September 29, 2011

The second clutch of guineas has hatched! There were initially eight, but that number dropped to six within the first week. It would be even lower if it weren't for Lisa and me. Just a day or two after the hatch, Lisa found a lone baby frantically wandering her yard and peeping its lungs out trying to call for mom. Lisa scooped it up and came to find the rest of the flock, all of whom were down at our place around the chicken pen! While I was out on the porch the other day, I heard some incessant peeping coming from the pasture between our place and Lisa's. Once again, all of the guineas were over at the chicken pen. I had no idea how I'd ever find a baby guinea the size of a golf ball amongst several acres of waist high grass, but I followed my ears and sure enough, I found a lone little peeper and carried him back to his mom and siblings. It seems the adult guineas are losing their enthusiasm for parenting!

The first batch of guineas is almost a month old now, and they're looking and acting more and more like little adults. They are fully feathered and often test their wings on short flights. Their mom, Silver, has decided it's time for her to return to the trees for roosting at night. I'm not sure how or where the little guys spend their nights all alone. We're down to seven from an initial twelve, but I'm feeling pretty hopeful about at least one or two of this batch making it to adulthood.

The family that primps together, stays together

Big babies, little babies!

September 27, 2011

All summer long it seemed like we were living in a desert. Now that it is fall, the weather conditions more closely resemble that of a rainforest. Whereas I've never been to a rainforest myself, I imagine them to be filled with beautiful parrots and funny monkeys. Our newly emerging rainforest, however, has neither parrots nor monkeys, but it is hosting a plague of slugs! More specifically, my garden bed of fall greens is hosting a plague of slugs. Yesterday morning, still in my pajamas, I handpicked at least a hundred slugs off of the broccoli, kale and cabbage plants, and I was just barely scratching the surface. I found another 30 or so drowned in the beer traps I set out the night before. The whole endeavor almost killed my appetite for breakfast.

All of the gray rainy weather has limited my outdoor activities, so I've finally gotten around to an indoor project that I've had in mind for a long time. For about a year, I've been saving my empty poly-weave chicken feed bags and have now begun the process of "up-cycling" them into tote bags!

My sewing machine handled the job like a champ, and I am quite pleased with the results. My chickens only go through about one bag a month, or less in good foraging season, so I will run out of raw materials shortly. Joe's uncle has about 50 chickens, so I'm hoping he'll save his feed bags for me. I've had several people encourage me to try selling them at the farmer's market. Who knows….

Chickens in a haybale bed

Louise is still slightly bedraggled but is doing great. You can see her wing feather are even starting to grow back.

September 15, 2011

Over a week after her near death experience, Louise seems to be doing fine. (Before this incident, I couldn't tell Thelma and Louise apart, but I've now decided that this must be Louise, as that sounds the most like Lazarus.) I was home all day on Monday and decided to use that occasion to supervise her first day back out with the rest of the flock. It took her over an hour after I opened the coop door to decide she was ready to come out. When she finally did leave the coop, she seemed very cautious and spent most of the morning hanging out in the edge of the woods by herself. The rest of the birds completely ignored her as they went about their important chicken business.

Late morning, I was working on a project over at the outdoor kitchen, and all of the birds were hanging around to see if there would be anything interesting in it for them. Louise timidly came over to see what was going on. Most of the birds continued to ignore her, but Chickadena went running over to her. My worries that I would have to protect her from bullying were completely unfounded. Chickadena spent the next hour or so just standing beside Louise, moving only when she moved. The rest of the day I rarely saw Louise without Chickadena right by her side. Maybe I am just a complete sap, but it totally warmed my cockles. Chickadena continues to amaze me with how he defies all chicken stereotypes, male or female.

