Two Brown Eggs, A Leaky Chicken House, & One Happy Duck

Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.
Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.

I sat down to type up a new post about an hour ago.  Just as I began, I heard the rain begin with gusto.  Sigh…  Guess what I did?  I put on my trust old coat (technically it is my husband’s but I have commandeered it as it has a really long waist and covers my back side.  If there is one thing I cannot stand now that I am older  is drafts), muckers, hat and went out in it.  You see, we have just built a chicken house on our little place and each time it has rained the inside has been wet.  This is not good.  Chickens can endure some harsh conditions, but they need to be able to get dry, especially while they sleep.  Once you have small livestock, you will never again enjoy the sounds of a rain storm without a care in your head.

Chicken in  the Coop

After each storm, I have made modifications that I thought would fix it- to no avail.  So, the only way to know is to go out when it is raining and sit and watch.  Well, the problem is where the nails have attached the tin to the lathes on the roof. The roof is leaking like a sieve. Strange, considering that we used the correct sort of nail with a little rubber washer attached to prevent just this sort of thing.  Regardless, this problem must be addressed.  When the weather is dry and warmish- God only knows when that will be- we can calk the nail holes but for today I had to improvise.  There were a few pieces very thin plywood in the scrap pile so I took these and wedged them on the ceiling.  This will at least cause the water to run to one spot instead of all over the coop.  The girls really haven’t seemed to mind so much they are eating and scratching about out in the rain.

Easter egger chickens

We really don’t need any more water right now.  It rained last week, then that froze while ice coated everything except the roads in my neck of the woods.  It has been so cold that the ice stuck around for days and when it did melt it was like another rain storm.  Frankly, I hate this weather.  I am a Texas girl and we like the heat.  There was a time not so long ago that I thought 45′ was cold.  This morning when I saw 45′ on the thermometer, I thought “Great, it is warm enough for a run before the rain comes.”  Well, it didn’t take long to remember that this is still on the cool side.  But, the cold air in my lungs and just being outside did me a world of good.  I didn’t beat the rain, however, a light shower came while I was running.  Oh well, that is what hoodies are for.  I am hoping the weather men have it together as they are predicting sunshine and 60’s next week.  Hooray!

Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning.  Laid by the black and white hens- Dominiques
Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning. Laid by the black and white hens- Dominique Hens

I may not like the ice, but it did make for some pretty landscapes.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan and the Duck are the only ones happy with this weather.  Jonathan enjoys breaking the ice out of water bowls- what a handy fellow to have around!

 

Chickens Again and Rose Pruning Goats

Luffa gourds to go with the herbal body scrubs.
Luffa gourds to go with the herbal body scrubs.

Each morning I wake up with a very full to-do list.  Everyday I go to bed with a lot scratched off the list and yet at the end of the week there is so much yet to be done.  As I write tonight, I can feel the slight sting on the back of my neck left by the sun.  We reached 90′ today, but the breeze was so cool and the sun was so pleasant that I didn’t even notice while I was working at my table.  Often, I am in the herb gardens in the morning when neighbors head off to work.  I wonder as they pass by if they realize that I am in my office?  Probably not, I know what I do looks much like a hobby to lookers on.  However, if you could see my to-do list you would know that it is definitely not a hobby.

Whenever family or friends ask what I have been up to, I usually say “more of the same” .  By that I mean more harvesting, drying, and processing of herbs.  More planting, propagating, and watering of herbs.  More retrieving the escape artist goat, planning for the breeding of animals, more feeding of what we have and so on.  But really, no day is ever the same.

