Tuesday, September 6, 2011

All Grown Up

Our little tan striped chicks grew up to be a beautiful chestnut color. Rapunzel has the longer hackle feathers. Little Red has a very small comb and shorter hackle feathers.

The little buff chick and the little black chick turned into these lovely ladies:

Chick #6 turned out to be a rooster named Sherman.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stay of Execution

Chick #6 is on his feet. He will live.

The Orphans

Picture shows chick #5 (with stripes) and chick #6, 24 hours younger and not having an easy time of it.

Sunday morning I got a surprise: chick #5 was flapping around. He was almost dry--probably several hours old. I picked him up and tried to place him under Mama Buff. She wanted nothing to do with him! Hackles raised and grunting in warning, she finalized her rejection by pecking at the chick. We moved him to a cardboard box with a brooder lamp.

Sunday afternoon I tried once more to "graft" the chick onto MB. Another failure. I kept #5 with me for the rest of the day, in hand, on my lap or cuddled between my chin and chest as I lay on the couch. It was hard putting him back in the box for the night! Sunday we also observed an egg breached from the inside. Another chick was coming! Monday morning we awoke to peeping from inside the brooder. Chick #6 is grayish/buff...possibly a product of a Bozo and XO, the Cuckoo Maran rooster. The Bozos are a group of chicks given to us last year on the 4th of July. We ended up keeping the two females. They're a White Leghorn - RI Red cross. But it's possible that #6 is a Buff Orpington - Cuckoo Maran cross, like chick #3. Chick #4 is pure Buff Orpington for sure. Chicks #1, 2 and 5 are all either RI Red - Buff Orpington crosses, or Patridge Rock - Buff Orpington crosses. Time will certainly tell. That's the problem with mutts. You're never really sure...

Chick #6 did not have a good first day. I thought he was paralyzed on one side or something. He was definitely not showing the spryness of chick #5. I was almost ready to euthanize him, but Zack persuaded me to give him one more day. Zack did erect a cardboard partition to separate the two chicks in the box. Chick #5 was treating #6 like a tasty morsel. If #6 was going to have a prayer at being normal, he'd have to survive his box-mate.

The Family

After chicks #3 and #4 hatched and were mobile, Mama Buff left the nest for good and settled down on the floor of the garage. Emilie lent me an incubator to which I moved the remainder of the eggs. The eggs had been cold for many hours. I wasn't sure how many would actually hatch.

Saturday afternoon I loaded the family into the dog carrier, sans eggs and refreshed with clean bedding, for their first foray into the wide world of the backyard. Mama Buff was extremely alert for predators.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lil' Peepers

I'm a chicken grandma!

Mama Buff has been sitting on about 14 eggs. How they all got in there I can only infer from something I observed a while ago: another hen joined MB in her boudoir and sat down as if to lay an egg. I bet what happened is over time the egg pile was increased hen by hen, day by day, until for some reason MB decided that she'd reached her maximum.

At the end of last week I visited MB at her post and heard her grunting rather rhythmically. That was new. I'd never heard that before. Sunday afternoon I went to check on her and saw a little chick looking back at me. It was mostly blond but had stripes. I ran to get the camera to document the joyous occasion. Zack and I got a separate pen ready immediately. I know that chicks are fully fed and hydrated for three days after they hatch, but I had no idea how long #1 had been out of the shell. We moved the doggie carrier into the new arrangement, and I proceeded to wait on Mama Buff like a the queen she is.

Wednesday I arrived home from town to see that MB was off the nest to the front of the pen. Oh! She's taking the baby for a "what to eat" lesson, I thought. No. Baby was OUTSIDE the wire, unable to figure out how to get back in. I felt the eggs while mama was off the nest--they were not warm. I have no idea how long she'd been gone. I don't know if that's a deal breaker right now. But yesterday's adventure revealed chick #2. I don't think they even come out from under her for at least a day.

I couldn't bear the thought of Mama Buff having to make the choice between her unhatched chicks and a chick in trouble. We made the decision last night to situate the brood in the garage. The little paddock is made of chick-proof wire. Lil' peepers can't go AWOL again.

This morning I discovered chick #3. It has no stripes like #s 1 and 2. That means he's all Buff Orpington. I saw him when I chanced to pass through the garage this morning. Mama was off the nest at the waterer with 1 and 2. I crouched to look inside and saw the teeniest, gangliest chick, dry, but still curled in the shell. Must have hatched early this morning. Who knows? There might be even more hatching right now. The peeping volume is going up every time I check on things. Mama Buff continues to grunt; she's saying "I'm your mother" over and over, no doubt.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Confused Chicken

Yesterday afternoon I found Mama Buff on some eggs in the nesting box. She must have gotten up for a drink and become confused...again. Keeping her focused is going to be tough, especially on days when we're not home to constantly pick eggs out of the nesting box. Sit on YOUR nest, lady!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mama Buff

It's not even April yet! The groundhog was definitely right this year. Spring has sprung early. It's been several weeks since one of the Buff Orpington hens first went broody. At last today I brought down the travel kennel to make her a proper nesting box. After fixing it up with some fresh straw, I placed her inside, thinking she would get comfy. No such luck. She just sat there, looking dazed. I took the eggs she'd been sitting on and tried to place them underneath her. Mama Buff used her beak to shove them under her body and settled down. It wasn't long, however, before she decided to get up and go back to the empty nesting boxes where she'd been keeping vigil for weeks. Watching her try to walk was funny. Because she hasn't been getting much exercise or food, she's very weak and stiff. She hopped up into her empty nest and began to doze. Nonsense! I rearranged the straw in the brooding nest, put the eggs in the dead center, and placed her on top of them. Then I shut the kennel door behind her so she couldn't leave her post. When I needed to return inside, I opened the door up again. Is she still there? I shall return in a moment with a report...

