Category Archives: Chickens

Midsummer Night Sky

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One of the glorious things about this time of year is how long the days are… By ten pm I am still scurrying around, putting the last of the chickens to bed. One of the worst things about this time of year is that at ten pm, I am still scurrying around putting the last of the chickens to bed…

X is for This Way Up

Piglets are not the only thing that’s been incubating around here. We are also hatching out various types of poultry in a couple of very basic incubators. These do not automatically adjust if temperature or humidity is off a bit, so I check the temperature manually several times a day and adjust as necessary.

x marks the eggs

Ridley Bronze turkey eggs in the incubator.

I also need to adjust the position of the eggs, turning them from one side to the other several times a day. To keep track of which side is up, I mark the eggs with X’s and O’s. Each time I turn the eggs I also record the temperature and note the direction in which I turned them (left or right). Each incubator (one for turkeys, one for chickens) has its own chart.

Every time I open the lid of an incubator, adjust the temperature, turn the eggs, add a bit of water to the tray in the bottom (to raise the humidity) I think about the broody birds who do such a good job of hatching out eggs and give them a silent nod of thanks for helping to reduce my workload just a little (we also let some of the birds sit on their own nests – the ducks and bantam hens make the most amazing mothers).

S is for Spuds (and Shadow)

Shadow Farmer

Shadow Farmer

In the depths of winter when the grass stops growing we stop moving the chicken pen so frequently – there’s not much point. The hens would just decimate whatever area they were parked on. Instead, we add fresh hay and veggies each day along with the hens’ ration of feed and then let them scratch away. They do nibble at the hay, but over time the hay layers build up. The combination of chicken manure and hay creates a lovely environment for worms and other grubs and the hens wind up having quite a good time scratching around hunting for these tasty morsels.

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Now that the spring is here we are moving the pen more often and this has left a trail of patches of heavily mulched/prepped potato beds. We’ve been planting potatoes for the past month or so and will continue to add straw, etc as the plants begin to grow. Next year, we will have the foundation for some nice new beds to which we can add some well-rotted compost and soiled bedding from the hen houses and we can plant some heavy-feeding plants down in the same area.

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The dogs have a whole field to run around in, but without fail, they prefer to frolic right in the new beds, which is why I was seen hiking along the road with a huge roll of portable fencing over my shoulder. This should help keep the dogs off the potatoes!

IMG_9209[1]Many thanks to LS and ME for their help getting this job done.

 

Varieties planted: Sieglinde, banana fingerlings, Russian blue, Russian fingerlings, Warba

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Hens in the snow

Hens in the snow

The chickens are definitely under-impressed with all the snow over the past couple of days. As am I, to be honest. The worst part of this deluge has been the strange nature of the precipitation – a mix of rain, snow, ice pellet, and sleet. It’s just warm enough that there’s a good foot of slush in places and plenty of running (gushing) water everywhere. It’s just cold enough that the snow is sticking and making it horrible to walk/carry hay/function outside.

It is now pouring as I write this… if the temperatures creep up over night, much of this mess will have washed away by morning. If the temperatures go the other way… oh, my – I don’t even want to think about the mess my hill will be by the time morning rounds roll around… Yuck!

Poor M. C. from Germany thought he’d come to Vancouver Island because it’s relatively warm and snow free. Hah!! Instead he wound up having to build bridges out of logs and pallets so we could safely navigate the deep mud slushy in the hog pen. So much for my ‘start seeds’ and ‘prepare garden beds’ plan…

Large Black Hogs in the Snow

Inside their hog hut, Pearl and Olivia build fluffy nests out of hay and then burrow in and snuggle up together. They seem to be dealing with the nasty weather remarkably well, all things considered.

Photo Friday -2

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Garden Nemesis: The Evil Himalayan Blackberry!

I’d sure like to have a word with the chumps who carefully packed seeds or canes or whatever they brought with them from the Old Country and then carefully cultivated new Himalayan Blackberry patches in land formerly unplagued by these monstrous beasts. Apparently, (at least according to the Royal BC Museum website) the fool who muled them here in 1885 was an American botanist! Surely a botanist should have known better?????

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while...

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while…

Yes, the berries are sweet and delicious and wonderful for making jam and pie (I believe that was the original motivation for import), but are they worth the havoc the dense thickets are wreaking on our native species? The stands of lacerating canes are so dense and vigorous it doesn’t take long to choke and/or shade out whatever might otherwise be growing (Garry Oak groves, for example).

Fighting the prickly canes is a miserable task. Anyone who believes plants can’t think (plot/scheme/have it in for us) hasn’t fought with barbed tendrils that wrap around you, entwining your entire body in search of exposed skin or, even better, loose hair, or even better than that, a key artery.

Blackberries be gone!

Is there anyone who is happy about this abundance of invaders? Indeed, yes – the goats! Unfortunately, the area we are clearing at the moment isn’t one that I can easily fence or we’d just let the goats come in and strip the canes. They happily wade right into the nastiest of thickets, noshing all the way and will eat all but the oldest, toughest stalks when given half a chance. After they are done, the hogs are great at using their powerful snouts to dig out the roots, which they eat with gusto. Such a shame this isn’t really a livestock-friendly area. Not wanting the creatures to be left out of all the fun, I hauled several wheelbarrows full down to the goat pen and they were happy to help us out with a bit of pre-compost processing.

