Saturday, June 27, 2009

Poultry updates

Above are our Cornish Cross meat chicks. Can you count them? This is our first year raising a batch of Cornish Crosses. We have some friends that raise them every summer. These birds can grow to ten to twelve pounds in as little as ten to twelve weeks, now that is impressive. We were trying to avoid raising these birds for a number of reasons, but have decided to go for more bang for our buck, (and our time). Last year we ordered Standard Cornish and Brahma chicks and thought we'd continue to raise harvest the cocks for meat and keep the hens for laying. Both breeds grew extremely slowly and after being on pasture for four months, they were still hardly big enough to harvest. We do have a Brahma Rooster and two hens, along with a few Brahma chicks that we hatched this spring. The adult birds are very large, but it took them probably almost a year to get to their current size.
Above and below are our Welsummers in a chicken tractor. It is a pvc pipe hoophouse on wheels with handles that we can move around on one of our few flat spots on the property. Last year we raised four Bourban Red Turkeys in here. It has a woven mesh floor so that hopefully nothing can sneak in underneath, although I've been feeling less confident of how well it could keep out a dog, if one were to come along and try to get in. Fortunately we rarely have visiting dogs, it has been a couple years since the last time we had a dog in the neighborhood that was coming over to visit. I think our most regular predators are Ravens, believe it or not. I never thought of Raven's as predators but we lost a Red Sexlinked chick to one a few weeks ago. I've heard numerous reports recently of people losing full size chickens to Ravens. Other likely predators that we have nearby are owls, fox and weasels. The birds are thriving in here. We keep their feeder and water full, and give them regular greens and milk. It is very obvious which Welsummers are hens and which are cocks now. Looks like we have four hens and five cocks.

The ducks have been in this small chicken tractor for about a week now. Honey and her chicks were in here but Honey moved back in with the adult birds and her chicks are in the chicken tractor with the other Welsummers now. You can see the entry to their little enclosed area that they can go into at night or in bad weather. This tractor is too small for more than a few adult birds, but it is perfect for chicks or ducklings. By the time the ducks have outgrown this tractor it will be too cold for them to stay in here anyway and they will move to a new home with insulated walls, a heatlamp and more square feet. My mom use to keep a couple ducks in with our chickens. I remember they had a small little black feed tub with water to splash in. Folks say that ducks don't need access to water to play in, but that just seems wrong... they are DUCKS! So I hope to always have a small pool for them of thawed water for them.

For the Grandparents

Avery Jane, nine months old and in the garden. Thrilled to be on the ground and in reach of grass, rocks, dirt and sticks.
Noah and Avery being pulled up to the garden in Noah's wagon.
Avery enjoying a warm summer evening.
And all together now- say cheese!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Honey laid an egg!

Something special happened today: Honey laid her first egg in about five months or so. She started going broody in December and we broke her of it once and then she went broody again and got to hatch a few chicks. Above is a photo of her and her adopted chicks. Today I stopped by to check and see if she and her chicks needed water or feed and what did I spy - but an egg laying on the ground. I had read that Cochins lay white eggs, but her's is brown- no wonder we were always confused about who was laying what eggs last winter. We were never certain whether the little white eggs were her's or the Cornish. After I picked up the egg, Honey was acting like she wanted out of confinement, so I let her out (leaving her eleven adolescents behind). She headed up to the the chicken pen and seemed to be quite interested in the rooster - who was returning her attention with like kind. So I let her in and sure enough...lets just say that they she tolerated his affection without protest. I checked on her at bed time and all the adult birds were inside on the roosts, but she was at the door wanting out. I carried her back to her chicks (who were quite relieved to have their mom back). I'll be interested to see what happens next and when she'll be ready to leave her chicks for good. Her chicks are about two months old now - not wee ones anymore. I think they would be fine on their own. And we sure could use another layer even if it were an occasional layer like a Cochin. Two of our other layers are broody right now and I have them in a kennel without bedding, hoping to break them of their wicked or rather natural habits. And we have a crippled hen. I have no idea what has hapenned to her but she can't walk, but is still laying some eggs, and is generally a good layer of lovely blue eggs. Needless to say our egg production has reduced significantly so we will be hoarding our eggs for a while until times improve.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Header

The new header picture is from last fall. In case you were wondering, I am not expecting! I tend to take lots of pictures of flowers, garden, goats, chickens and children and not too many of myself. So I thought since it is summer now I should get rid of that old winter photo of Noah and the goats beings that it was from two springs ago! I've been too busy planting and swatting mosquitos to take any recent pictures of the kids (my kids). But as we transition to garden upkeep and the urgency of planting subsides I intend to start taking more pictures.