I was delighted when Louise chose to roost by herself in the little coop Monday night because I was able to effortlessly close her up in solitary again. I had to work Tuesday and Wednesday and I was worried about how she'd fare cooped up with the rest of the flock with no one around to keep the peace. I let everyone out again today, Thursday, and the positive trend seems to be continuing. Louise is more active in chicken like behaviors, although she still keeps to herself with only Chickadena for company. The other old hens are not seeking her out to bully her but they are getting very territorial and treating her like a newcomer when it comes to food supplies. Louise is not taking it laying down though. I've had to step in and break up several overly intense staring matches. I spent a couple of hours today digging potatoes and I seemed to be harvesting three to four times as many giant, juicy grubs as I was potatoes. They were everywhere in the soil! I think they are Japanese beetle grubs?? Anyway, I did my best to make sure I got every last one I could find and then treated the chickens to a disgusting, squirming feast. It definitely set off a feeding frenzy. Louise was eager to partake as well, and I was glad to see that her appetite has returned.

It has been a deliciously cool, gray, fall-like day. I'm seeing the first maples starting to turn. Makes me want some hot tea and warm apple pie. Mmmmmm...

September 12, 2011

I've always worried what would happen if our neighbor's dog, Hank, came back to visit while we weren't home to intervene or entertain. Sadly, we got the answer to our question last Tuesday. Lisa, Joe, Wilson and I came home from a long, rainy day of work/school to find a yard full of feathers and one of our Buff Orpington hens (Thelma or Louise) lying in the mud in the driveway. I was actually horrified to find that the hen was still alive. Joe wrapped her in a towel and put her in the dog crate to live out what we assumed would be her last few minutes. I did a head count of the other chickens and found that one of our young Barred Rock hens was missing. It could have been two separate unrelated instances, but it is awful coincidental. There were large dog prints in the mud of our driveway, and Hank did not have an alibi for at least one hour of the day, so I felt pretty confident assigning him the blame. I kick myself for not going out in the rain the night before to close the pen, and the chickens beat me out of bed in the morning, otherwise they'd have been safe(r) and sound(er) in their pen while we were gone. Joe, Lisa and I debated whether or not to help hasten the end of the injured hen. I had not seen the wounds myself, but Joe described them as "bad, really bad". The hen seemed pretty calm and I did not want our fumbling attempts at euthanasia to make her final moments worse than they would be otherwise. No sooner had we decided to leave it alone and let nature run its course when the hen was up on her feet, clucking and looking for a way out of her prison. We transferred her from the dog crate to the vacant goat house chicken coop with some food and water. Time would tell if she was going to continue to mend or take a turn for the worse again. During the transfer, I did catch sight of her wounds. Not to gross anyone out, but in addition to having lost much of her feathers she had a hole in her neck the size of a quarter and the skin on her back between her wings was peeled back to bare muscle (at least this is the best I could tell from the glimpse I got). I really did not see how she would survive. That was a full five days ago. After she dried off, her remaining feathers fluffed back out and make her look just slightly bedraggled rather than half naked. Her neck feathers now cover the wounded areas of her back and neck, so I don't really know what's going on with them. All I know is she is still alive, and seems to be doing fine. Mostly she seems bored by her confinement. Now I am facing another tough decision of when to let her rejoin the flock. Although I've been amazed at her seeming recovery and happy to have her alive, I'm still cautious as I know that we are not out of the woods yet. When an animal has a will to live, though, they often seem to defy all odds. She definitely seems to have that will. Whereas I'm nervous about letting her rejoin the flock so soon, I worry that keeping her isolated too long may drain some of that will to live. I've been going to check on her several times a day since the incident, and she seems to enjoy the company. She especially likes being sung to, she cocks her head and mumbles (what exactly do you call that purring thing chickens do?). My favorite song for these situations is one I learned from the movie "Babe" where the farmer sings to Babe when he is sick, and of course Babe gets better!
"If I had words to make a day for you,
I'd sing you a morning golden and new.
I would make this day last for all time,
then fill your nights deep in moonshine."
I'm going to be home all day tomorrow, so I'm thinking I'll take that opportunity to supervise her reassimilation into the flock. Wish us luck!

