February 28, 2016

Coop construction update

The lean-to construction is moving along, despite difficulties with the strange weather.  It's hot; it's cold.  It's sunny; it's rainy; it's snowing.  What a strange winter this has been!  

I already posted pictures of the start of construction, but in case you missed them...

It all began with a series of holes.  Josh rented an auger and dug eight big holes to set the posts in - four on each side.  


Then our local inspector checked things out :)


Next we had to move the small coop out of the way.  This entailed un-bolting it, cutting it free from the hardware cloth on the run, and physically pushing it onto a trailer so that we could haul it away.  Man, that coop is heavy!  Combine that with wet, slippery mud and it could be a comedy act.  Josh and I reflected on how many times we have moved that coop together - too many - and how we work so well as a team.  Nothing like moving heavy buildings in the mud to solidify a marriage!


Once the baby coop was out of the way, we could set the posts.  This was another good team project because it required quite a bit of measuring, leveling, plumbing, and adjusting before we filled the holes with gravel.

It took us two days, but we got all eight posts in, level and plumb (for those novices like me - this means straight up-and-down; I kept saying the post was straight and Josh kept correcting me that it was plumb).  Next thing we needed to do was haul the headers up into place.  These are the long, heavy boards that connect the posts along one side.  
 

We lifted and nailed them.  Later, Josh came through with his drill and put lag bolts in to secure them.


Don't I have a handsome handyman?


Meanwhile, the chickens milled about and continued as if not much was going on...


Next is removing the gutters and beginning to put up the rafters.  Soon we will have a roof!


February 27, 2016

Happy news for our two remaining ducks

I'm sure many of you read the terrible story this week about losing one of our male ducks.  It was so very sad, and I was really anxious about how we were going to keep the two that were left safe if we couldn't get them to go into their duck house.  Well, good news!  

Knock on wood... they seem to have gotten the idea that they have to be locked up at night.  Every evening since the fateful night, I've gone out to put the ducks away and they have strolled right into their house.  One night they were out on the pond, but I threw a stick out into the water and they swam over to the edge, came out and went into their house.  Tonight they were on the other side of the yard, but when they saw me approaching, they strolled across the grass, crossed the little waterway that comes down the hill, and walked into the duck house.  Oh happy day!  It makes me happy beyond words knowing they are safe out there.  

Today was such a lovely day: sun shining, gentle breeze, and slightly warmer temperatures.  The two ducks spent the afternoon laying in the sun and doing synchronized swimming in the pond.  



We also noticed that they were doing their little mating dances again, where they approach each other, bob their heads up and down repeatedly, and make a lot of noise.  Bossy pants sounds like she is yelling at her guy.  My husband would say - typical woman.  Today I saw them mating out on the water for the first time since the fall.  It looks like the male is trying to drown the female then when it's over, they both swim a victory lap around the pond.  

Since we have seen them mating again, we started looking for eggs as well.  Today I peaked into the back of the duck house and saw...


Well, actually I saw...


But two of those eggs were chicken eggs.  :)

Since we have been working on chicken coop expansion, we detached the baby coop from the run, eliminating four nesting boxes.  


Eventually we are going to add more to the main henhouse, but in the meantime, it's a little tight when everyone is looking to lay an egg in the morning.  I wasn't surprised that a couple chickens added to the duck nest.  I have to remember to check there now to make sure we get all the chicken eggs.

So anyway, things are looking up for the ducks.  They are getting into a good routine with being locked up safely at dusk and they are mating and collecting eggs again.   

February 25, 2016

Babies' first salad

The little ones made it through their first night in the brooder and were up and chirping when I went out to the workshop this morning.

video


They were pushing and shoving to get in to the feeders so I brought them out something new to try: their first taste from the kitchen.  I chopped up a bowl of baby kale into little tiny pieces.


When I put a pile of the kale down in the brooder the chick did what chickens do: starred at it for a while, curious but cautious. 


Eventually someone tried it then they all jumped in and there were little pieces of kale flying all around!

Seems like they enjoyed their first salad. 

February 24, 2016

The babies are here! The babies are here!

Josh went to Mt Healthy Hatchery this morning and came home with a box screaming: chirp! chirp! chirp! 

He got them home and quickly put them in the brooder. 


It's still pretty cold outside and, though the workshop is insulated, it's not heated. So he covered part of the top of the brooder with foam to keep their heat and the heat lamp heat inside. 

I was so anxious for work to be over so I could get home and see them!







Josh came home with the boys and they too rushed out to see the little ladies. It was a chick love fest!



Baxter kept picking up two chicks and making them kiss each other.


McGregor figured out how to get them to walk up onto his hand. 



Oliver tried to get them to stand on his finger and eat out of his hand. 

Such excitement!


February 22, 2016

…and then there were two

It was a sad morning at the farm when I went out to feed everyone and found only two ducks.



If you’ve been following our adventures in raising ducks for long, you know that we have really struggled with how to keep them safe.  We made them a duck house and a secure pen to sleep in, but for the longest time they wouldn’t go in it.  When it got dark they would go out into the middle of the pond and swim around out of reach.  Then the pond froze solid for a few weeks, and finally we were able to get them in the pen. 



We got into a routine.  At dusk they would lay in the grass by their house.  We would come down and walk slowly behind them, corralling them into their pen.  It got to the point where sometimes we’d go out in the evening and they would already be in their house, snuggled up in the straw.  It seemed like we had finally gotten the ducks situated in a home. 

video


But then the pond melted.

