Monday, April 26, 2010

Culling the Herd

Long ago, in October 2009, I rushed eggs up to my neighbor Sheri's incubator. I thought I would let 2 of my "girls" sit on eggs until they hatched. One Thursday night I went out to the coop and saw a sweet little, fluffy chick. Warm maternal instincts flooded through me and I could hardly wait to go out the next morning to see how many more chicks had hatched through the night.

The next morning I lifted up the hen to check on the baby chick and any new baby brothers or sisters that may have emerged and ...didn't find a one. It took me that long to look up into the mother's face...only to see a barely hatched chick dead and sticking out of her beak. Not only was that one dead, the little chick from the night before was nowhere to be seen.

Gulp. I pulled the remaining eggs out from under the cold-hearted and cruel/non-instinctive mother hen and took them to the incubator. Sheri watched over them for me and when the babies were born, we brought them up in a box with a heat lamp. Only 3 of the chicks made it. Out of all of those chicks, only 1 was a pure-breed Ameraucana.

The three were pals as is the case with any chicks that are raised together. High school friends of mine came to visit and named the purebreed, Mary. I tagged the two other ones #102 and #103 with foot bands, the first time I have ever done that.

As my luck would have it, the other two chicks grew up into strapping young-buck ROOSTERS!!! DANG! Right now they are sitting in our dog, Tasso's, crate on their way to Western Farm where I will happily sell them.

After a long and hectic week I relaxed in the back yard by letting the chickens out of the pen to run around and munch on the grass. I watched as both #102 AND #103 had their way with the same hen and then Dad/Ivanhoe would join in. It was a too much for me. is the trip downtown!

For some inexplicable reason my pictures aren't posting right now. I will share images when I am able.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 6 - Countdown to Baby Chicks

The last few days have been blessedly uneventful. I was afraid that the rain and subsequent wind would knock our power out, and that, in turn, would knock out the incubator! I was worried I would end up with eggs under my shirt, but thankfully that didn't happen!

This is my first time as a manipulator of life and I keenly feel the responsibility. I check the incubator temperature every few hours and have had to make minute adjustments. The heating apparatus is not terribly sophisticated. The temperature is controlled with the loosening of a wing-nut and the turning of a little non-specific lever. I am SWISS! I want precision! The other funny part of this is that the little thermometer that sits on top of the eggs migrates to the back of the incubator because the eggs are in constant motion via the auto egg turner.

The first time we let a hen sit on eggs and then hatch them, we tried marking them with a pencil X which quickly disappeared because of the constant rotation the mother instinctively performs for even heating. If I didn't have the auto turner, I would be opening it up and hand turning it many times a day. Not good.

One of the banner days in the incubator is Day 7. That is the day that the eggs will be candled to determine if there is growth taking place in the shell. There are all kinds of warnings about washing your hands before handling the eggs, that the simple naturally occurring oils on our fingers can be sucked into the shell and damage the embryo. Farmer Jeff is going to bring some latex gloves home from work so we can do it and not risk damage.

Farmer Jeff, after I carefully explained what I was going to do on day 7, went to the garage, took an empty steel cut oatmeal can, cut out a hole, and then painted it black to match the lamp over which it will sit. This is the ideal set up for candling, which as you can tell by the word, used to be done with candles.

Banner News!
We put bands on the feet of the 3 little chicks we have been tending to for 3 months. We didn't want to let them out before we traveled because we wouldn't be around to watch them and then we hesitated due to the rains. We took advantage of the break in the rain today to band them and integrate them in with the rest of the flock. I felt so bad...the first thing they did was flap their wings. They haven't had enough room to stretch out and do that in the cage I kept them in. Sorry, Girls!
(I just went outside to make sure they all made it back into the coop and ended up having to pick up the darkest one and slip her into her now open old cage with her sisters.)

Tomorrow night, Day 7, candling! We did a little test and both of the Ameraucana eggs we checked are growing! WooHoo!!!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 2 - Countdown to Baby Chicks

Here is a picture of the incubator all loaded up with eggs. There are 30 Ameraucana eggs (I can tell because the eggs are green), 6 Silver Spangled Hamburgs (that I always call Star Spangled) and then 5 assorted "mystery" eggs. I want more Ameraucanas because that is what catches folks eyes when buying eggs. I bought a breeding trio of the Hamburgs because they are on the list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the breed is actually at risk of becoming endangered.