September 06, 2011

Links to the Past

I had a surreal experience the other day. You may recall my posts from earlier this year (see archived posts from April 2011 if curious) when Joe and I had done some local cross country adventuring while investigating routes to visit our friends at the Light Morning Community on foot. I posted quite a few photos of an old homestead we passed through, tucked away in a little hollow far from any road. Here's a couple of those photos to jog your memory.
I've always loved exploring old homesites and abandoned houses. I find it fascinating to imagine who might have lived there and what their lives were like. This homestead in particular seemed quite elaborate with many little outbuildings scattered all over the hillside. Fast forward almost five months and I am reading through a National Geographic Park Profiles book entitled "Blue Ridge Range: The Gentle Mountains", by Ron Fisher. The book is loaded with beautiful pictures, and one of them was of the very same homestead I've just mentioned. There was no mistaking it. Plus, they had the names and photos of the inhabitants - Lonnie and Nettie Graham, brother and sister. According to the photo caption they "lived off their land for more than 76 years without electricity or running water."
The book was published in 1992, and based on their apparent ages in these photographs, they're certainly not still around almost 20 years later. Oh, how I would love to have met them! Actually, I do kinda feel like I've met them. I've peered into the windows of their old home, nosed around in their outbuildings. I now know that it was probably Lonnie and Nettie that gathered, split and stacked all of the stovewood piled in the shed. It really makes me want to revisit this spot, now that I have names and faces to put into my imagined world. Unfortunately, it was on the neighboring property that Joe was escorted off while hiking to Light Morning, and the man who did the escorting warned that his neighbor, aka Boundary Bob, was even more adamant about not allowing strangers on his land. I've been lucky enough to know some similar people in my life. Our neighbors Hattie and Libby, two elderly sisters who did eventually get electricity and had one lightbulb in the living room of their 3 (or was it 2) room house. Due to their lack of teeth, I never understood a word they said when I'd encounter them out for a walk, but they were always smiling, so I would just smile and nod, hoping that was the appropriate response. Another neighbor, Raymond Pruitt, who lived by himself until his death sometime in his 90's. When we first met him, he promised us a cabbage if we could guess his age. Even my own beautiful great grandparents, who had all the modern conveniences, but lived with a grace and simplicity rarely seen today. I feel blessed to have known these and other people like them, but now that I'm old enough to truly appreciate their value, are there any Lonnies and Netties left?

September 05, 2011

Rainy days and Mondays...Yay!!

It's a rainy day!! An honest to goodness rainy day! Because of this rain, and several recent thunderstorms, our rain barrels are all full again, and I'm taking a nice break from the work and worry of garden watering. The broccoli, kale and cabbage I put in the ground last week is looking great. We've already harvested a mess of kale. In fact, here's a photo of that delightful meal. Except for a few seasonings and some olive oil, everything on this plate came from right here. Lately, at least one meal a day is like this, requiring only a trip to the garden to stock up on ingredients. So why, then, isn't our grocery bill reflecting these benefits?

Silver's nest-sitting was a success, and we've had a dozen baby guineas running around for about a week now. The other female is following suit and sitting on a nest of her own. Meanwhile, her mate has decided to share fathering duties for the current brood with Ranger. They're quite the modern family. So far, Silver has been a relatively calm mother, quite at ease with me being around her brood as long as I don't make sudden moves. There was one morning, however, when she took a cheap shot at me when I was going to let the chickens out, still in my pajamas and bleary eyed from sleep.

The young chickens have not been as lucky where her good graces are concerned. I can't imagine what threat she thinks they pose, but for some reason she ruthlessly attacks them! I had to step in yesterday to save two of the teenagers because Silver and her two baby daddies had them cornered in the pen and were vigorously plucking feathers out of them while they screamed and attempted to squeeze themselves through the tiny gaps in the chicken wire. Of course, even after I'd gotten the three guineas blocked off in one corner of the pen, it took almost five minutes for the two traumatized chickens to figure out they could now exit the pen in safety, bless their little pea-brained hearts.