October 31, 2015

Tiller chickens

I ordered some rye seed to plant as a cover crop in my garden this fall, but I wanted to let the chickens work at the soil some before I planted it. All that's left now out there is kale and chard. Today I fenced in the kale that I wanted to keep for our consumption. 

Then I let the girls in.

They went right to work pecking at the plants and turning the soil looking for bugs. 

They've been out there for an hour or so and the ground is starting to look fresh and ready for some seed. I think I will give them a few days to work at it then plant my rye. It is supposed to put good nutrients back into the soil and be a delicious feed for animals. So once it's up and strong, I can let the girls back in there again and they can have a delicious meal, till the rye under, and get me ready for next year's veggies. It's a win-win!

October 30, 2015

Another woodland nest

Our ducks seem really determined to make a nest and hide their eggs. After our catastrophe with losing 14 eggs to a raccoon we had been going on a daily Easter egg hunt around the property to find and collect the duck egg. Every day bossy pants would find a new place to lay it, though, trying to psyche us out. Yesterday morning I saw her up in the woods so I went to go have a look...

There, almost under a natural teepee, I saw that she had made another nest out of leaves, just like the first one she made this summer. 

Yesterday I left the egg there and today she laid another one in the nest. It is hard to see but there is a second one peaking out from under a leaf.  

We may try taking every third egg or so but letting her keep some a see what happens.  I'm not sure yet.  She seems so determined to make a nest and try to hatch some babies but we don't want to put her at risk by leaving them in the woods. It's hard being a duck parent and trying to figure out what's the best course of action!

October 25, 2015

An autumn rainbow

Walking around today I really appreciated the colors of fall. Though a lot of things have browned and withered with the first hard frost last week, there are still a lot colors around. Here's my rainbow...


Honeysuckle berries
Though I am generally not a fan of honeysuckle, as an invasive plant that takes over so nothing else can grow, there is no denying its richly red berries are pretty.  And the birds enjoy eating them.

Smooth Sumac leaves
We have a whole grove of Sumac trees that came up this year along the road.  My neighbor explained that they are not the poisonous variety but rather, something called Smooth Sumac.  You can harvest their cones and make Sumac "lemonade" from them.

I planted these coneflowers by the pool last year and they came back with abandon this year.  The plants have a wide variety of colors in their flowers: reds, oranges, yellows, purples...and they have bloomed all summer and now into fall.

Maple leaves
This maple tree is in our front yard, near the driveway.  We may try to tap it for sap this spring.


Another lovely shade of coneflower.


Last year, one day I left work and found the maintenance man from the church next to my school throwing a bunch of plants into the dumpster.  I asked if they were live plants and he explained that they are given flowers for special occasions then when they wilt they are disposed of, even if they are live plants.  So I told him - any time you have live plants, please leave them by my car.  I will take them home and plant them.  That day I got four mums and six huge lilies.  A year later, the mums are absolutely enormous and blooming again.  They are rewarding me for saving them from the dumpster!  

Black-Eyed Susan
The Black-Eyed Susans are just about done for the year but still have a few happy blooms holding on. 


Curly Leaf Kale
This is the time when kale really blossoms - nice cool nights and lots of sunshine during the day.  The only things I have left in my garden are kale and chard.

Pine needles
Huge pine trees stand watch over our yard in the front and back yards.  They are dropping piles of needles underneath but still somehow manage to look full and healthy throughout.

Hydrangea leaves
My hydrangeas are done blooming but the foliage is turning shades of purple and red now.


Morning Glory
Morning glories popped up all over the yard this year.  This particularly vibrant one is at the edge of the woods, growing in amongst dry leaves.


My lavendar plants are really happy in the front bed and have grown a lot since I planted them early this summer.  They provide such a lovely scent as you walk up to the house and I love to use the flowers in herbal waters or to accentuate a preserve.

October 23, 2015

I'm going to need a bigger egg basket

I was at work today and my husband was gone so I asked my lovely neighbor to ride his tractor across the road and let the girls out. He kindly obliged so that when I got home I was greeted by a yard full of happy chickens. I went across to thank Frank for releasing the birds and he said how fun it is to watch them when you open the door. It's like their first taste of freedom every time they get out: they come joyfully bounding out the door, making lots of noise and flapping their wings. You can't help but smile. 

I went out to gather the eggs after tending to the dogs. I opened the first side of nesting boxes and I thought to myself - I'm going to need a bigger basket!  I went to the lean-to and got my garden harvesting basket, which is much bigger.  I began picking up the eggs and counting...1, 2, 3, 4...10...15...19!  There were so many!  

Then I went to the other side to check those nests. For some reason the girls don't use those very much. They all seem to prefer the ones on the side by the workshop. But here I found more eggs still!  1, 2, and 3!  They looked so pretty in the basket together, all those shades of green and brown. 

Twenty-two eggs in total means all but one of the adult chickens laid an egg today.  

I rinsed them off and laid them on the counter to dry.  This pair stood out to me in the array: big and little, a lovely couple!

October 18, 2015

A great day for a teepee

What a beautiful fall day!  Cool, crisp air called us outdoors this afternoon. My husband had taken the younger two boys to football, leaving me and the oldest at home.  I suggested we make a teepee as we had done a few years before at our cabin in Michigan. He got his four wheeler and we started around the edges of the yard.  I pulled out sticks that had been trimmed and thrown into the trees. He hauled them up to the middle of the yard. When we had a huge pile we started our construction. It took a couple hours but we built a fairly stable structure (with the help of a little rope and some zip ties). I found some drop clothes in the garage that we used to cover it, and we finished just as my husband pulled in with the little guys. Baxter, the youngest, came running out yelling, "oooohhhh!  I like it!"  He went right inside with his Legos and sat down. It's days like this that make a childhood memorable. 

