.  My immediate response was no - I don't like the process of canning.  I do like being able to go to my pantry in the winter and grab a jar of my own tomatoes for chili, marinara sauce and more.  Canning is an arduous process. Granted, the first day is the worst.  There is all the equipment to bring out of storage.  Then there's the cleaning and the prepping.  It's like working out...have to get your mind and your muscles ready for the challenge - back into the groove.  You've had a year to forget the pain and misery.  Sunday's relish endeavor took over 4 hours from start to finish.  It went something like this:
  • Equipment out of storage and into the kitchen
  • Wash and dry canning jars, lids and rings
  • Wash and peel 8 lbs. of cucumbers
  • Shred cucumbers in the food processor
  • Place cucumbers in large bowl with salt and turmeric and let stand for 2 hours (note to self - turmeric stains everything it touches)
  • Wash the food processor bowl
  • While you wait, peel and shred a ton of zucchini and then freeze in 2 cup bags (14 cups total)
  • Wash the food processor bowl (again)
  • Drain cucumber mixture in a colander in the sink
  • Peel and rough chop 1 lb. of onions and place in food processor
  • Put lids in sauce pan to heat up on stove, jars in canner to heat to 180 degrees
  • Wash cucumbers in cold water, drain again
  • Place cucumbers in stock pot with vinegar, dill and sugar
  • Heat up mixture and simmer for at least 10 minutes
  • Ladle mixture into the canning jars, place lids on and finger tighten the rings
  • Gently drop jars back into the canner and heat to boiling
  • Process jars for 15 minutes, then let stand in canner for 5 minutes with heat turned off
  • Remove jars and place on towel on the counter to cool
  • Clean up the giant mess of dishes, food processor bowl (again), pots and various other equipment that now crowds the entire kitchen
A couple years ago I bought a spare butane burner from my brother (he buys and sells restaurant equipment).  There is not enough room on one stove to do all of this at the same time. The other issue I have is height.  I am only 5' 1.5".  The counter is a bit too tall for me as it relates to stirring pots and pulling things in and out of canners.  I know, not a problem for much of the world but it proves tiring for a shorter person.  My arms are still sore.

As I mentioned, I also froze enough zucchini to keep my family and everyone else I know in zucchini bread until next year.  I also dehydrated another 4 large zucchini's and now my entire house smells like dehydrated zucchini.

Tomatoes are ripening as well and there is no comparison to a home grown, sweet ripe tomato! I can't wait each year for BLTs and other sandwiches which are made all that more yummy with a nice slice of tomatoes.  Mmm, mmmm good.  I have had some instances of blight on some tomatoes but nothing to the extent of the last couple years. It's been mostly on the golden ones vs. the Roma and early tomatoes.  I should be able to harvest enough for canning both sauce and salsa. 

Oh yay...more canning.  Next up - peppers, onions, and potatoes. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Secret Garden at Sunset

Whimsical raised beds = Happy Vegetables!

The garden has exploded in just the last two weeks.  I've picked a few peppers (but not a peck).  Collard greens are almost ready and I should have some squash and zucchinis ready to pick in a few days.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Spring has Sprung

Life has been busy at Windy Acres.  I'm behind in updates, so thought I would get them all done in one big blog.

Vegetable Garden
Keith gave me a wonderful surprise this year.  I wanted raised beds after two-years of fighting (and losing) the battle of the grasses and weeds.  Not only did he have beds built for me, but he also had them stained in bright beautiful colors. I love the whimsy it brings to my secret garden.  I truly enjoy my time in the garden - even weeding and mulching.  I can shut out the world and just be.  the raised beds provide easier access and easier weed control.  Now I want to add some fun ornaments.  We have a bottle tree and I just need to get busy taking the labels off of the wine bottles and moving it out into the garden.

What's in the garden this year? Tomatoes, peppers (sweet & hot), carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, lettuce, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, peas, beans, onions, potatoes and strawberries.  I planted spinach, but the seeds didn't take.

Baby Birds and Pick-up Trucks
We had an interesting incident with the pick-up truck this spring.  Robins decided to build their nest right on top of the rear driver's side tire - not in the wheel-well mind you, directly on the tire.  When it comes to sturdiness, maybe we should look to the birds!  With the severe storms we have had so far, the nest stayed put through it all.  When it comes down to it, we are both really big softies at heart, so the truck wasn't moved until the birds hatched and flew the coop. 

