Growing chicks

Baby chicks get big fast. They get to eating a lot, and then they are pooping a lot. I had planned on moving the baby chicks out to the barn by two weeks, but we were having to clean out the brooder every day and it was getting stinky in the basement. The basement is where all the kid’s rooms are, so we moved the schedule up and moved the chicks to the barn.

The part of the barn where we had rabbits has been pretty empty since we got rid of the rabbits. It needed the cobwebs swept out. And I went ahead and removed the nesting boxes (ug, after all the work I did on them!) and closed up the door to the outside. I will open that back up in about 4 weeks, when they are fully feathered and ready to go outside.

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It’s working so well. They have two water bottles, their feeder, I found the chick grit, and yes, I gave them an extra heater. Have I mentioned this heater? Because I love it. It’s a flat panel heater so it doesn’t warm up the space, it just warms up a chick underneath it. So when a chick is cold, it snuggles under, but when it feels fine or is hungry, it can wander around. Yup, just like a mama chicken. And it’s SUPER safe. A heat lamp would be a huge fire hazard in the wooden dusty barn filled with hay, but there is no fire hazard with the panels. That’s straw all over the floor- and it’s safe.

That picture was taken not long after we moved them in- they had been outside and the barn door was open, but we closed the door and kept the wind out, and they started to walk around and find their food.

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That was Monday I moved them, and they have already grown, and adjusted really well. I love to peek in and watch them mill around- under the heater, over to the food, check out the open space, and back to the heater. During a warm afternoon this week I caught a couple RUNNING around. It was super cute.

Dave had the idea to put a little strawberry bed where we rerouted a drain pipe. It took him a Friday evening with kid help to block out a location, broadfork up the soil, brick the edges, and add mulch on top. Saturday we added a few plants to it.

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The broadfork, have we mentioned that? Imagine a human powered rototiller, but instead of turning the dirt (and breaking up the biome structure of the soil) it gently breaks up the soil, allowing you remove weeds and aerating. We are kind of excited to have one. Though apparently it’s a full body work out.

Me and the kids also took a hike to do some herbal wildcrafting. This is the second time we’ve gone out with the intent to find medicinal herbs, and we are always surprised with what we can find. I’ve been teaching the kids good wildcrafting practices (you know, don’t tear all the leaves of a plant), and they really enjoy being able to identify herbs. The hike we went on was attached to a campground. We found that some campers had left leaving their embers hot. BAD CAMPERS. But we took advantage of the situation and threw a handful of dried grasses and twigs on top and had a tiny fire. The kids were happy to throw some recently discovered sagebrush on the hot coals and enjoy the smell. I think they would have stayed there all day if we had marshmallows.

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Eggs

So the chickens have been producing like crazy lately. CRAZY.

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We’ve got about 4-6 hens who just can’t be bothered to stay in the run. Ironically, Ursula K LeHen isn’t one of them. She’s a happy member of the flock now. But these other jail-breakers, they wander around and eat bugs, which is ok, but then they get in my garden and make a mess, and that’s not ok. I’ve been under the impression they head back to the coop to lay their eggs but we’ve been discovering that’s not the case.

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There were more than two dozen eggs in this little nest. Under the extra christmas trees. BY THE BARN. FAR, FAR AWAY from the chicken coop.

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And more that a dozen were found under the slide. I had heard a chicken singing the egg song (did you know chickens have a particular song when they lay an egg?) while wandering by the play structure. I asked the kids to look for eggs, but they didn’t get under things and look.

I’m hoping to move some fencing around for the chickens this week to give them a little more space and a little less reason to jump the fence, but I’m starting to run out of patience. I need to get some seeds in the ground. They keep jumping fences, they gonna be chicken dinner.

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Springtime= CHICKENS!

Spring has sprung.

This year, to increase our flock and have some meat birds, we decided we wanted to incubate and hatch our own chicks. We’ve got roosters, so we have fertile eggs. We have an incubator. So let’s set some eggs!

I gave the incubator an update- previously you had to constantly adjust the temperature settings to keep it at the optimum temperature. I bought a new unit for the incubator that’s a heater, fan and thermostat all in one. It was so nice to be able to set the temp and not worry about it. And I think that gave us a much more successful hatching.

The down side to the new all in one unit is that the fan is super strong, and I was struggling to keep the humidity up. Apparently, if your humidity is low, you eggs will hatch earlier. So day nineteen, I started having eggs hatching, and by day 21, they were done.

It’s hard to share pictures of chicks hatching- they are inside the incubator and you can’t open it. But here are a few.

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Chicks look horrible when they first come out of the egg. They are wet and gooey and exhausted. You often think they’ve died but they have really just flopped over and fallen asleep. This one was sound asleep draped over two eggs. You can also see a chick on the left who has dried out and now looks like a normal, cute chick.

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Ursula K LeHen is the only chicken who has recognizable eggs- hers are green. I made sure to throw a couple of her eggs in there. This is one of her babies being hatched- and I was very interested in its color. Sadly, I can’t pick any of her babies out of the current group- we will just have to wait and see. If we get any hens laying greenish eggs, we know they are hers.

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This was probably the most comical moment of the whole hatch. A chick has cracked a hole and just its beak is sticking out. HA HA HA HA! You can also see how chaotic it got in there. See, you can’t open the incubator while chicks are hatching. BUT you do have about 3 days where the chicks are still digesting their egg yolk and don’t need to eat or drink. If you open the incubator, the humidity drops, and the membrane surrounding the chicks could dry out and stick to the chick, possibly killing them.