We learn new things every day, too.  Like today, I learned how to unhook a fuel line on the riding lawnmower and how to drain the gas tank.  Why would I do this?  Well, because diesel doesn’t work will in a gasoline engine.  It seems that, according to my husband, the label on the can with diesel came off.  He was at work or he would have known better than to use that can in the lawnmower, but I was ignorant of the fact that the gas can did not in fact contain gasoline.  Yes, I know many of you rule followers are appalled to hear that we used a gasoline can to hold diesel, but if you knew my husband you would not be surprised.  Anyway, I am still a bit suspicious as to whether the can was ever marked properly- I do know my husband.  But, I noticed that the lawn mower did not run quite right and parked it immediately.  When Tony called to check in he was just so thrilled with the news.  Never fear, I know my way around an engine well enough to manage.  The tank is drained and we will refill with the right fuel and see how it goes.  Once before, I added the wrong fuel (not diesel) to the push mower.  When we took the mower to the shop, the old fellow said that it wouldn’t matter much, no worries.  I like that sort of answer and will proceed forward as if this is no big deal until proven otherwise.  The can in question with the push mower was also not marked properly- I should know better by now, right- so I still don’t think I am to blame.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the farm got mowed before the refueling incident.  I am relieved due to the fact that we are looking at rain for the better part of the coming week.  If I hadn’t gotten the mowing done we could have lost a small child in the grass by the time mowing was again possible.  I am hoping to get more seeds into beds before the rain begins.  I love fall gardening!  We have many types of  lettuce growing along with spinach, kale, radishes, beets, and greens.  All the herbs are growing like mad and I am harvesting heavy each week.  Buds are appearing all over the rose bushes, those that were not pinched back by the heat were “pruned” by the goats when they got out while we were in Galveston.  I can’t even begin to communicate what went through my mind when I received the text that said “Are the goats supposed to be in the front yard?”  Mercifully, they hadn’t done much damage when my older daughters found them.  Seriously, though, I have only pruned my own roses a few times the goats have always seen to that chore for me.

The new chickens bedded down for the night.
The new chickens bedded down for the night.

Speaking of goats, my two bred does are building udders and I am excited.  There is nothing cuter than baby goats- except maybe baby pigs.  Raw goats milk will soon by back on the menu in the Ross household, oh happy day!  The farm is expanding and the business is growing.  New chickens have arrived, 6 Dominique hens and 1 Black Wyandotte Rooster.  The rabbits have been moved to their new home.  The chickens and the rabbits will be housed in a new building we are building.  So far, the rabbits are in their side and the chickens are in a tractor for the time being.  Of course, the birds free range in the day.  Propagation has begun in earnest, time to get Spring 2014 under way.  Lavender, mint, & rosemary are in such demand that I have to begin now for next year.  However, I am selling all that I root just as soon as it is ready but I am certain that I will get ahead of the demand sooner or later.  Not that I mind, selling the herbs is the name of the game.

I hope you all had a wonderful day!

 

The freshly tilled garden patch, soon to be seeded with hairy vetch.
The freshly tilled garden patch, soon to be seeded with hairy vetch.

Spring is Springing

You know when you have on of those days that just seem disjointed and purposeless?  Well, today was one of those days for me.  My outlook did improve as the day went on.  Maybe it was tied to the weather.  For a day that started off rainy and cold (for Texas), it really finished off beautifully.  The sun came out and warmed us all up to around 70′.

Tuesday, I finished the pig waterer, yesterday Tony and I bought a new trailer and then made a run to an herb grower.  I am growing a lot, but not as much as we need for the whole season.  So, there are a few who I trust their methods and buy from them.  Our first sale is Easter weekend, so the spring season is upon us.  I am excited about that!

Duckie, our Boykin Spaniel, sitting by the Sweet Olive.
Duckie, our Boykin Spaniel, sitting by the Sweet Olive.

All over the gardens, things are coming back to life.  I cleaned out some of the herb beds and while doing so I kept noticing the faintest scent, so sweet and pleasant.  It took me a moment but then I placed it- Sweet Olive.  There is no better shrub for adding a wonderful scent to your home.  The scent of the Sweet Olive will rival any Gardenia, but the Sweet Olive will bloom from September until it gets hot in May or June.  You can’t beat that with a stick.