Last week, I noticed Abby standing very still and staring at something in the grass.  I thought it might be a frog as I have seen quite a few lately.  Sandy comes bounding over to see what is holding Abby's interest.  At that very moment, the baby birds began to flap widely trying to fly and escape the giant dogs.  So here I go again, chasing after dogs.  running trying to prevent them from squashing the baby bird while dodging very upset parents and siblings. it felt like a scene from The Birds with me yelling at dogs and running interference, trying to direct the baby out of the backyard and through the fence AND covering my head from the attacking Mommy & Daddy and sibs.

We've been working and some handy men have been helping get all the various flower beds planted this year. Our land was almost a completely blank canvas when we moved here in 2007.  Some big trees on the outer perimeter, no shrubs and only a few perennials thrown in here and there. We have been slowly transforming Windy Acres one flower bed at a time. This was the first flower bed.  It is just outside our main entrance, facing east.  Although not my favorite type of rose, the Knockout Roses were really beautiful this year and the first flowers to show themselves after the torrents of rain that was April.  It's hard to see in this picture, but I love the Land of Oz sign that my dear friend Karla gave me for my birthday a couple years ago - nestled in the roses.  And yes, "The Wizard of Oz" is one of my favorite films.
...and the chickens
Last but not least, good news!  Doris has finally decided  to stop being broody.  She definitely won that battle which lasted 3.5 weeks.  And to think that the reference books only mention a few days when it comes to broodiness.  I was also able to finally find another nest that the other birds would use while she hogged all the space in the first Coca-cola crate.  the answer was a second Coca-cola crate in the opposite corner.  Egg production is getting back to normal with 6 and 7 eggs per day between the 10 hens.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Doris is a Very Broody Bird

I finally get my turn at dealing with a broody bird, and I can tell you that it has not been any fun. I am losing the battle with Doris Day, one of my Buff Orpingtons. She started going broody last week. At first I was worried that she was egg bound as she was lethargic and didn't want to move from the nest box. Then I went back to THE book, my chicken-raising bible, "A Guide to Raising Chickens" by Gail Damerow. This book has been my go-to resource in my now two-year adventure in raising chickens.

Doris has been showing all the signs of a broody bird: staying put in the nest, puffing up when someone comes near, pecking when we try to touch/move her, and not eating or drinking much. When a chicken goes broody, she also stops laying eggs. As the book suggests, I have been forcibly removing her from the nest and removing any eggs from under her that she has been attempting to incubate. But she keeps going back. I can't really try the trick with the ice cubes as all the chickens use the same nest (that's a whole different issue).

We may just have to move her to a different location until she finally lays an egg again. They say that for every day a chickens is broody, it takes the same amount of time to get back to laying eggs. At this point it will be another week to two weeks before Doris starts contributing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And then there were 10

Something got into the chicken coop and killed one of the Dominques last night. They are the smaller black & white birds. When I went out this morning to let the chickens out, I noticed that some of the girls were already outside. Their small door was closed but the big door was open. My heart skipped a beat. Keith yelled for me to check to see if all chickens were present and accounted for. Sure enough, one of the chickens was killed and ripped apart lying under the roost. Oddly, there were several birds still sitting on the roost - the sun wasn't quite up yet. They did seem stressed and didn't want to move. I wanted to make sure everyone was ok so I shooed them out to make sure all their wings and legs were functioning.

I don't know what happened. I was sure that I locked the door when I put the girls up for the night, but maybe I didn't. The wind was blowing pretty hard so if I didn't have it latched all the way, perhaps it blew open and the something got in. It could be that something got in through the chickens' door as there is a gap big enough for a weasel or weasel-sized rodent. Keith is going to try and get that fixed today. I wouldn't be surprized if egg production goes back down. They tend to lay fewer eggs after a tramatic experience.

Ugh...I really don't know how anyone raises animals for a living. Every time I lose one, my heart just breaks. I question what I could have done to prevent something like this from happening. I just feel awful. They are my responsibility and when something liek this happens I feel as though I have failed them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mud & Dogs Round 2

Last night Keith and I went Round 2 in our battle of the mud vs. dogs. I came home and walked into the living room only to see Sandy in the crate with that "I'm sorry mommy" look on her sweet face. I asked the obvious "what happened?", to which Keith responded "what do you think happened?" The trail of muddy paw prints from the back door to the front of her crate told the story. Keith had made the mistake of leaving the dogs to their own devices for a mere 5 minutes in the backyard. It is truly amazing what a dog can do in such a short span of time. Don't think she was the only one, Abby was muddy too - just not quite as bad (or as visible on a black dog).

