Six Busy Months

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Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

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The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

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And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

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The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

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Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!

The Brooder is Full of Fluffybutts

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So, this is where we left them. The ten that hatched on Saturday had just been moved to the brooder. They were dry to the touch, but they didn’t look like it.

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After about forty-five minutes, they were fluffing up and seemed much more comfortable with their new surroundings. They were also already interested in food and water!

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A few hours later they had truly turned into fluffybutts.

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The Boy was a little under the weather that day, but wild horses couldn’t have kept him away from those chicks!

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This little one was the last to hatch. If my attempts at feather-sexing are accurate, I think this is a pullet. And if so, her name shall be Godiva.

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Godiva is on the front right. The other brown one on the left is super mischievous and adorable. He (again, my best guess from feather-sexing) follows my hand around whenever I reach into the brooder for anything, pecking at my ring and basically attempting to jump into my palm. Fuzzy little troublemaker!

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Now, of course, we’re in the early stages of a “major winter weather event.” If we get the ice they’re forecasting, we’ll probably have a lot of trees and power lines down. And if that happens, I’m going to have to try to keep these chicks warm on the hearth while also keeping my very curious eleven-month-old away from them! I would love to think that we might just get six or eight inches of snow and be able to keep our power, but from the models they’re showing, I’m finding it hard to be optimistic. So I’m preparing for the worst case scenario and hoping that I’ll be able to keep these little ones alive through it all.

Incubation Journal

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Preparation: Well, we’re going to give this a try. We went over to my parents’ house today so that I could dig my old Hova-Bator still air incubator out of the basement. I got it cleaned up and plugged in and was pleased to find that after twenty-some years on the shelf, it still works! I even found and printed a PDF of the long-lost instruction booklet. I’ve never hatched anything out before, although I have a very vague memory of two quail eggs that sat in the box for a few weeks. Nothing came of it, of course, probably because I knew nothing about humidity or turning the eggs. I imagine I just plopped them in there and waited. This time around, I’ve done some research and hope for some actual fluffy-butts to emerge from these eggs.

Day One: OK, the eggs are in. I was originally going to only use seven eggs from my Easter Egger because she seems to be extremely popular with the rooster, so I was pretty sure they’d be fertile. But then I used three White Leghorn eggs last night and noticed that they all had bulls-eyes, so I decided to stick a few white eggs and some Marans eggs in there as well. So there are fourteen eggs in all, and I figure at least one of them has to hatch, right? Now I just have to remember to keep the water reservoir filled and turn the eggs morning, afternoon, and evening!

Day Three: Everything’s going smoothly so far. One of my biggest concerns was that I would forget to keep the water channel filled, but it doesn’t evaporate too quickly. As long as I top it off every few days, I think it will be fine. And I’m actually remembering to turn the eggs three times a day! Still have this annoying feeling that even if I do everything right, nothing will hatch. I can candle the eggs in a few days and see if anything’s happening. Trying to be patient and hopeful!

Day Six: Well, I was so excited after candling the eggs tonight that I had to write a separate post about it. But to recap, there are actually chicks developing in all three of the white eggs and at least three of the four brown ones. Not sure about the blues, but I’m thrilled with what I’m seeing!

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Day Eight: Candled again tonight. Looks like the embryo in one of the white eggs has stopped developing, but the rest are larger and still active. I was able to capture the movement in one egg on video, which is awesome! I’ll try to post it somewhere and link it up here.

Day Eleven: Slightly nervous. We had problems with our power at the beginning of January — half of the house started flickering/dimming, and then started going off entirely at random times. Took two electricians and the power company to find the main problem, which is that the prongs holding our power meter are old and not doing their job very well. The last guy from the power company said he squeezed them as tight as he could to make it secure, but that when it started happening again, we would need to have the meter replaced. Well, of course, we’re back to the flickering. So I’m praying that the old meter will hold on for ten more days until the eggs have a chance to hatch. I can easily transport baby chicks over to my parents’ house for the day that the power will have to be shut off, but the idea of trying to get the eggs over there and back intact is scary! On the bright (punny much?) side, we read that day ten was a good day for candling, so we took another quick peek. Can’t believe how big they’re getting!

Day Thirteen: I discarded the dead white egg, but for some reason I kept the brown one in which I hadn’t been able to see any development. And I’m glad I did, because tonight, I could suddenly see a beautiful network of veins and a big, wiggly embryo in there! I have no idea why I couldn’t see anything before, but it’s there now!

Day Sixteen: The eggs are moving! I heard something and peeked in the window to see one of the blue eggs wiggling around. It stopped and then started again. Honestly, I just hadn’t considered the fact that the chicks were large enough now to make that happen! Just two days till lockdown.

Day Nineteen: We can hear cheeping from inside the incubator! It even looks like one egg has the beginnings of a pip. I think we might be seeing baby chicks tomorrow instead of Sunday…

Day Twenty: Wow! We started out the day with one freshly hatched chick and ended up with seven! The other six eggs have all pipped, but one is at the wrong end and a couple others haven’t changed much since early afternoon. We’ll see if they make any progress by morning. I’ve got the beautiful new brooder that Ben made me all set up to transfer the babies to tomorrow. Still slightly shocked that this whole thing seems to have worked!

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Clockwise from top left: a zipped egg, hatchling #1, hatchling #2.

Day Twenty-One: Amazing. 100% hatch rate. There were just three eggs left this morning when I moved all of the hatchlings to the brooder, and by mid afternoon, they were all out. I have to admit, I bought this awesome book the other day, and after reading the part about operating an incubator, I had basically given up on this hatch producing much. There are so many variables, and I was controlling so few of them. But I’m really glad that we sort of stumbled through this thing and kept things simple, because now I know that the simple way works. We have thirteen healthy chicks eating, drinking, and happily sprawling in the brooder tonight, and that is just plain awesome. Now we just need to get a decent percentage of pullets out of the deal!