We have a brooding hen! Mama Buff is on the nest with five eggs. I am counting this as Day 2 because I didn't collect eggs yesterday. She'd VERY likely been sitting on them for at least 24 hours. We should have little peepers in about 20 days!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter Losses

For all of the stuff that you are able to get done during the winter, there is also a downside to the season.

A few weeks ago we finally had a warm, sunny day - mid-60s! I have been worried about my honey bees since Fall. this was my chance to open the hives up and see who was still alive and kickin'. Our losses were heavy. Out of the 12 hives I was managing (including two at the Early College)... I have three still alive. Plus all of the nucs (half-colonies) are dead. The nucs were not too surprising, but the others... ouch! My inspection indicate that none of the hives starved. They all had plenty of food - one colony even had a full super of honey (that's over 50 pounds of honey)! Apparently they all just froze in place. At least that is my best guess. It was a sad day in the Stockbridge Apiary.

So how do you proceed with that kind of loss? Our first beekeeper's meeting was a few days after my inspection. It makes me feel a little better that almost everyone had heavy losses. Winters have been so mild over the last several years that the colonies that winter normally would have killed off survived. Until this year. It seems like all of those colonies died this year when they should have succumbed to cold in previous winters. True natural selection at work. One of the beekeepers in the club pointed out that the colonies which have survived this winter are the strong ones that we should be using to rebuild our fleets.

The current plan for rebuilding the apiary is to order two packages of bees to help fill the empty hive boxes more quickly. Then I will see how my surviving colonies are doing when spring truly arrives and see about splitting them early in the seasons so they can build up their populations as early as possible. This year will be mostly about rebuilding the apiary - any honey harvest that comes in will be a bonus in my mind. Our customers from last year will be disappointed, but there are no guaranteed results in agriculture.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter Productivity

Many people believe that farmers have it pretty easy in the winter. After all, isn't all of the work done during the summer when things are actually growing? Well... not really.

Winter is the season of site-prep and equipment work.

There is a hedgerow which needs to be reclaimed. It is a lot better to work on this during the winter when all the stinging insects, snakes, etc are not an issue. Cutting it all back is the easy part. Keeping it from coming back is the bigger challenge. Right now we are using a few different techniques. Once everything is cut back, we lay down cardboard to block out the light - this will help keep the weeds from popping up immediately. Then the mulch goes on top of it, as deep as we can stand, to keep the cardboard from (a) looking too tacky and (b) blowing away. Pretty soon the cardboard will start breaking down and becoming one with the soil. The hard part is putting in all of this work and having to wait until spring to see how effective it is. High-stakes gambling - farm-style!

There are also garden beds to be designed and built. We subscribe to lasagna-bed gardening. Keep layering the organic material on there and let it keep decomposing. For us that means more cardboard and lots of old rotting straw. Today a friend call Jen and said, "I'm shoveling s#*$ and I thought of you." So we went and hauled off a bunch of cow manure-soaked straw. Its great! Mulch and fertilizer all in one. Just spread it and let it compost in place to nourish the soil.

This is also the season for equipment. We just re-vamped the set-up for our grow lights. The grow light stands we acquired a few years ago... cheap! So we rigged our own system for hanging the lights and can hopefully start some seeds pretty soon. The chicken coop I built for Jen in December is holding up well. Chickens are happy which means Jen is happy. Soon it will be time to try getting the chickens into new portable pens so they can enjoy fresh grass. That means building new "chicken tractors". As hard a winter as we've had thus far, I'm scared to think about how many of our honeybee colonies may be dead, though. Either way, in the next week or two it will be time to start cleaning old hive equipment and building new hive equipment. I have already ordered two packages of bees for this year. Have to make sure they have a nice home ready when they arrive.

Winter is decision season. Decide how many bee colonies I want to try managing this year. Choose what is going in the veggie garden. Determine whether or not this is the year to put more fruit trees and a few blueberry bushes in the ground. Figure out how to rescue those two poor, old grape vines.

So if you have to work this hard in the winter as well as in the summer, is it worth it? Wouldn't life be so much easier if there was not so much work that always needed doing?

In Proverbs 14: 4, Solomon says, "Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox."

Yes, the work is worth it. Without a mini-farm (in development), there might be less work and more time for leisure, but there would not be the same harvest of joy and less satisfaction from our labors.

For all of the work that happens even during winter, winter is also the time when we get to enjoy the fruits of last year's labor. The wood we laid up is keeping us warm through a hard winter. My sweet tooth is still being kept happy by the honey our bees produced. The blackberry wine we made (from a kit) is still a nice treat about once a month. We just re-discovered a jar of blackberry syrup from the berries we picked this past July. Our now-mature chickens are still laying about a half-dozen eggs a day.

Definitely worth it.

This is what generation upon generation of people have understood. Last year's labor is what sustains you today even while you work for tomorrow. Hard to imagine in a society filled with mortgages, car loans and credit cards - all of which are based on the future sustaining you in the present. By God's grace, Jen and I have been blessed with the ability to do it the old fashioned way. Praise God for it. The work is worth it.