Tag Archives: chicks

Homesteading Update

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Well, let’s get the confession over with first. There is no garden this year. There was a garden, but through a program of careful neglect, we managed to ignore it till it went away.

I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle taking care of my children and getting things done outside. Obviously my great-great-grandmothers managed it somehow. It can be done. I just haven’t figured out how they did it yet. Babywearing is great, but it’s not particularly practical for working outside in a South Carolina July.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been on a bare-bones maintenance program around here, and the garden paid the price. We had such a hot, dry summer, though, that even the gardens people actually remembered to tend around here yielded very little.

So, no vegetables, but we do have a few home-grown chicks. I’ve had multiple broody hens over the years, but none have ever stuck it out long enough to hatch the eggs. This year, though, two girls teamed up, sitting on the nest together most of the time and taking turns at eating and drinking. They managed to hatch out a total of eleven chicks, nine of which survived and are doing wonderfully.

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The only thing we’ve expanded in the last few months is the rabbitry. We still have (and love) our American Chinchilla trio plus their eight current offspring, but now we also have standard Rex. If you’ve never felt Rex fur before, there is no way to describe its softness.

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This is Julep, a young castor doe. We also have Moon Pie, her castor half-sister; Blackberry, a young black otter doe; Cassie, a mature castor doe who gave us six beautiful kits a few weeks ago; and Creole, a young silver marten buck. Later this month we’re picking up a little opal buck as well. Rabbit math. It’s worth than chicken math. Seriously.

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There is something really therapeutic about caring for them, though. They’re soft, quiet, and friendly, and I find the routine of filling water bowls and doling out pellets and hay very pleasant. Not that I linger over the process — I’m usually either grabbing a few minutes while the baby sleeps and the boys watch a video or else I’m waiting till Ben gets home and trying to get everyone taken care of between supper and darkness.

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One of Cassie's kits.

But I do stop to snuggle the occasional baby bunny. Wouldn’t you?

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Seriously cute.

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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So, It’s Been a Busy Spring…

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Life is twice as good as it was when I last posted. Eight weeks ago today, our second son joined our family. And as much as I hated to be induced, I’m grateful he came out when he did, because he was ten pounds even and 22 inches long!

OK, so just a condensed birth story, y’all. If it’s not your thing, just skip this paragraph. I was worried that an induction (and the epidural I ended up getting) would lead to a c-section, but as it turned out, labor only lasted 9 1/2 hours, and when he finally decided to make his appearance, it only took 9 minutes. In fact, when he was born, the doctor had just gotten into the room and wasn’t fully gowned and gloved yet. Ben said something funny, and I laughed, and the nurse said, “Don’t laugh too hard!” Still laughing, I thought, “What on earth is she talking about?” And then I heard her say, “Doctor! He’s coming now!” And the doctor ran over and caught him. I’m pretty sure being born in laughter has to be a good omen, right?

First Snuggles

First snuggles with my little man.

Proud Daddy

Proud daddy.

Brothers

Brothers.

First Smiles

First smiles.

I’m biased, I know, but he is a truly beautiful boy. As my sister says, Ben is well-represented in this one. His big brother adores him, and the feeling is definitely mutual. His eyes widen when he hears his brother’s voice, and he immediately turns his head to find him.

So while we’ve been busy falling in love with The New Boy (Boy Two? Little Boy? Any suggestions for his blog alias?), spring has sprung outside! Two weeks ago was my favorite part, when the leaves were tiny and brilliantly green against the grey tree branches. It was also wisteria season, which always goes by too quickly. The woods up the road from my parents’ house are full of it, but there’s none on their property or ours, so I just admire it when we’re out driving.

Wisteria

Things seem especially beautiful on my parents’ farm this spring. We’ve had lots of rain. so everything is a super-saturated shade of green. The Boy loves the chance to run around outside until he can’t run anymore. He also loves the horses, and they seem to enjoy his company, too.

Running to the pasture

I’ve had the chance to enjoy the farm on a regular basis over the past five weeks, because we’re in the process of weaning last summer’s foal off of Calypso, so she’s closed in the stable and has to be taken care of every day. To avoid dealing with this issue again, we had Admiral gelded earlier this month. He was a very sweet stallion, so I’m pretty sure that as a gelding, he’ll be trying to climb directly into our pockets.

Sweet Admiral

And although I hadn’t planned to add any new chickens this year, somehow we’ve ended up with six Gold Stars and seven Easter Eggers. They followed me home. Honest.

It’s a beautiful spring. But best of all is definitely the little snugglebunny who’s currently gumming my shoulder and staring around the room with the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen.