Because I have very active Roosters, if you catch my drift, I am confident the eggs are all fertile. I will "candle" the eggs on day 7 to see if there are little embryos forming. If not, I toss the egg. *At this point I could replace the eggs with another set of eggs, but I don't think I will this time around.

When I awoke this morning the temperature in the incubator was up to 105 degrees, which is 5 degrees too hot. I have played with the little, somewhat inaccurate, temperature gauge to lower it but will need to check again in an hour.

Stay tuned!

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Kids

For someone that doesn't have children, I sure have a lot of kids! We have the 3 indoor cats, the 3 dogs, the 2 outdoor feral cats and the ** number of chickens! (and that number is growing!) The little kids of the household, the 3 chicks that were hatched by a neighbor while we were on vacation, (who then lived in the bathroom, and then the greenhouse) have finally been moved out to the main coop but are protected from the others by being contained in their cage.

It takes at least 1 week of caged/protected introduction before you can let the newcomers out into the general population. Because we are getting ready to leave for 5 days and my mother-in-law is going to be watching the fort, we are going to leave them in a little longer for a total of 9 days. If they are mixed into the flock too early, the bigger girls could cause harm and even kill the newcomers. Yes, pecking order is the rule of the roost!

As you can see, the other members of the flock are quite curious about these newcomers. The newcomers, for the most part, are talking up a storm and are a little nervous. This protected intro will ultimately save their lives.

What are the other kids up to?
Callebaut, our chocolate lab, aka "the Elder Statesman", "Brown", "Grandpa", "Cranky Butt", has received some preferential treatment for the last month. He just turned 10 years old and has been showered with gifts! As you can see above, he takes the original gift, in this case a stuffed faux sheep-skin goose, and transforms it fluff!

In this next photo, you can see he is quite pleased to be on his brand new "big boy" bed...and India is SOL.

On the other hand, Tasso, our Hurricane Katrina survivor, has figured out how to make the best of a situation and instead of sulking over Callebaut's new bed, has found the perfect place! On Mom and Dad's bed right in the middle of the laundry and packing area. Nice!

Parents of human children practice the art of unconditional love and we do the same, as much as is possible when they tear up your favorite robe, pee on your leg (Tasso has issues) or steal your butter. After all, they are just animals!

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Back in Business!

Sometime around the winter holidays we lost or misplaced our camera battery and charger. For a blogger, that makes life a little harder and more challenging. I am happy to run around taking pictures of what is happening today, starting with Farmer Jeff and his seed starts!

He has started 1,000 plants and 25 varieties, or at least that is what it was yesterday! Who knows what he will do in the next few weeks. Well, actually, I KNOW what he is up to. He is building the greenhouse! For those of you that lean more towards the hibernation end of life, I know you feel sorry for me right about now. Yes, if you didn't realize it before, I AM married to a hybrid of the energizer bunny and Tigger.

Farmer Jeff loves to re-use things. In the new lingo, this is called "up-cycling". In the old days this was using your noggin by using stuff you already had! The redwood is from the old fence from behind the restaurant and the windows are from the "buy it here" area of the local dump. Yes, the most feared words to be uttered by Farmer Jeff, "Honey, guess what I bought at the dump today?!!!". He actually started gathering for the greenhouse a couple years ago and that is when he first found the windows. We went back to buy the windows and I was left at the dump as collateral so he could go and get cash 'cause they didn't take checks, but that is another story for another time!

He is really close to being done. He has just attached the first set of roof windows. The next challenge will be installing the sliding glass doors that are going up for the larger part of the roof. He has

engineered this whole thing himself. I don't have a clue how to put it together!

While Farmer Jeff has busied himself with the greenhouse and tomatoes, I have been tending to the baby chicks! They are just so damn cute! I was once told that the word "cute" only applies to things younger than 6 months...and this works! I went to Western Farm Center to buy baby chicks and ended up with 4 four month old Ameraucana pullets (female hens pre-egg laying age) and then 6 day-old chicks. I also picked up 3 black Astrolorp babies (Australian Orpingtons)and we are looking after them while they are away. Take a look at the video I took last night!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What in the world is going on?

