Tag 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…

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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.

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!

NABLOPOMO – Charging in for seconds! (and thirds… and fourths)

 A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed…

I don’t know why anyone thinks that calling someone a ‘bird brain’ is an insult. I have a lot of birds around (turkeys, ducks, chickens, and a cute little cockatiel up at the house) and I can tell you they know exactly which end is up.

Hen at Large

The farm birds range from a group of laying hens procured as pullets to fancy light Brahmas I raised here. We have a few spare roosters, a flock of fancy bantams, and some gorgeous Black Orpington hens. Our Muscovy ducks produce some lovely ducklings each year and the Ridley Bronze turkey flock is made up of a mix of those we grow out for holiday table birds and our breeding flock (the Ridley Bronze birds are a Canadian heritage breed that has been teetering on the edge of extinction for a number of years).

Most of the time, the birds do their own thing, roaming around hunting, pecking, posturing, and procreating. They never go far first thing in the morning because that’s when they get their major meal. Then, they scatter, scavenging lost morsels the hogs might have missed, making trouble in the hog water (if they are ducks), and sneaking off to lay eggs if they are chickens.

The turkeys have the worst case of wanderlust of all of them. They make their rounds to various neighbours (thank goodness the neighbours don’t mind too much!) and all over our property, gleefully hopping over fences and leaping from branch to branch in the trees. They know where the best bramble patches are (late, sweet blackberries are a favourite!), the plumpest seed heads on the tall grasses growing along the edges of the fields and ditches by the road, and have memorized every place where I might ever spill a few grains of feed on my rounds.

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed...

The ducks have also figured out what time the sheep get fed…

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The turkeys are totally in synch with the hog feeding schedule.

The ducks are particularly fond of the the manure mountain and pick through the recent deposits in search of red wigglers. The pile is full of worms turning it into rich compost, so the ducks have a field day feasting.

They also do a round of the areas of the vegetable garden I’ve opened up for them – they, along with a few of the chickens, are on weed-pulling and slug-annihilation detail. The ducks are also marvelous for trimming the grass paths between the beds, a task they eagerly look forward to each autumn.

Weed Patrol

No matter how busy they have been or what treats they have managed to find during the day, every free-ranging bird on the place knows when it’s three o’clock: time for seconds (thirds, and fourths)! I will head down the hill to do the afternoon hog feed and be met at the feed room door by a sea of bird beaks and beady eyes.  The turkeys and drakes are the pushiest, literally crashing over the stacks of feed buckets in their haste to beat me to the feed bin when I enter the barn.

Yesterday, a young Tom turkey launched himself into the air at the same moment I opened the lid of the plywood feed bin. A great flailing of gangly turkey wings and legs followed and there was much thrashing and indignant complaining (from both of us!) until I could haul the bird out of the bin and send him on his way.

The birds are such a menace, the only way to get them out from under foot is to throw a bit of feed down outside. As I was doing this today it occurred to me the birds have totally won this round of farmer vs livestock (why would I think otherwise? I’m still way behind in the game of ‘Put the Turkeys To Bed’). They have very efficiently trained me to start the hog and horse feeding rounds in the afternoon by tossing bonus grub to the birds!

Afternoon Tea

Doubt my word about bird intelligence? Watch this Ted talk about crows, the way they have adapted to life with humans, and their cool vending machine… Intelligence of Crows

Sigh. I don’t have a hope if my motley flocks start talking to their wild cousins.

Theme_Large_Nov_2013_0 nablopomo

Day 20 – A Gleaning We Will Go

Apparently, gleaning (being the act of scrounging for leftovers after farmers are done harvesting their fields and orchards) was encouraged way back in the Bible. Back then the beneficiaries were meant to be tragic and unfortunate souls like widows and orphans, but I tell you, this contemporary farmer is very happy the practice has not died out entirely.

Michell’s Farm Market on the Saanich Peninsula – several generations of the family farm the land and run a successful farm market.

I am neither widowed nor an orphan, but I do have a lot of mouths and beaks to feed. As it turns out, the generous Michell clan down the road (of Michell’s Farm Market fame) has a lot of slightly squidgy squash, pumpkin, and gourds left over now that the big Halloween/Thanksgiving festivities are done. Add to that some ever-so-slightly yellowing broccoli and you have a FEAST for hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. 

You can imagine my delight when I had a call asking if I wanted to come pick up some goodies for the critters. Oh, yes please! Thinking there might be a box or two or three I didn’t bother changing back into farm clothes as I was heading into town on another errand right after picking up the veggies. Mistake!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

Of course, it was bucketing down with rain when I started to load and by the time I had transferred the bounty from the bins to my truck, I was soaked.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

I stacked everything in a corner of the hay shelter and have been doling out the treats to everyone ever since. I have to hack open the harder-shelled gourds for the birds (they love the seeds and innards), but the hogs manage to crunch through whatever I toss in their direction.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Thanks, Michell farmers for keeping a glorious tradition alive! And, in case you are wondering what happened to my in-town errands, I was running so late by the time I had loaded and hauled away the booty I didn’t have time to go up to the house to change and had to make an appearance in not one, but two different offices wearing soaking wet, filthy clothes. Ah well, my embarrassment was a small price to pay for the sake of hearing those happy snuffling grunty noises of deeply satisfied hogs.

 

Day 14 – Dawn ’til Dusk – Just Another Day on the Farm

What happens on a sunny morning after a night of rain.

What happens on a sunny morning after a night of rain.

Mid-November around here is generally pretty wet, so what a delight it was yesterday to head out to a dripping landscape being warmed beneath a brilliant winter sun! When I started on the morning rounds the whole world seemed to be either steaming or glistening.

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By the time I was making my way back up the hill when I was done, the special effects show was over.

At dusk I was treated to a show of a different type.

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The rising moon kept getting tangled in the tree branches! It was so bright and clear that the moon shadows were black and distinct, so heavy on the ground I wanted to step over them – an odd effect, though not really photographable…

In between the showy dawn and dusk, it was a pretty typical Wednesday with stops at the feed store, farm stand, and coffee shop. During the afternoon worked on the new book (about different types of housing around the world – another in the Orca Footprints series, co-authored with Dani) and then continued with the job of cleaning out the vegetable beds. Wimpy always materializes when I pick up a trowel and he worked alongside me, snatching up grubs and worms as I made my way along the bed where, earlier in the season, squash had filled one end and a gorgeous yellow/orange/gold calendula party had been going on all summer. The turkeys, chickens, ducks, and hogs eagerly consumed all the weeds and bits of leftover veggie plants Wimpy and I dug up, so the whole process felt extremely satisfying and made a whole lot of creatures (including me) quite happy.

After that, made a delicious tomato vegetable and venison soup. Roasted more beets, parsnips, and carrots for good measure because really, is it possible to eat too many roast veggies? Gobbled that up with hunks of tasty olive bread before heading back out one last time to feed the night hay and check on all the creatures.

Ordinary day. Extraordinary day. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!