October 11, 2015

Oysters & sunshine on the menu

As I posted recently, we started to have issues with what we called balloon eggs: eggs with no shell, just a membrane. 

Initially it was just one egg but then we started to get more, sometimes even several/day. So we began to research what could be causing this. 

What we saw as the most common culprit was not enough calcium in the birds' diet. We do feed our girls a premium layer feed, which says it shouldn't require any supplemental cadmium. However, this obviously isn't cutting it. I went to our local feed store and found a 50-lb bag of ground up oyster shells.  We gave them a quantity of this stuff and they immediately started to to pick at it. The pieces seem big but I guess the idea is that they eat it and it sits in their guts for a while, releasing calcium. 

We also read that vitamin d is important for helping them absorb the calcium, just like it is for us. Since our run is covered, it's important that the girls get out into the yard to get some good ol' fashioned vitamin d (sunshine). We had been letting them out in spurts but decided to get more regular with our free ranging schedule. So now we release them for chicken happy hour in the yard after they are finished with most of their egg laying in the morning and they stay out until they come in to roost in the evening. This gives them hours of sunshine and foraging time but ensures that almost all the eggs are laid in the nesting boxes. 

So these two things combined seem to be helping with the eggs. We haven't gotten anymore balloon eggs in the last few days.  The Rhode Island reds are really out performing the ameraucanas. Here you can see all the eggs in my basket were brown. 

Update on the ducks

I was looking back through my posts and realized that I never told you what happened with the duck eggs. I wrote that we were having issues with some of the eggs getting squished/eaten, but just a few at a time. We were in a tricky spot because the ducks started to sleep out on the pond. With no way to get them in for the night and bossy pants laying her eggs very early in the morning, we didn't see any other option but to just leave the duck run open. This, of course, left the eggs vulnerable and eventually the dreaded raccoons came one night and ate all 14 eggs.  None of the ducks ever sat on the nest. We did catch two raccoons in subsequent days but after that the ducks seemed to be spooked from using their house at all.

Now they have claimed a new spot on the other side of the pond. They spend most of their days either lounging along the edge in the grass 

or floating about in the pond. 

They are definitely getting more confident in the water and love to dive under to eat. You often see their little butts up in the air. 

Bossy pants has also started to lay eggs on this side of the pond. Initially she just laid randomly in the grass beside the pond. Then she started to try to hide he eggs a little in the tall grasses near there. 

We decided to start collecting the eggs again since it will be cold soon and she wouldn't have time to build a nest of eggs, incubate and hatch them before it gets frigid. Maybe we will let her try again next spring but for now, we've been taking the eggs. It's a bit of a hunt in the morning to find them though. This morning she had pushed over a bunch of the tall grass and laid her egg underneath. 

It was like finding a hidden treasure when I finally saw it!

I made a video of feeding the ducks in the morning. Even though they hang out on the other side of the pond, when they hear me fill their dish they come swimming across the water. You can watch the video on YouTube

October 7, 2015

A monster of an egg

Yesterday I went out to collect eggs and found the biggest egg I have ever seen in one of the nesting boxes.  Here is a picture for comparison:

The egg on the far right is a normal
Ameraucana egg. The one in the middle is a duck egg. The one on the left is the huge egg. It was nearly the size of my palm!  Poor girl who laid that thing!

I cracked it for lunch today, wondering if it would be another triple yolk. It was just a double but they were very large yolks. 

I made an egg sandwich on a bagel with a slice of havarti cheese. It was delightful!

October 3, 2015

A Cake For Mom

Many of you who know me personally are aware that my mom passed away last fall after battling breast cancer for a number of years.  Today is one year exactly that she's been gone.  My husband asked me: What should we do to mark the day?  The first thing that came to me was to do something she enjoyed or to eat something she liked.  Isn't it funny how we associate certain foods with certain people or times in our lives?  

My mom was famous for her carrot cake.  She made it for almost every birthday in our family - four times a year at least, for almost 30 years.  

Here's from the Summer of '85 - my first carrot cake and my brother's third:

It was a recipe that she had cut out of the newspaper long ago and passed on to each of us in the family at different stages, as we moved off on our own, so that we could continue the tradition of this beloved cake.  

So, this morning I got out mom's old faithful Cuisinart to chop carrots and nuts.  I mixed the rest of the ingredients and poured them into mom's cake pans.  I keep a picture of her on my window ledge in the kitchen, enjoying a homemade waffle cone in Copenhagen on one of our many trips.  I glanced up at her as I worked, remembering all the times we made this cake together.      

As the cakes baked, they filled the house with the most wonderful aroma.  Oh, that smell!  It is amazing how much scents are tied to memory.  

After they came out and cooled, I whipped my frosting and decorated the cake.  A simple message filled the middle: Mutti, our name for mom, a remnant of her German heritage.  

Tonight we will eat this lovely cake together and remember a life filled with love.  What better way to honor the memory of someone who brought such sweetness to our lives?  

Here's my copy of the recipe, copied down from the old newspaper column mom had in her cookbook.  I swapped applesauce for oil, one-for-one.

October 2, 2015

A day of unusual eggs

The first unusual egg of the day came this morning. It was so tiny!  If I didn't know where it came from, I would have guessed it was a quail egg.  I'm thinking it was one of the Rhode Island Reds first attempt at an egg.  It was teeny even for a pullet egg though. I took some pictures of it with other eggs so you can see the relative size. 

The next unusual egg was discovered this evening by my husband. It looks like an egg balloon.  There isn't really a shell around it, more like a membrane. When you pick it up it is squishy.  It's really yellow like the whole thing is yolk. I think this can be a sign that your birds need more calcium but I'm not going to worry unless we get more eggs like this because it could just be a fluke. Usually the egg shells are really solid.