Is the world spinning faster, thereby making us feel like we need to get more done? HEAVENS!!!

We HAVE been Whacky busy. Doing what, you may well ask? Well...Here are some updates.
Last Week...

Kitty up a Tree...who is that?
The other morning, when the dogs went out, they got as far as the tree before they started barking. What in the world is going on, I asked Farmer Jeff. He didn't out I went and then looked up. Well, hello Stranger! Who are you and where in the world did you come from? Once we got the dogs into the house we were able to coax the handsome stranger down far enough to read his tag and call his owners. Thank Heavens for that tag!!! We got a call back from the kind and very worried owner. Turns out that it was a brave kitty from across the very treacherous road that runs between our houses. The kids of his house came over and got him. What a lucky kitty! The kitty's name, you are asking? Pancho. Nice to meet you, Pancho. Now be careful!

The Pig Pit
Farmer Jeff is hard at work on his Central Texas-style Pig Pit. is not for raising is for cooking them for dinner. 'Nuf said. We are not vegetarians. We do eat meat and actually prefer our pork over most meats. Sorry, Papa, I will not eat cheese so I can eat my pork!

I love the lines of this structure. It reminds me of an ancient church. I know it is where Farmer Jeff will be spending many a Sunday praying for crispy pig.

The Chickens
The chickens are still enjoying their remodeled house. Here is a picture of Wild Girl, daughter of Elizabeth, a now deceased Ameraucana and sister of Jericho. She is not the size of a full grown Ameraucana and does not lay green eggs. She does have a rather squirrelly personality, hence her name.

The Tea Party
I was able to have a little tea party to celebrate my sobriety "birthday" and my sweet honey gave me the most beautiful floral arrangement from my favorite florist, Dragonfly Farm, here in Healdsburg. I love tea parties. We had kind of a Southern-style tea with Pimento Cheese Sandwiches, Smoked Catfish Pate on Crackers, Cucumber Sandwiches, Hearth-Baked Biscuits with Willowside Meats Ham and a Honey Mustard, then also butter and then housemade Zinfandel Grape Jelly that we make! For dessert I was given a magnificently decadent 4 layer chocolate fudge cake...swoon...Thankfully I had folks with whom I could share it!

The Benefit
Farmer Jeff was asked to be one of two "Master of Ceremonies" (emcee) at a fund raiser in his hometown (kind of) Modesto. It was the first time a fund raiser in that area had a cooking competition, Culinary Clash, as part of the event. Since Farmer Jeff has won two of this kind of contest (Derby Day several years ago and "Steel Chef" last year at the Sonoma Showcase) he was a perfect choice.

We left town a little early so we could hit his favorite hamburger stand, Scenic Drive in, for a "knock out burger". This is what an article in the Modesto Bee had to say about Scenic: Over the years, Scenic Drive-In has become one of the most popular spots for burgers in the area. Next to Scenic Cemetery and west of Coffee Road, the restaurant is known for its signature "Knockout" burger, which includes avocado, bacon, cheese and hot peppers.
I think it also has 2 hamburger patties. Sadly, it is currently closed for repairs.

He called his father in a panic from the parking lot, and we were redirected to "M.O.A.B.", which stands for Meal On A Bun. OH MY GOD...what a meal that was! I also had a chance to see that my honey's love of old farm stuff is really one of his cultural back ground. Here is a picture of both the burger and the walls of the place.

We made it to the event in time, didn't need to eat tums but did have a bubbly drink to counteract the lunch, and were treated to a fun evening! Farmer Jeff was a natural! It was fun to watch. He had a fun reunion with his first "Chef", Stan Dimon, under whom Jeff worked and trained for several years at Mallards. This was the chef that warned Jeff: you will be working weekends, holidays, birthdays and most of the time that your friends will be off having fun. Are you SURE you want to be a chef?
Well, that was well over 20 years ago and here we are!

Bye, Bye A Good Yarn!
After 5 years in business and the formation of many wonderful friendships and knitting projects, my favorite place to hang out (and buy yarn!) has closed. We didn't let the day go unnoticed. We threw a little party for our beloved friend, Laura Vink, and toasted her into retirement! We also had a last run at the yarn. Farmer Jeff has been teasing me that we will be the first in the nation to have a yarn cellar. I assured him that I am an amateur when it comes to collecting soft and pet-able yarn. I have friends that are on husband imposed "yarn diets". You know who I am talking about! Anyway, we will still get together and knit every Saturday morning, but it just won't be the same! Thanks, Laura. You have given us a great gift of friendship! Now come and knit with us!!!

