Good Neighbors

Standard

Miss Dorothy is somewhere in her late eighties. She’s tiny, adorable, and charmingly eccentric. She’s got a Southern accent as thick as molasses in January and a love for knit caps and men’s heavy duty work shirts, which always look like they’re swallowing her whole.

Dorothy and her husband, Norman, bought their land about 60 years ago, when there was nothing in the area. She can remember when they would sit on the front porch looking down towards the road, and if two cars went by in an hour, you knew it was a busy day. They kept chickens and bees and had the biggest woodpile I’ve ever seen.

Whenever we had a major snowfall (which only happened a few times during my childhood), we would walk across the street to “check on them.” It was a joke, really, because they were better prepared than anyone in the neighborhood. They had a wood-burning stove in their living room, and the big outdoor thermometer on the wall usually read well over 90 degrees. By the time we were done visiting, it was a relief to get back out into the snow!

Once, when I was very small, Dorothy called my mom and said, “Get that child in the house! Norman just saw a puff adder down by the mailbox!” My mom promptly went and looked up puff adders in the encyclopedia (Remember when we used to look things up in encyclopedias? Me, too. I miss that.) and discovered that they were native to Africa and the Middle East. Turns out, though, that around here, people refer to the harmless hognose snake as a puff adder because of its habit of flattening out its head like a cobra when threatened. Many people also assume that they’re deadly. And then those people worry about their neighbor’s toddler playing outside with such a beast at large.

In the 1980s, several large subdivisions went in around them, and developers came to their door more than once with a blank check, wanting to buy their property. Norman always declined, saying that he had bought that land intending to have his bones carried off of it. And about fifteen years ago, that’s exactly what happened.

Miss Dorothy stayed in their cozy little house, though, and their daughter more or less lives there with her now. She calls her mama “Little Mother” because that’s what Norman used to call her. They are two of the sweetest, cutest, and most independent women imaginable. I honestly cannot imagine either one of them saying a mean word about another person. It just isn’t in them.

Until just a few years ago, they were splitting all of their own wood to heat the house — two large trees per winter. Now they’ve switched to a propane heating system, and they no longer have the chickens or the bees, which practically makes them ladies of leisure.

I only see them once or twice a year now. We take the kids trick-or-treating there on Halloween, and sometimes the two of them come to my parents’ Christmas party. I always mean to visit more often, because I would love for my kids to have memories of Miss Dorothy. I’m resolving once again to do that before it’s too late.

That’s the thing about country neighbors. You don’t accidentally run into them while you’re unloading groceries from the car or trimming the hedges. You have to go calling, pay a visit, make time to seek them out. Good fences might make good neighbors, but good neighbors make great friends.

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Prelude to Winter and Hens that Refuse to Lay

Standard

Well, we didn’t get seven feet of snow here this week, but there are flakes on the forecast for Wednesday. For a place that’s usually sunny and seventy degrees on Thanksgiving Day, that’s pretty crazy. In fact, on the first of November, there were several inches of snow to the north and south of us, although my personal snow-free zone still seems to be fully functional.

I haven’t confessed to The Boy yet that it’s probably my fault he doesn’t get to go sledding when kids four miles away are building snowmen. For now, I’m just hoping that this snow-repelling power isn’t some sort of voodoo that I’ve passed down to him and his brother!

One thing I love about cold weather is how much more pleasant it makes the daily chores. I absolutely hate being out in the smothering humidity of our South Carolina summers, but on cold days, I can bundle up. My heavy Wall’s 12/8 jacket is big enough to zip over my growing baby belly, my Muck Boots keep my feet warm and dry, and with some work gloves, I get everyone fed and watered so much more comfortably than in the summer heat.

I’ve run into a strange problem this year. The pullets I hatched out on February 9 and the ones I bought the next day (in case I had hatched out nothing but roosters!) have never started to lay. They’re 41 weeks old, and I’ve never caught one of them in a nest or seen any evidence of eggs being laid and eaten. I’m really at a loss, but at this point, I’m seriously considering culling the whole bunch of them and starting fresh next spring. They’re eating laying pellets like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not seeing any return on all that feed. So we’re going to change brands and see if it makes a difference, and in a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. This is a first for me, so it’s hard to know what to do.

The rabbits continue to be wonderful. I just love them. I bred Anne, one of the California does, to the AmChin buck (George) last month in hopes of getting a better growout rate in the kits. She was due two days ago and hasn’t nested yet, but she’s made a little tunnel in the nestbox bedding and tends to put off pulling fur till the last minute. Based on her crankiness these past few weeks, I’m pretty confident she’s pregnant. Should be interesting to compare her litter (provided she has one) with whatever we get from the larger AmChin doe, Martha, who’s due on December 4. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Hope everyone has safe travels this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Six Busy Months

Standard

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

Standard

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.

image

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!

image

A few hours later they had truly turned into fluffybutts.

image

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

image

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.

image

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!

image

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

Standard

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!

image

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!

image

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!

image

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