The chickens got some treats today.  Usually all the kitchen scraps got to Effie the Pig who converts them into lovely ham and bacon.  But since Effie the Pig had already gotten a bucketful, when I cleaned out the fridge I decided that the chickens deserved the treats.  The flock has not gotten as much free ranging time due to the fact that a lot of my seedlings are in low tunnel hoop houses that are accessible to the birds if they tried.  So, for another 2 weeks or so, they are only allowed out in the late afternoon.

Daffodils

The Girls went crazy for the kitchen goodies.
The Girls went crazy for the kitchen goodies.

The Weather Is Teasing Us & So Are The Goats

Feeding Geese at the park
Feeding Geese at the park

Both today and yesterday were spring like, making us long for the cold to be gone for good!  But alas, rain moves in tomorrow and cool temps follow bringing another couple of mornings below freezing.  But the weathermen have missed it before, so maybe it won’t get so cold.  One can hope…

We certainly took advantage of the balmy days.  Yesterday found us at the park feeding geese and walking in the sun around the park’s lake.  It was so nice.  Sierra still loves to swing and Jonathan loves the merry-go-round.  He had a bit of a mishap on it and landed in the mud puddle.  Then it was time to go home.

Sierra Anne
Sierra Anne

The last of the chickens for sale were picked up this morning.  I sold about six more than I planned but that was Sierra’s fault.  She heard me telling Tony that I had recieved another call from a buyer- but he wanted a dozen hens and I didn’t want to sell that many.  Sierra then asked me how much hen’s are costing at First Monday (a huge flea market here in Canton) I replied, “$10.00”  then she asked how much we were selling our for, “$12.00” I replied.   I was feeling quite proud that I was getting such a good price for my very lovely birds.  She then said, “So, sell him yours and go buy more and you will still make money on the ones you sell.”  Shrewd little business woman she is, I took her advice and sold some chickens.  Then I went and bought chicken feed.  I love it when the animals pay their own way!

While outside in the sunshine, I took time to tend the chicken house.  It was time for some lime.  I hate to use it in the chicken house because I am concerned that too much won’t be good for then hens when they scratch it up.  So, I only apply it under the roosts where the poop really builds up and then I bury it under 6-8 inches of shavings.  This seems to keep everything in balance.  If you have chickens and the coop smells, it is not the chickens, but the management that is to blame.  With adequate space for the chickens, deep litter, a thorough cleaning once or twice a year everyone will be healthy, happy, and odorless.  The biggest challenge will be under the night-time roosts.  Chickens poop A LOT when they sleep.

Six week old Barred Rock chicks, by fall these girls will be laying eggs.
Six week old Barred Rock chicks, by fall these girls will be laying eggs.

Once the coop was tended, we turned our attention to the herbs.  We filled close to 100 gallon size pots that are now awaiting lemon grass starts and calendula seedlings.  Eight trays are now filled and ready to receive the next batch of seedlings- which will probably be Tashkent Marigolds.  I then got about 40 trays ready to be filled, each tray holds 20 cups.  Those aren’t big numbers, but I was glad to get them done.  Come Monday, all the trays will be filled with compost and all the other trays will be prepped for filling.  What is hard to believe is that in just six weeks all these cups will be filled and home to plants and ready to be someone’s garden.  It’s about to get CRAZY around here.  Since the silly goats have not had babies yet, they are probably going to wait until I am smack in the busy season and then kid.  Stinkers.

One thing I know, farm kids know how to work.Sierra, Savannah and Jonathan helping me fill trays.
One thing I know, farm kids know how to work.
Sierra, Savannah and Jonathan helping me fill trays.

Saturday is an early day, I am going to a cheese making class!  This class is a Christmas present from Tony.  I have been wanting to make cheese from our goat milk for quite awhile.  While in Winnsboro, I will stop by Jersey Girl Dairy and get some fresh, raw milk.  The milk from this dairy is really good.  Now, if the goats will only kid out I will be in business.  So, off to bed for me.