Well...the tea party was Sunday, April 6th. In that week we also did 2 catering jobs and then ended the week on Sunday by planting 192 tomatoes. I am sure glad we both like challenges and like to accomplish things! Next...this week!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Day

Today was just beautiful. Not too hot, not too cold, just right. The dogs were playing outside in this nice weather. Callebaut found a water bottle to chew on and was having fun teasing the other dogs.

I did my normal Tuesday thing, that is, collected eggs for washing, packaging and delivery. Today was a record day for the whole process. Last week we ran out of our recycled/recyclable egg cartons so I couldn't package up all of the eggs. After sending out a call to my egg customers I was able to package up all that the girls could give me. I figured that this week was the most important egg week...and I had best get them out there. This is what 14 dozen eggs looks like.

Last spring Farmer Jeff and I made the decision to add more Ameraucanas to the flock. We love the green eggs they lay. Little did we know that we really ended up with Easter Egger hens until we started getting these delightful little blue eggs!!!

My little hen that I hand feed (scissor beak issue) is an Easter Egger Ameraucana. I have such a soft spot for her. More will be revealed...
Once I had all of the eggs packed, then I had to label and date them, then pack them up for delivery. Oh, and prepare the invoice. I am happy to do all of this in order to share our eggs. You will never get rich selling eggs. If lucky, you will make back your money...maybe...

After I did Egg Duty, I started on laundry. I was lucky to have an assistant. Well, maybe not an assistant, rather a supervisor. She decided that she needed to keep the already warm clothes in the basket. That is in her job description, or so she told me.

Everything before 4 pm was satisfying and made me happy and content. Since then...and I mean for the last 7 hours, I have been working on my laptop, trying to figure out why I could not send my emails. Yawn...Farmer Jeff brought me dinner, which I ate at the computer while "chatting" with 2 different folks. I would guess with names like Namrit and ...that they are in India. I made sure that I didn't use slang and even threw in a few of my "Englishisms"for fun. Both of the techs have been very nice and very thorough, but after 7 plus hours, I am ready for bed!!!

I have faith that this problem will all be worked out. If not...I won't rule out using it as a very expensive frisbee!!! (just kidding but so very tempted!!!)

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Mighty Miz Sarah and the other Bantam Ladies Lay

Our darling Miss Sarah, the Bantam Old English Game Bird (aka tiny hen) and her step-sister, Bully, the Bantam Brahma hen, have started to lay! We are so dazzled and amazed by the size of these eggs! They are about the size of big olives! Not only have they begun to lay, but our other older bantam girls, Wild Girl and Josephine (both had Ameraucana mothers and unknown fathers) are laying again...we are guessing.

Really, with 50 chickens/46 hens, you really have to guess at who is laying what. I mean, you can't exactly see who is laying which particular egg because we aren't out there all day long. Farmer Jeff went out this morning to collect the eggs that have been laid over the last couple of days only to surprise Sarah sitting on a green egg. Now, we know full well that Sarah will NEVER lay a green egg because she just isn't that kind of girl! Whose egg it was, well, now that we have 9 Ameraucanas, we will really never know. We have seen that some of the Ameraucanas are laying very green eggs while some of them are laying eggs with a slightly more blue hue.

We love all of our chickens equally, no matter what color egg they may lay. Thanks, Girls!

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

So Long, Boys!

We finally did it. We finally captured the hens-turned-roosters and took them down to J.P. at Western Farm Center. As you might remember, Farmer Jeff bought me 5 little female Ameraucana chicks for Mother's Day and, lo and behold, 2 of the 5 turned out to be ROOSTERS!!! Not just any roosters, but loud and clumsy-lover roosters!!! These guys were the bad boys of the pen, jumping on, or at least chasing, all of the hens. Poor Jericho and Bruce were out-gunned/out-muscled by these two characters.

I announced to Farmer Jeff, as we were getting ready to go to Western Farm today for feed, that it was time for these guys to go. NOW. Farmer Jeff thought it might be fun to capture THEIR capture on film/photo. You can see that it was not an easy proposition!