In other news, Avery has begun crawling on all fours instead of the army (belly) scooch. She has been eating all sorts of new foods like hard boiled egg yolk, soft goat chevre (she loves it!), cherries, grapes, peaches, peas, and so on. She pretty much refuses to be fed by spoon and insists on grabbing fist fulls of food and feeding herself which makes for a messy meal indeed, but she also sits and eats contentedly while the rest of us eat...or while I quickly sweep the floor.

Noah has been enjoying the new sand box and the huge dirt pile in the garden. He wanted to plant his own little garden plot. So he told me what he wanted; squash, celery, red carrots, potatoes, corn and sunflowers, (at one point the list kept getting bigger so we had to narrow it down a bit). He decided where he wanted everything, planted the seeds and starts (with my help) and he is in charge of watering and all decision making here forth. I resist the urge to tell him when he is watering too much or little.

Most of the garden is in. I have more soil to move into beds and may plant a few more beans and greens. I have lots of mulching and top dressing to do, as, er, I was in such a hurry to plant I skipped mixing in some amendments and compost, ahem.

The roses and bluebells are blooming and they are lovely. It is just perfect that they bloom at the same time, pink and blue throughout the woods. My hardy yellow perennial poppies just started blooming today. And there is just the sweetest scent all through the woods. I'm sure it is just a mix of everything as there are all sorts of other plants blooming, low bush cranberries, dogwood, wild spirea, labrador and many others I can't name.

We moved the Welsummer and Sexlink chicks into a movable hoophouse/tractor today. So they are getting fresh air, bugs and greens. We moved the Americana chicks into the indoor hen house fortress that the older chicks had just moved out of. Now we just have ducklings in our house. Although we do have more chicks due to hatch in the incubator as well as cornish cross arriving sometime soon.

May was unseasonably warm and lovely. It seems as though we've already had a month of June weather and June has just begun. Noah keeps stopping by the raspberry patch looking for berries and I keep explaining the process that the plants have to go thru before there are berries. I am thankful that there are no raspberries yet, as that would mean it were already the end of summer!! Plus we still have lots of raspberry jam and frozen raspberries, probably because we were rationing all winter. Here is to the beginning of a very fine summer! Cheers!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Duckling Surprise

Dustin surprised me with four Khaki Campbell ducklings last week. I've been suggesting that we get ducks for a couple years now and Dustin has been adamantly opposed to the idea on account that they would end up being pets, we wouldn't be able to eat them, they make quite a mess, need their own quarters and finally, we don't care for the taste of duck eggs. He has placated me by saying that someday we'll have a more duck suited piece of land with a stream or pond and then we can keep some ducks for enjoyment. I hinted as recently as a month ago that perhaps he might like to bring home some ducklings along with the chicks he was picking up and was once again turned down. Last week Dustin was picking up some Alfalfa from our local feed store and noticed that they had quail. To make a long story short, we had some friends wanting quail for their bird dogs so, not knowing how long the quail would last Dustin brought a box of quail home. We had been calling back and forth arranging how many quail to get and such so I was ready for them when he got in the door. He came in and said, "Wait till you see these guys" and opened up the box and instead of quail, inside were four ducklings. Well I have to say that it was one of his best surprises yet. I squealed.

Dustin said that it was Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest chapter on keeping ducks as garden helpers that finally convinced him. As far as their eggs, we do a lot of baking so using them up won't be a problem. I read that the Khaki Campbells lay close to three hundred eggs a year, which is a lot of eggs! They should quickly earn their keep at that rate. They are already providing entertainment for us all. Noah has been feeding them grapes and other yummy snacks. We put down a small tub of water for them to play in a couple times a day. The picture above was taken the first night we had them. I had just put down a small tub of water and they were all trying to climb in at the same time to splash around. In our research we read that they aren't suppose to have unsupervised access to water as they don't have the protective coating that they would have if reared by a moma duck. So we are careful not to leave their little pool down for too long. I am looking forward to spending time with them outside in the garden and watching them swim around in a baby pool when they are bigger.

We are feeding them the same mix I'm making for the chickens; a mix of corn, wheat berries, oats, barley, flax seed, alfalfa, Alaskan Salmon meal, kelp meal, an herbal vitamin supplement and sea salt. Our feed store carries duck starter feed and I have thought about getting some but I can't help but feel that a whole grain diet must be more nutritious than grain by products processed and repackaged in a tidy little pellet or crumble. They are also enjoying daily fruit and veggie scraps along with some fresh weeds, hard boiled eggs and raw goat milk and cheese. The ducks are probably about two weeks old now and still so cute. I'm looking forward to getting to know their personalities and watching them grow. Hearing their first attempts at quacking and finding out which are mallard and which are females. Hope we have at least two ladies. And finally, thinking of next year at this time when we will have chicken and duck eggs aplenty.