Thirty-Nine Weeks

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Thirty-nine weeks, and I am beyond ready for this baby to get out of me! I’m quite certain that God deliberately makes the last few weeks of pregnancy this uncomfortable so that labor will be a more welcome prospect. At this point, even though I know about the sleep deprivation that awaits me, all I can think of is being done with these itchy stretch marks and the claustrophobic-in-my-own-skin feeling. Plus, I want my Boy to be able to sit in my lap again without sliding off my knees!

I’m hoping to labor at home for as long as possible this time, because last time I didn’t feel the need for an epidural until I was lying flat on my back in a hospital bed with nothing to think about but the discomfort. But I ended up hating my epidural and hope to avoid it altogether this time, so I want to stay active for as long as possible! Still, I’m trying to keep all of the animals fully fed and watered in case we do have to head to the hospital quickly for some reason. Do you have any idea how much food two nursing rabbit does and eight growing baby bunnies go through? They seem to view a full food dish as a personal challenge, so keeping them prepared for us to be gone for a couple of days is not the easiest thing.

I do have to mention that we had a small poultry tragedy this weekend. The hen I removed for egg-eating spent the last week or so living the life of a happy free-ranger. We called her Mabel (or Marbles, as The Boy said at first), and she had a great time digging through leaves, tearing apart the straw bale in the carport, and laying eggs (which she never ate) in the compost bin. She also insisted on sleeping there, although there were plenty of safer places she could have roosted. The Boy loved the novelty of having a chicken that came running over as soon as we went outside. On Friday, we came home from a trip to the grocery store and found her digging through the straw in the carport again. My Boy went over near her, and when I called him to go into the house, he said, “Oh, just let me explore with Mabel!” It was pretty cute. Unfortunately, on Saturday night, something found her sleeping spot, and on Sunday morning, all we found were feathers. I hate losing any animal, especially one with so much personality, but I’m really glad she enjoyed these last couple of weeks so much.

The one good thing about losing Mabel is that it lets me know that our coops are secure, because there are obviously predators around. We’re still making improvements, but at least the coops are already doing their most important job well.

My mom got 18 new chicks last week — 6 each of Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucanas, and Black Australorps. It’s very hard to not be getting any of my own right now, but maybe later in the season I can add a few. My Boy is absolutely in love with the little dibbies and handles them so gently. Here he is cooing over one of the little Ameraucanas.

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He’s going to be such a wonderful big brother. Hopefully he’ll be one by the next time I write here!

Silkies!

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The Silkies arrived two days ago, and they’re unbelievably tiny, fuzzy, and cute. It’s always a shock when you pick up a day-old chick after getting accustomed to half-grown ones. I got to choose my own and tried to get a variety of colors. I’m so excited to see what they’ll grow up to look like!

The chicken tractor is so close to being done. All that’s really left to do is attach the wire, and then I’m hoping Ben and I can get the wheels on when he’s off tomorrow. The BOs are enormous and more than ready to go outside, and I had to combine them with the SLWs yesterday to free up a brooder for the Silkies, so now they really need more space. But we’ve had a few cooler nights again this week, so I guess it’s good that they were still inside. Just a couple more days, girls!

My strawberries out front are growing like crazy, and many have a few berries ripening. I need to put some beer out for the slugs, though, because several berries I picked yesterday were partially eaten. The garden seems happy, too. The lettuce is up, and I’ve been building PVC and string trellises for the beans to climb. They’ll fit over pieces of rebar that will drive into the ground much more easily than the PVC.

After blossoming and leafing out beautifully this spring, one of our pear trees has been badly hit with fireblight. Oddly, it’s a Moonglow, which is supposed to be highly resistant to the bacteria, but it still managed to get sick. I cut all of the affected branches off last week, and it’s a sad-looking little tree now. There’s a spray to use on it, but I’ve read that it has to be done later in the year. Not sure if it will make it that long or not, but I’m hoping our remaining healthy tree doesn’t get infected.

I managed to get a few pictures of the younger bunnies the other day without being eaten by PsychoBunny. It’s clear from her body language that she’s acting out of fear, and it makes me sad. It also confuses me, because she’s never been frightened or mistreated, and her sister is friendly enough. Most sources say we should give her treats so she’ll associate us with good things, pet her (whether she likes it or not at first), and carry her around to relax and gentle her. I will first need some gauntlets, though, or I’m quite sure I’ll come away armless. We joke that she’s like the bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail — all cute and harmless until someone gets within range and then, Pow! She sure does make cute babies, though.

Two other major developments this past week: The Boy learned to pedal his tricycle, and we got a piano. In fact, he learned to pedal his tricycle while Ben was gone to pick up the piano. It’s a 1950 Wurlitzer in need of a little tuning, but great for what we need. It’s been fun to pull my voice books out this week and remember some of my favorites.

So that’s what’s happening, and here’s hoping that tonight will be the last night I’ll have 27 chickens in my house!