The first one, Duke (the-hen-formerly-known-as-Duchess) was easy to get. He was in the coop and I just walked in and grabbed him as he was attempting some sweet talk with one of the girls. He was not a problem. The next one was.

Sophocles (the-hen-formerly-known-as-Sophia) was another story. I strolled up to him in the pen and thought I would just pick him up. NO...not going to happen. I ran around that damn coop, flapping my arms like giant wings, making every attempt to grab him. First I tried cornering him, then I tried...cornering him and then tried...cornering him again, only to have him fly over my head! Farmer Jeff was laughing so hard he could barely take pictures!

I finally corralled him into the coop and was able to grab him by his ankles. At that point, like all bad guys in bad fiction, he went limp, became compliant and stopped struggling. He really didn't have much choice! As you can see, he is a real beauty. I thanked him for being with us, told him he would go to a home where they really wanted him. I hope that is the case. When we got down to Western Farm, we saw many other roosters up for sale. He was the most handsome boy down there, as well as his brother. This breed is just regal. They can't help it.When we got back home, I was able to sweet talk Farmer Jeff into putting up a board over the coop window. It just has a screen and flimsy curtains, which is just not enough protection for our cold nights. Last night it got down to 25 degrees!!! That is DAMN cold for us little hot house flowers in California. Actually, I am the hot-house flower having grown up in San Diego, but I am adjusting to stronger seasons and freezing temperatures. The gray hen is Eleanor Roosevelt and the white one is Martha Washington. They are both Ameraucanas.

I leave you with a picture of Sophocles. Goodbye, fair Prince!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Follow up to the Big Move

Our little girls have made the move from the garage to the big pen with the big kids. I think they are little confused, a little scared and totally in awe. The are talking up a storm to anyone that will listen.

The big girls are checking them out, all the while doing their hunting and pecking thing. Life will settle down for everyone soon. Because the little girls are not so little, we think they might be able to hold their own, therefore will try to let them out sooner than the normal week waiting period.

I'll give you the updates as they occur! In the meantime, we are getting ready for Thanksgiving. That is a whole 'nother blog!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Ready for the Big Move

We have 7 pullets (female chickens that have yet to lay eggs) that we have raised from 3 day old babies and now they are almost big enough to move into the main chicken population. Farmer Jeff has been after me to move them for a while. As the protective Chicken Mama that I am, I have had a time letting them grow up and leave the nest/garage...sigh...

The one above that is peering into the camera lens is the one that I have bonded with. She is a young Buff Orpington Hen. Once she is full grown she should look like this:

Right now all of the little kids are in 2 cages in the garage. We have 6 Ameraucanas and the one Buff Orpington. When I go into the garage twice a day to feed, water and check on the girls, I make a little clicking sound with my mouth. The Buff O always moves right up to the cage and sticks out her neck, just like she does in the picture above! She has really endeared herself to me!

In order to mix in with the other grown-up hens, they have to be at least 8 weeks old and big enough to defend themselves. Pecking order is a reality in the chicken coop and pen. The last 5 chicks we introduced were almost killed by Napoleon's gang. They are mean on his side of the pen. The side with all of the other chickens, the side with the 5 roosters (*%*#(@@#!!!) actually is a bit kinder.

I don't think I have mentioned that of the 3 bantam hens we have, one of them, Lacey, turned out to be ...GRrrrrrrrrrrrrr...another ROOSTER!!! I can't believe our luck!!! I couldn't have picked a cuter chicken to be a rooster. Lacey has now become Eric (a good friend of Farmer Jeff's in high school) but I keep thinking of Erik the Viking movie from Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. *Eric is the black and white one, a Seabright. The one right next to Eric is Sarah, another favorite. She is an "Old English Game Bird".

Tomorrow we will begin the slow introduction of the kids to the other chickens. Don't worry, we will leave them in their safety cages for 7 days or so, or until they are big enough to take care of themselves. I think this is going to need to correspond with the exit of the roosters formerly known as hens, Duke/Duchess and Sophia. I never came up with a good boys name derived from Sophia! These guys have gotten HUGE.

I hope you are getting a good night's sleep, girls. Tomorrow is going to be a big day!

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