Kandi our fist goat and her baby, Kit Kat.  Kandi is bread and will have babies one day...
Kandi our fist goat and her baby, Kit Kat. Kandi is bred and will have babies one day…
Geraniums in the greenhouse.
Geraniums in the greenhouse.

Monday is Here & Chicks Are On The Way

Our newest farm members- Barred Rock and Easter Egger Chicks
Our newest farm members- Barred Rock and Easter Egger Chicks

The quiet pastures and dormant trees passed along as our old truck headed down Highway 19.  The winter landscape is a lonesome one, I miss the green fields and wild flowers along the road.  Tony and I made the trip to Palestine this morning to pick up a load of vintage and antique doors.  A peaceful quietness filled the cab as I sat in the middle next to Tony.  That is one reason I like his old truck- it has a bench seat and I get to set next to him like we were in college.  I had brought along my computer and phone so that I could do some work along the way, but that didn’t happen.  I just enjoyed being next to him and listening as he sang along with the radio.

So, my Monday began.  Not a bad start.  I did get work done once we arrived back home and checked several items off of my week’s very long to do list.  The chicken chores were rather simple, the birds have been let out early for the past several days and they have not spent nearly so much time in their coop making messes.  Eggs are still flowing, we average 18 per day.  That is without any extra light.  Chickens are sensitive to the length of day and will only lay at the top rate when they are getting 12 or more hours of light per day.  You can supplement this light during the winter and keep the egg laying up.  I do this when needed, but right now there is no need.  There are also 3 dozen eggs in the incubator that should hatch on Christmas Day.  Which means, that this weekend I will need to take them out of the egg turner on Saturday.  You remove the eggs from the automatic egg turner so that the chicks can get into hatching position.  You can imagine how hard this would be if the eggs were continually moving back and forth.  However, I know from past experience that the chicks can do it.  Once I lost track of the days and didn’t realize it was time until I heard chirping  from the incubator.115

A few weeks back, we provided a petting zoo for the Sulphur Springs Chamber of Commerce, they host a huge Christmas in the Park event next to their courthouse.  It was great fun and we purchased 12 day old chicks to take there.  Those chicks all survived all the love one could imagine and are doing great.  A big red hen kept getting into the brooder house and I would promptly run her out thinking she might be mean to the chicks and eat all their food.  Well, she does eat their food.  But being mean is not her mission- unless you threaten her adopted chicks.  The evening I went out there and found her in the corner nestled down with chicks tucked up under her was the last time I gave her harming them any thought.  The Red Hen eating their chick mash is a small price to pay for such a good mother hen to take care of them.  This evening I saw our cat looking longingly through the door and I thought that being a smart cat he would not choose to take that hen on.  I was right, she puffed up at him and he trotted on his way.

Dinner was simple, just a vegetable beef soup with garlic toast.  We still haven’t quite recovered from our feasting over the weekend.  I would think that Tony’s sweet-tooth would have been satisfied, but that would be a stupid thought.  His sweet-tooth is never satisfied.  Sierra takes after him.  He wanted something sweet tonight so I made a pound cake.  I love pound cakes, this one was made with sour cream and lemon extract.  Pound cake is an easy cake to do, very straight forward.  I only ate a small piece, my sweet-tooth is not nearly so large as Tony’s.  Sierra took after him, she once went on a streak of sneaking sugar into her room and eating it with a spoon.  That has been stopped, but I still check her drawers ever so often.

Christmas Break is nice, the kids are doing their own thing and I am planning for next semester.  Tuesday is almost here and I look forward to another day.

So, it’s Wednesday or Maybe Eggsday

Which came first- the chicken or the egg?
Which came first- the chicken or the egg?