For a day or two they still went into their home when it got dark, but that soon changed and they were back to their moonlit swimming.  We tried to lure them out with food.  We tried to wait until they came near the edge and corral them up onto shore.  Nothing worked so we let them be.  



That leads us to this morning.  I went out to bring the ducks a bowl of food, as I usually do but there were only two.  I looked all around for the third because sometimes you’d find one off on his own.  That’s when I saw the feathers.  Piles of white feathers up on the hillside behind the pond, leading back towards the woods.  My heart sank. 

I went up to inspect the scene.  There were feathers all over the place but not much else.  Whatever ate him, ate him all.  I did find some of his bigger bones left, but other than feathers that was it. 

We have two suspects: raccoons or coyotes.  I am leaning towards coyotes based on how much of the body was gone but it’s hard to say for sure. 


So now what?  Obviously they aren’t safe out there on the pond.  Anyone have any ideas on how to get them to come in at night?  We are feeling desperate and helpless when it comes to those ducks!  They are so much harder than chickens!

February 19, 2016

Step 1: dig holes

Construction began on the new lean-tos on Wednesday. Josh rented an auger and dug out 8 large holes for the footers that will support the posts along either side. He said it was pretty tough because the ground was all wet, partly frozen, and full of clay.



It cracked me up the next morning when I let the chickens out, they were so intrigued by the holes. 





I was having a grand time imagining their conversations as they stared down into the holes...

The imaginative chickens~
What do you think it is?
I don't know.  Maybe a comet landed here!  
Look, there's another one over there.
We had a comet shower while we were sleeping!  
Man, we must be really deep sleepers.

The building inspector chicken~
Oh, yeah!  Nice job.  Good width, good depth.  This will definitely pass inspection.  I give my stamp of approval.

In case you were wondering, no one fell in the holes.  We did have a long discussion about whether or not it was dangerous to let the girls out with all these holes in the ground.  They were very curious but also cautious.

Next step will be setting the posts and back-filling the holes with gravel.  We got our first delivery of lumber yesterday and the next should have arrived today.

Only four more full days until babies arrive!

February 18, 2016

Winter textures

This morning when I went out to check on the girls, it was much warmer and the air was full of birds singing.  It beckoned me out to spend some time walking before I headed to work. So I opened the doors for the chickens and ducks then continued on down behind the pond.  

With all the foliage gone, at first glance it seems pretty barren on the farm now. The more I walked though, I was struck by the beauty of all the textures I saw. 

The pond is still fairly frozen. The bubbles make the surface quite interesting. 


The spots where plants were close to the surface, they left outlines in the ice in various shapes. 


A lot of the plants and grasses on the hillside that makes up the dam have been washed down or trampled but some still stand tall, releasing seeds into the wind. 



Huge pine trees surround the pond dropping blankets of dry needles on the ground. Here, a patch of weeds managed to grow up through them despite the winter weather. 


The same pine tree was dripping sap all over the place.  The colors were almost magical- fluorescent green, fuschia, pale blue, and silver. 
 

Most of the snow has melted but small patches remain here and there in shady spots.  I thought this one looked like a snowy white pekin duck!


The last thing I came across was this perfect little nest, tucked into a bare tree. The birds flew off as I approached.  I stepped in closer to have a look, and found the clever little birdies had used pieces of wrappers they'd scavaged to flush out their home. 


What a pretty morning!  I'm so glad I had time to enjoy it a little. 

February 15, 2016

Preparations

In case you're counting, we are at t-8 days for the babies!  

This evening I cleaned up in the workshop, swept the floors and organized to make room for the brooder. Last time we used it, we took it apart for storage and tucked it away. It was pretty easy to reassemble and then I stapled a fresh sheet of plastic on the bottom to contain the bedding. 

Next I dug out the box of feeders and lights. I plugged the lights in and made sure they still work. It would be bad to get our little ones home and not have any heat lamps to put them under this time of year!  Everything seemed to be functioning so I hung the lights.


I just need to get some more wood chips and the brooder will be ready to accept our brood. 

I also brought all the feeders inside with me and ran them through the dishwasher to sterilize them. 


Everything clean and ready to go!  

Josh ordered supplies for the lean-to and says he's going to start digging holes for footings on Wednesday. Let's hope this weather improves by then. Right now it's snowy but on the verge of a big mud puddle.  

The ducks came up to visit with the chickens today and there are footprints everywhere!



The forecast is calling for temps around 60 this weekend which will melt the 3" we got yesterday and leave us with a fun mess for our construction project.  Oh well, a little mud won't kill us.  I've got my trusty boots ready to go!

February 12, 2016

Happy to see some grass again

It has been pretty cold and snowy lately.  When the ground is blanketed in white some of the birds are curious enough to venture out in it, but many don't leave the run.  This girl stood on the threshold of the door for quite a while peering out in the yard but eventually turned around and went back inside.


Yesterday afternoon, though, the sun was out and like magic some green began to appear in the yard again even though it was still quite cold.  When I opened the door to let the girls out, there was a lot more excitement to get out again.



Woohoo!  Our salad bar is back!


I opened the door to the garden as well so the chickens could start working on the soil in there so it'll be ready for my early planting of carrots and beets before long.  I blocked off the corner, where my garlic is, so they wouldn't disturb it or the mulch blanket over it.  They stood at the fence staring in longingly at it, but then went back to picking at the last remnants of kale and the bits of rye peaking out of the melting snow.