So there we were after dinner prepping the bathtub for eight doggy pedicures (two dogs x four paws). First up was Sandy who had no intention of getting into the tub voluntarily. Keith had to pick all 70 lbs. of her up and place her into the water. He held her still while I scrubbed. The water turned almost black from the amount of mud that has somehow wedged itself between every hair and every toe on her paws. Luckily this time I had thought to pickup all of the mats and rugs before our little round of puppy bath time. Once all cleaned and dried, we opened the door to let Sandy out and Abby in who happened to be sitting against the door wondering why she was left out of all the fun. She didn't think it was really all that much fun once she realized what she was in for. Once the dogs were done, then the mopping began. On days like this I really am thankful for the hardwood floors. Just the thought of all that mud on a carpet gives me the willies - yuck.

We can thank the weird and wacky Indiana weather for the mud. This week we went from sunny and 70 degrees on Wednesday - to wind, thunderstorms, tornado warnings and hail by Wednesday night - to snow flurries by Thursday morning.

Of course, we can thank the dogs for the mud holes in the yard.

Friday, March 18, 2011

When Dog Meets Mud

What was once a beautiful blond and tan fluffy dog, is now a wet muddy, smelly muddy mess. Oh Sandy, what will we do with you?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chickens 1 - Squirrel 0

I guess it was quite exciting inside the chicken pen yesterday. A squirrel that had been up in the tree over the pen decided to drop down into the pen with the girls. As Keith described it:

- The chickens chased the squirrel out of the pen
- The dogs were barking at the squirrel.
- No moose in sight.

They keep us laughing. I only wish we had video of their antics.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Elvis has died - Sad Day at Windy Acres

Today we lost one of the last two chickens from 2009's original flock. Elvis was my special bird. She was the runt of the litter - yet the first to "fly the coop". She was always the friendliest and would let me pick her up and pet her. She was the last to start laying eggs. In December 2010, she had to go into the chicken hospital after surviving some fairly significant pecking from the larger birds. She made it through and worked her way up the pecking order. After losing Mama Cass, Elvis was strutting her stuff as one of the elder birds - actually getting to sleep on the top roost.
Yesterday morning, I found her huddled in one of the nest boxes with alot of blood on her rump and around her vent. I hadn't seen any issues in the days prior or signs that she might have been egg bound. The other chickens had been pecking at her and she looked pretty bad. I knew in my heart that the chance of saving her was probably very slim. We moved her out of the coop thinking that maybe some time away from the girls and some quiet might give her a chance to heal. Last night she was standing up and Keith said she had been clucking. But something wasn't really right with her and she was standing too still with her back to me when I went to check on her later. When I went out this morning, she was gone.
At least I know that she died peacefully. Thank you for your eggs that provided nourishment for our family and friends. Elvis, we will miss you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baby its cold outside

Sometimes I feel that we may have done ourselves a disservice by naming our home Windy Acres. Maybe things would be different if we had named it Sunshine and Rainbows. The wind seems to blow cold and strong all day long. It's cold (really really cold), it's snowing, it's windy and did I mention that it's cold? Heading out to the chicken coop for the morning routine takes more time with all the bundling up that is required. I feel like Ralphy's little brother in A Christmas Story whose mom bundles him up to the point of immobility. The walk seems longer and longer with each degree below freezing. The chickens take a quick peak through their door and decide that inside the coop is much a better place. With all the snowing and blowing, there isn't really anything of interest outside for them.

January is always a little sad for me. The hustle and bustls of the holidays is over. The Christmas decorations and lights are packed away. Family and friends are back to their normal routines. Ventures outside are only if necessary and as quick as possible. Everything is gray (the sky, cars from the salt). All you really want to do is build a fire in the fireplace, hunker down with a good book and drink some hot chocolate. Spring seems soooo far away (and here in Indiana, it is at least another 2 months). The one bright spot is that the seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. I can start dreaming of the things I want to plant and changes that I want to make to the garden this year.

Egg Production Updates
Once the roosters were disposed of, peace and harmony (for the most part) returned to Little Deuce Coop. One of our Buff Orpingtons did get pecked a bit on her comb. but we caught it early, administered some anti-biotic ointment and she seems to be back in good graces with the rest of the girls.

Egg production has been up despite the cold weather. The week before last, we had a record week with 60 eggs. Generally, we seem to be getting 4 to 5 dozen eggs per week. We're on the lookout for a small fridge to put inside the shed as eggs are taking over my refrigerator. As you can see, it's quite the production line in our kitchen getting all the eggs ready for packaging and sale.