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Just arrived in the brooder. Still sporting the funky, freshly-hatched look.

Incubating!

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We’ve never tried incubating our own eggs before, but we got a new rooster a couple of months ago who takes his procreating duties very seriously, and he seems to have inspired our old rooster to do the same. After noticing that just about every egg we were using was fertile, I dug my old incubator out of the back corner of my parents’ basement.

(Full disclosure: I think I once plunked a couple of quail’s eggs from who-knows-where in there for a few weeks, but with no knowledge of turning, humidity, or even proper temperature, the venture was doomed from the start.)

I was happy to find that after 25 years on the shelf, my Hova-Bator (made with pride in Savannah, GA) still works perfectly. It’s holding its temperature and… well, that’s about all it really has to do. I do the turning (three times a day) and keep one of the channels full of water to maintain the humidity.

None of this is very difficult, I know, but I was still pretty sure that I would somehow mess it up and end up throwing out all 13 eggs. It’s Day Six, though, so I decided to do some candling and see if anything was happening.

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*stunned silence*

There’s actually something in there! That little dark blob behind the “X” is the beginnings of a fluffy baby chick! I can see it moving, apparently from the force of the heartbeat that started after two days of incubation! I haven’t killed it yet!

In fact, all three of the white eggs and at least three of the four brown ones are developing. The blue/green eggs are impossible for me to see through with my little flashlight, but I’m optimistic, mainly because the Easter Egger hen seems to be the new rooster’s special favorite.

That bright crescent at the top of the egg in the photo is the air pocket. It will grow larger over the next two weeks, and shortly before the chick begins to hatch, it will pierce the membrane with its beak and begin to breathe air. Seriously, could that be any cooler?

So, while I realize that we’re only 1/3 of the way there and there’s still a lot that can go wrong, I’m kind of ridiculously excited.

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Goat Tales

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Goats are becoming increasingly popular as a good livestock choice for small-scale homesteaders. Depending on the breed, they can provide milk, meat, or fiber, and since they reproduce relatively quickly and often have two, three, or even four kids at a time, they’re pretty cost-effective. They’re also hilarious. And annoying. And I miss them.

Goats are escape artists. They like to help prune trees and weed gardens, but unfortunately, they don’t know when to stop. They love nothing better than getting themselves into impossible situations and then standing there and screaming until someone arrives to rescue them. Then they repeat the process multiple times. Basically, they’re troublesome and infuriating. Do not get goats. Ever.

Or, go get a goat. Or two. Because they’re fantastic. I’m serious.

One of our nanny goats and her baby grazing happily down near the stream.

One of our nanny goats and her baby grazing happily down near the stream.

We bought our first goats around the time I was in fifth grade. I thought they were beautiful: a big, brown, Nubian nanny with white dapples and ragged horns, and a rough-coated, calico, crazy-eyed billy. Josephine and Napolean.

I remember that I got to skip part of a school day for the arrival of the imperial couple. The note my mom wrote for me said that I needed to be home to receive some livestock, and I remember feeling very grown up when I handed that note in at the school office. That’s right, ladies, I’m a genuine farmer, and I have livestock to receive.

We wanted the goats to clean out an area of woods at the back of the property, and they were definitely up for the challenge. Within a couple of weeks, the place looked like a park. They started with the poison ivy, which is apparently like candy to them, and then they moved on to the privet, ivy, and who knows what else.

Their willingness to eat just about anything can backfire, of course, sometimes with serious consequences. Josephine found a tiny shrub of mountain laurel which had apparently washed down from the state park upstream and taken root in a cleft of the creek bank. It can be deadly, but being a goat, she scarfed some of it down.

She then spent the next week convalescing in a cozy nest of blankets in our basement, being fed hot oatmeal and hay. I’m pretty sure that she was actually feeling better several days before she showed it.

Her first kid (in her life with us, at least) was born on a Sunday afternoon, in the yard between the pool and the creek. We were having a picnic on the pool deck, so we had front row seats for the delivery, the efforts at standing, and the first, faltering steps. We promptly named the baby Billy the Kid and took about as many photos of him as normal people take of human babies.

There were other goats and other kids over the years, of course. Some were easy keepers, and some seemed determined to wreak as much havoc as possible. Some of the nannies were good mothers, but several weren’t, which meant that we ended up bottle-raising their kids in diapers in the house. There was nothing funnier than the look on a visitor’s face when a diaper-clad baby goat moseyed into the kitchen.

This little pygmy lived indoors for a while B.B.B. (Back Before Babies) And yes, he's standing on top of a computer which is sitting on top of a dresser. And no, we didn't put him there.

This little pygmy lived indoors for a while B.B.B. (Back Before Babies) And yes, he’s standing on top of a computer which is sitting on top of a dresser. And no, we didn’t put him there.

You cannot watch a baby goat (or better yet, a pair of baby goats) frisking around in the grass and not smile. It’s biologically impossible. They run and leap and twist and bounce and climb and play king of the mountain and are just generally adorable. And then, exhausted, they tuck themselves in close beside their mama and sleep. This probably explains why the tops of their heads smell like sunshine and fresh grass.

We sold our last two goats a few years ago after months of trying and failing to keep them in the pasture. They went over, under, or through every fence we put in front of them, and they usually ended up in the garden. They went to a great home with a man we’ve known for years. and at the time, we were relieved to be rid of them. But now somehow we find ourselves talking about when we can get more.

Gluttons for punishment? Maybe. Better than being gluttons for mountain laurel.

Just watching a little TV. What's so strange about that?

Just watching a little TV. What’s so strange about that?