With all the eggs we are getting these days, egg salad sandwiches seemed like a good choice for lunch.  While I had a carton of eggs out making pancakes and sausage for breakfast I dropped a dozen in the pot to boil.  Jonathan makes a great egg salad, he also is good at deviled eggs and happily eats them straight up boiled.  Of all my children, Jonathan is the most advanced cook for his age.  Savannah is great at pastries, but that is as far as her interests really go.

You would think with all these eggs stacked all over the place- I have 10 dozen in the fridge at this time- that Jonathan would have been busy making such tasty egg dishes.  However, if you have ever tried to peel a boiled farm fresh egg then you would know what a huge challenge this can be and by the time you get it peeled the only thing the egg is decent for is egg salad.  A few months back I began following a gardening blog- Garden Betty- and she posted the most fabulous post about this very subject.  In it she stated that if you poke a whole in fat end of the egg with a thumb tack that the shell will pull away from the egg itself allowing for easy peeling.  I tried it today and it worked great!  To read all about it click this link- Perfect Boiled Egg.

To those who read this I may sound simple minded, but whenever I am cooking and I reach in the fridge and pull out our eggs it just brings me such pleasure!  In their own right, they are beautiful.  With the mixed flock of hens, I have a very mixed assortment of eggs.  The colors range from white to dark brown, speckled and green, small and large- they are all so pretty.  However pretty the outside is, nothing compares with the beauty of the inside.  The yolk sets up nice and high, the color is bright yellow with some being almost neon orange.  The nutrition value of eggs from free range hens is beyond comparison and the flavor is amazing.  It is a very satisfying thing to feed your family with food that you have produced.

Farm Fresh Eggs
Beautiful Eggs

During the course of the day, Tony and I wandered through the gardens.  It looks pitiful now.  These very cold nights have turned the 4 o’clocks, egg plants, tomatoes, and citronella among others to green mush.  The growing season is officially over.  Now it is time for clean up and prep for spring.  Once things are cleaned up I will feel better.  At that time, it will look like a blank state full of possibilities for next year instead of the ugly mess telling me that this year’s fun is over.  I did find it interesting that the Texas Tarragon did not melt.  Looks like it might not only take the heat but maybe the cold as well, we shall see.  The chickens were busy in the garden.  Scratching up a storm, they are busy eating the bugs trying to take cover under the leaves and the larvae for next year’s pests.  What a win/win situation- the chickens eat the pests in the garden and all that bug protein makes for some really great eggs!

Today was the first day Tony has been off in a while.  Urgent Care in Tyler Texas is experiencing a very busy season these days.  It was quite nice to spend the day at home.  Tony, Sierra, and Jonathan had a Mario Kart competition and then we all played a game of 13.

As they hooted and hollered their way through Mario Kart, I prepped the shopping list for our Christmas Dinner that will happen on Saturday.  Our Christmas celebrations usually run for several days.  Many years ago due to Tony’s work schedule and other family traditions, we moved our immediate family celebrations to another day leaving Christmas Eve and Christmas Day open for the extended family celebrations that we all love.  With the Hobbit coming out in theaters this weekend we decided to move the fun up real early and make the movie part of the day.  So, we are really excited about this weekend.  I am excited to get some really large presents out of my closet I can’t hardly get to my socks these days.

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Chickens cleaning up in the Garden
Chickens cleaning up in the Garden

New Peeps!

The first little puff ball- he surprised us by being early.

In November, my biology teaching sister hatched some eggs for a class project.  They had one hatch out of 2 and a half dozen eggs.  I had hatched just before her and only got 3 out of 18 eggs.  I have never had hatch rates so pitiful.  So, I decided to get to the bottom of the problem.

Considering the awful summer we had, I suspected the heat.  I still think that was a factor.  I also wondered about the potency of my rooster.  This was the first time I had hatched eggs that he was responsible for fertilizing.  I never witnessed much from him, but thought maybe he was a gentleman and private lives were just that- private.  There are a few humans who could take lessons from that bird and then we would have a lot less “reality” on television.  Anyway, I collected another batch of eggs once the girls were done with their molting.

