Friday, October 10, 2014

Moving into fall

Ahh Fall...
Contrary to many of my friends, I love LOVE the cool, crisp fall days. I love being outside enjoying both the sunshine and the cool breeze. I love all the smells associated with fall: the scent of the leaves crunching underneath your feet, the scent of a fire in the fire pit on the deck or inside in the fireplace, and of course the scent of fall baking. Apples, cinnamon, pumpkin and brown sugar.

Fall can be a great time to slow down, take stock and plan. I have always been more of a Fall clean-up person than Spring. Fall is when I want to clean out the closets, the coop, the shed and the garden. A clean pallet, a blank canvas on which I can dream of new garden adventures come Spring.

I also want to organize to the nth degree before the madness of the holidays begins. 

Life and loss...
The new chickens are just about the same size as the old chickens. The Black Jersey Giants are getting huge. Our son found some soft eggs in the grass near the duck house. I'm not sure if they are from the ducks or if some of the young chicks are about to start laying. Chickens start laying eggs between 20-24 weeks old. The bigger the bird, the longer it takes for them to start. These chicks are about 18 weeks and both are large breed - so we probably won't see any real eggs until mid-November.

Early morning - looking for bugs

Since our post in August, we've lost two birds - a chick and one of the older chickens.  The chick seemed listless in the morning and by the afternoon she was gone. The older chicken was one of the Dominques. She had a hard time walking and was just standing in one place for extended periods of time. This particular chicken had feet issues (bumblefoot) for a while. I am always amazed at other backyard farmers who seem to be able to diagnose and prevent everything in their flocks. So many chickens diseases start with the same symptoms (flu like or death). Avian vets are hard to find, and so some chicken farmers do their own surgery too.  We have a hard time just catching them let alone administer medical treatment.

Duck Eggs-a-plenty
There's a whole lotta love in the fall air as well.  Mr. Sprinkles seems to be a very happy drake indeed!  The round-the-clock ducky love is resulting in 1-3 eggs everyday from his little harem.  

The eggs range from gray to off-white.  Everything I had read so far has stated that the eggs would be so much larger than chicken eggs.  Right now they are the same size but with a much harder shell.  It definitely take a bit more effort to crack open a duck egg.

I scrambled some last week for a quick dinner of huevos rancheros.  They do have a different taste than chicken eggs.  Still good - just different.  I'm eager to try them in baking.  I've read many other blogs and everyone seems to rave about their quality and performance in baked goods.

It all comes back to baking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Farm life is moving along

It seemed like it took forever for Summer to get here!  When it comes to weather in Indiana, we know how to complain and hope for change.  We don't like it too cold (memories from last winter are still very fresh in all of our minds).  And, we don't like it too hot (remember the drought from a couple years ago?).  

This year we are experiencing a very mild Summer.  We've had one of the coolest July's on record with August starting out every colder with evenings temps in the 50s during the first week.  Great for attendance at the Indiana State Fair (record year with over 900,000), but our love for fresh home-grown tomatoes calls for some heat!  The heat decided to return this week and the tomatoes are just starting to ripen.  Canning will be a bit later than last year.

The new chicks have been doing great - well, at least the 10 that have survived.  Something killed one of the new Buff Orpingtons the week before last.  All signs point to a hawk or other raptor like bird.  There were no bite marks and the wound was to its back.  That leaves us with 10 chicks and 7 chickens, along with the 4 ducks. 

The old and the new seem to be getting along just fine.  We are wondering what it will take for the young ones to start roosting inside the coop at night.  Every night 10 fairly large birds squish together inside their small hutch.  A hutch that really should only house maybe 4-5 birds.  We had moved the hutch next to the coop in hopes that they would figure it out on their own.  So much for that idea!  One night we kept the hutch door shut and instead of going inside the coop with the older chickens, many of the chicks were running around wondering why they couldn't get into the hutch!  A few others decided to roost on an old ladder that is leaning up against the outside of the coop.  Guess we'll just have to remove the hutch all together.

Such are the daily dramas inside the Little Deuce Coop. 

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 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.