Alas, it’s up to us humans to first hack the beasts off at the knees and then get in there and dig out as much of the roots as we can.

Chickens at WorkThe red layers love helping whenever we are out in the garden. They race over and see what we might have dug up. They are very good at taking care of slugs and bugs and also turning over the top layer of soil while fertilizing and are great to run through garden areas at this time of year when the annuals are done and there isn’t much they can damage.

Soon, though, when we re-seed the lawn and put in our new rockery they will have to move down to the poultry field with their fancy rolling house and take their place with the other birds. I’ll miss not having them so close to the house, though it will be great not tripping over six or seven at a time as they vie for the opportunity to untie my shoelaces and peck at my calves every time I go outside!

If Only Fritzy Could Talk!

IMG_7991[1]Yesterday, after the eagle incident, I was a bit leery about leaving everyone unattended for fear the mighty hunter would return… Turns out, my instincts were right. I’m not exactly sure what happened at dusk, but here’s my best attempt at piecing together the crime based on the slim evidence I have available…

In the photo above (I was trying to sneak close enough to photograph the dogs making friends with the piglet… ) the dogs on the left are dying to play with the piglet, the piglet has discovered a spot where she can squeeze under the electric fence and has decided to help herself to a bit of mash I’ve put on the ground for the ducks to distract them while I prepare the hog meals. The duck is first on the scene for snacks and over there on the right is Fritz Frizzle. I have no idea where he is heading but he didn’t even slow down at the snack bar.

Several more photos in the series show him moseying on down the hill and disappearing somewhere down near the manure pile. Of course, I was paying no attention to where Fritzy was going because I was busy feeding everyone else and trying to get a good shot of the dog-swine conversation and it was only later that I studied the photos to see if I could spot him anywhere and thereby figure out when he was last known to be in one piece.

There are a whole slew of things that get done between the afternoon feed and the dusk bird round-up during which I mosey up and down the hill a few times myself, tucking various flocks into various secure houses so nobody gets eaten by owls or raccoons overnight. Usually, Fritzy hops up on the fence beside the gate and waits for me to pick him up and carry him into his secure pen. His girlfriend, Lucy, has a private dog-kennel apartment in the hay shed (how she wound up there is described in this post).

Usually, Fritzy is in position by the time I’m heading for the upper duck pen and I scoop him up on my way and herd any straggler ducks into bed with Fritzy tucked under my arm. Yesterday, he wasn’t in his usual spot. Nor was he in his second favourite spot, inside the tomato hoop house. I checked the hay shed in case he was mooning around trying to get Lucy’s attention. Searched high and low and could find him nowhere. I had the awful feeling that the eagle had returned and made off with my lovely little Fritzy…

I tried to console myself that the eagle was obviously hungry to be so brazen to snatch Fritzy and make off with him while I was around, but having witnessed the drake hunt I couldn’t rule out that possibility. Still needing to sprint up the road to close up the chicken pen in the leased field, I left his pen door open and tried not to feel too miserable.

I checked around again when I was feeding night hay, shining my flashlight under the bushes where he and Lucy had been during the eagle attack, thinking he might have hidden there, hoping I wouldn’t find a pile of feathers. Nothing.

This morning I did all the rounds, keeping an eye out for Fritz, just in case, though I had resigned myself to his sad demise. My breath caught at some point when I spotted a reddish brown pile of what I thought was feathers and turned out to be ancient maple leaves in the hog pen. I kept trying to shut off the endless loop of ‘Why him? Why one of my favourites? I should have let the eagle eat the drake – I have too many drakes and after a meal like that the eagle wouldn’t have needed to eat again for days…’

At the very end of the morning rounds I was kneeling down in the goat pen talking to King (one of the kashmir goats) when I heard a distinctive cough behind me. I turned around and there he was! Fritz Frizzle had returned! He looked terrible, like a middle aged man with a bad hairpiece who had been out on a wild bender. One eye was weepy and more closed than open and, strangest of all, his comb was missing! All that’s left is a fleshy stump!

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I can only imagine what happened… did the eagle think that all those wild and crazy feathers actually indicate the size of the bird? Maybe he had hold of feathers in one talon and poor Fritzy’s comb in the other? How far had they got before the eagle dropped my poor little rooster? Fritzy never hangs out in the goat pen – he was approaching from completely the wrong direction – coming downhill from the opposite end of the property from where he usually hangs out… Had he holed up under somebody’s car or deck or a handy log overnight and then started walking at dawn? Had it taken him five hours to get back home again?

Despite his nocturnal misadventures, he was not impressed when I scooped him up and put him into his pen with food and water. He perked up a bit when I delivered Lucy to him and by the end of the day, despite his rather oddly shaped head, he appeared to be completely fine. His eye was open and clear and he was sitting beside Lucy, chatting in that funny little voice of his.

What wouldn’t I give to know what on earth happened to Fritz Frizzle… Very, very glad he is back at home and safe and sound. I’ll keep him in for a couple of days to make sure he really, truly is ok and then… yeah. I’ll have to decide whether or not to let the two love birds back out again.

Meanwhile, WHEW!