Molting is when the chickens shed feathers and put on a fresh, new batch.  The first time your chickens molt it can be quite a scare.  You walk into the coop one morning and there are feathers everywhere!  However, once you start counting chickens you realize that none are missing or injured.  Then in a few days you begin to notice naked necks and bald spots.  This is normal and during this time the laying declines and the fertility is decreased.  I just learned from a very seasoned chicken fellow that if I pull the rooster away and put out a high protein feed like game bird feed, the molt will be over much quicker.  That little tidbit of advice has been filed away till next fall.

Well, 21 days have come and gone and hatching began yesterday afternoon.  I am definitely suspecting the rooster now.   Out of 1 dozen, only 3 have hatched.  All three are from the same colored egg and the chicks are identical.  So, it would seem that he had a particular girl that he was cozy with and ignored the rest.  One might equate this monogamy with being a gentleman, but in the farm world this is considered being a slacker.  Time will tell, I won’t get rid of the eggs for another few days.  We might have a few more pop out.

Hands down, every batch of chicks thinks the top of the feeder is the best place to sleep.

Hatching eggs is so much fun.  You would think it would become mundane as many times as we have done it, but it doesn’t.  I love seeing the chicks emerge.  It seems to me that if anyone watched this they would have a hard time believing that there is not a Creator and all of this happened by accident.  I also find it amazing that an egg can go from embryo to fuzzy chirping chick in 21 days- that is less time than it takes to grow a cucumber. 

A Messy Morning

These ladies thought this one box was the best one!

When doing farm chores, especially the morning chores I have a particular pair of green, cordorory overalls that I love to wear in the winter.  They are warm and comfortable with plenty of pockets.  Of course, they are not pretty and I have no idea of where they came from, but they are my favorites!  I call them my nerd clothes and my children agree.

My morning chores usually consist of milking and feeding the goats and pig in the barn.  Every now and then, I beat Savannah to the chicken house and get to collect eggs.  Again, I love the overalls, plenty of pockets to stash the eggs to carry them inside.

The chickens are constantly scratching around in the hen house looking for goodies. Invariably, they pile bedding up around the door.  When you shut it, you have to push in to get the door to latch.  As I leaned on the door this morning, I heard/felt a “pop” and realized that I had just cracked the egg in my pocket!  Words cannot describe what it feels like to reach into your pocket and feel the warm gooey egg oozing around.  I quickly grabbed all that I could scoop and tossed it on the ground for the dog to clean up.  Then I walked briskly to the house as the warm egg quickly changed to cold egg spreading on my thigh!  Always something to laugh about!

Peeps Are On The Way!

One of our favorite activities around our little farm is incubating eggs.  It is absolutely amazing to watch the little babies peck at the shell and finally pop out.  So, tonight we set 18 eggs in the incubator and in just 21 days we will have a fresh batch of chicks.

Last spring my mom, sisters and I went in together and bought our own incubator.  Being the good teachers that they are, they do the “egg to chick” projects in their classrooms.  My mom and sister, Windy, teach elementary age kids who simple enjoy learning the basics and watching the eggs crack open.  Sunny, my sister, teaches high school and they go way more in depth even predicting the genetic combinations that will occur based on the breeds of chickens.  Because of when Sunny’s project is due, she will be the first this year to use the new ‘bator,  I borrowed one from the extension office so I could get going on my eggs.

The eggs in the ‘bator right now are from my mixed flock.  But come Monday, I will have 25 Ameracauna
chicks arriving via the US postal service.  Due to heavy losses this summer, I needed to boost my flock numbers up.  I love the Ameracauna- also called Easter Eggers because their eggs are colored ranging from blue, green to pink.  These ladies are really good layers and very colorful birds.  I love getting that call from the post office at about 6 am.  It is a great way to start the day.  The first chicks we ever ordered were Easter Eggers.  I can’t wait!

One of our Easter Egger Chicks all grown up!
How can you not love something so cute?!