We had one chick that looked like it was out of its shell and dry when we opened up the incubator to move all the chicks out. We quickly discovered that she was only *half* out. We put her back in with some extra water and hoped she’d be ok. She made it out but…

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Some of the shell was STUCK to her face and back. We had to soak it off, but we got it off, and while she was a little miffed at all the man-handling, she seems to be doing well.

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We lost one the first day, which isn’t un common. That brings our spring hatch to a total of ……

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26 new baby chicks. 😎  We had 8 eggs not hatch (and two quitters) so Dave did the math and we had almost a 75% hatch rate. Dang, that’s way better than we’ve ever done. This is the chicks in their baby brooder in the basement. We’ve got the flat panel heater there for them to warm up under and I’m so much happier with it. It’s got no fire danger, so I sleep safe at night knowing I’m not going to burn down my house. The kids are super excited to hold them, and are even helpful cleaning out the brooder. Which is good, 26 baby chicks poop a ton.

 

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Just like that, SPRING.

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Blooming cherry tree.

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Shorn angora goats.

And not much to say because I’ve suffering from a pretty bad bee sting. On the upside, NEW BEES!

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Did I say pretty bad? Because I mean it.

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Vacation and all that comes with it

Early spring, we usually take a visit to see Dave’s parents in Florida. In the past we’ve gone in late February/ Early March and it’s worked out- nice and cool there, not yet spring time here. This year, though, all the kids are in school so we we were trying to figure out how to make it work over spring break in April. After much deliberation, we decided it WOUND”T work, so we took the kids out of school for a few days, and headed south.

Now, vacation on a farm takes a whole lot more than vacation with just a home. We’ve got animals needing fed twice a day, and this time around, we have goats needing to be milked, twice a day, morning and evening, no slouching. I had been struggling with who to ask and how to handle it. I mentioned this to my neighbor Laura and she got kind of excited and offered to learn to milk goats.

Have I mentioned how awesome my neighbor Laura is? She’s pretty awesome.

I spent about a week teaching her the ways of  goat milking. She in turn brought her nieces (and a nephew) along and everyone learned and the goats were milked. I have had the miking stand inside the barn but I decided to move it out side (hoping to decrease any sort of bacteria and increase better tasting milk). But now it has no cover. And of course one of the last days before we left there was a lot of cold rain.

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But twice a day she was there with out fail milking for us. New neighbors behind us fed the animals (which was a good idea, no one person was overwhelmed by all the chores) and we were able to enjoy our vacation.

We also finished up a couple of tasks before we left. The goat barn was FINALLY mucked out. It took 4 days of me, Dave and Dani working on it.

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That’s a LOT of poop. But there is hay and straw in there. And it’s in with the chickens, so they are going to mix it up and eat any hay leaves. Soon, it will be garden boxes, and after that, it will be food.

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Dave surprised me with this project- he painted an accent wall in our kitchen and we added shelves.

Vacation was great. We saw alligators in the Everglades.

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Watched the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.

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And just enjoyed time with family, and spending a little time with Dave’s 91 year old grandmother.

We came home and were greeted by this, though.

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And by the time it was time to go home, I was really missing my farm. I missed my rich goat milk, my fresh chicken eggs, and I really missed the cycle we have at our home. I love feeding my kitchen scraps to my chickens and getting fresh eggs every day. It reminds me to be grateful for what I have.

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The sun came out

The sun came out. We weren’t buried under snow forever. Whew.

But with the sun out and the snow melting a way, we’ve been working hard to get spring projects rolling.

Uncle Jed went home. we wanted to keep him longer, but he kept breaking through the fence to get to the goats he wasn’t supposed to be with. We are pretty sure he was here long enough, though. It didn’t take him too long last time.

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The beehive didn’t make it through the winter. Ug, bees are hard! It looks like a lot went wrong. But I’ve got a little honey, and I for sure am going to get more.

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The chickens have been loving the warm weather too- they are suddenly laying a ton and quite a few of them are just jumping over the fence and wandering around the yard. For now it’s ok, but as soon as the garden starts going in I’m going to be looking at taller fencing. They left us an early easter egg hunt.

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That’s *20* eggs hiding in the blackberry bushes. They were all still good. It looks like about 4 birds had been laying there for about a week. We need to step up our egg gathering.

I’ve been mucking out the goat barn. I think this is a more epic task than in past years. See, this year I let the poo and hay just sit in the barn all winter, adding as much hay as needed to keep things dry. That way the barn had it’s own insulation, and the poo and hay breaking down would create a little heat. It was working fairly well until Uncle Jed came along. Billy goats pee. EVERYWHERE. On everything. blerg. and it’s smelly pee. Did I mention Uncle Jed smells? Because he does. On the upside, all that poopy hay is going into the garden.

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These boxes aren’t going to be used this year- they are too hot ie full of nitrogen. But at least the boxes are full and ready for the future. And Dave and I have been working really hard on getting the irrigation into the garden area.

With the warmer weather, we’ve been cleaning, of course. The garage is clean and the sunroom is clean, thanks to Dave and the kids. Dani cleaned up the back yard, getting dead weeds and leaves raked up. The leaves are in the garden boxes, the weeds are in the garbage.

You can’t clean every weekend, sometimes you go out rock hounding.

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Twice rock hunting has been slowed by snow, but this time we were pretty successful. And sometimes it’s not about the rocks, but just about getting out.

But if you do have pretty rocks, you may have to learn to do something with them.

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Yup, those are some wire wrapped stones, modeled by mr. K, done by Loretta. I’m pretty excited and have enjoyed playing with them. I’m excited to do some more.

And just a couple of things- Dave adjusted the font on the blog so it’s easier to read (we hope) and if you look in the top of the right column, you will see a link to our farm food production. We are trying to keep track of what we milk, collect, make a grow this year. And woo woo charts and graphs.

 

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