Friday, April 26, 2013

Cache Discovery

Sad to report that the two buff coloured silkie chicks from the last post have died.  The black one is still fine, as is the production brown layer.  I feel really sad about the silkies.  In both cases, they were fine one evening and then dead the next morning.  So fragile, but they all had plenty of food and water, so it makes me sad when they seemed so active and healthy to lose them with no apparent reason.  Hopefully the black one will continue to be alright, because I really do like silkies and would like to have a few more in future.

Speaking of chickens, though, I had been noticing an abrupt drop in egg laying for about the past week, and thought that was strange.  I know I have a couple of potential egg-eating hens, because sometimes I find one in the nest boxes that has been eaten, as evidenced by the remainder of the shell and a gooey spot on the bedding.  Usually though, there is only one eaten egg...sometimes two.  So, I wasn't sure where the eggs were going when this sudden decrease occurred.  I did go on a walkabout to the areas where I see the hens congregate around the yard.  I peered under the wood pile and under the porch.  Hens like to lay in quiet, dark areas.  I kept checking the old dog house which I wrote about previously, but all my efforts were fruitless (eggless?)  Here are a few of my flock - Egwene in red, either Flora or Flounce on the left (two matching black hens and I never know who is who!), Mimi the cuckoo maran, and a hen from last year's hatch in the front who hasn't got an official name.

My biggest concern with a hidden cache of eggs is that eventually, a hen will decide to try to hatch them, and once a hen goes broody, she'll just sit on those eggs for 21 days, only coming off once or twice a day to grab a quick bite to eat and a drink, and to relieve herself.  If the hens had found an outdoor spot to amass their eggs, then one day I'd likely have a chicken who didn't come back to the barn at night and she'd end up as food for the raccoons or the foxes.  I looked around for shell fragments, wondering if they were laying somewhere outside and then the raccoons were eating the eggs at night, but I still wasn't finding anything.

Today, I noticed a robin fly by the barn door when I let the sheep and goats outside.  I went to take a peek to see if she was going to a nest.  My Dad made these great steps for the barn - one set for outside and another set for inside - so that the animals (and I) can easily get in and out.  This was necessary because the floor of the barn is not at the same level as the door.

Here are the steps inside the barn...
 ...and here are the matching steps outside the barn.

I went up the steps and tried to see where the robin had gone, but I couldn't see it, so I turned to come back inside.  As I went up the steps, my eyes caught a flash of white through the opening between the steps and the edge of the barn - see that little gap on the left side of the inside steps?

Would you like a closer look at that gap?

Ah yes, I know that you now see what I saw!  I came inside and peered around the bottom edge of the step, finding a little space that was just the right size for a hen on a mission.  Don't let that woolly bear caterpillar distract you from the egg!

So I lifted the steps.  OH!  Yes indeed, I had found the cache.
Indeed, there were 32 eggs in this hiding spot!

Let me tell you, the hens were NOT happy that I'd discovered their secret spot!  Here's the reaction that began when I lifted the steps.

So, I brought them all inside and cleaned them and subjected them to the float test to see if they were all fresh.  All of them passed the test with flying colours - confirming they were all very recently laid.  So, now I have an extra (almost) 4 dozen eggs to use.

Egg custard, coming right up! I'm so fond of the lovely shape of eggs, the subtle shades and colour differences, the occasional spots and speckles and the size differences.  Perfect little protein packs!

There were also a couple of interesting eggs in the batch.  I'm always intrigued by different or unusual looking eggs.  Today there was this one with a lot of extra calcium deposited on the surface.

Then there was this very unusually patterned egg.  You can see how it has a speckled surface, but the speckles disappear for about a 1/2 inch "stripe" that goes right around the egg.  I have an artist hen in my flock but I don't know who she is!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Peep peep!

Who (or what) is peeping around here?  Well, today there was a lot of peeping going on outside.  I guess the frogs have decided that spring has arrived.  I took Jet for his afternoon walk after the rain finally ceased, and the spring peeper frogs were singing the first act of Carmina Burana, or at least their version of it.  I was able to get quite close to the boggy area where they were doing their performance, and I realized that under the high-pitched peeping frenzy, there is a lower note coming from the alto voices, more akin to a duck quacking than a frog noise.  I'm not sure if I've got different species of frogs in that area, or if spring peepers make a multitude of different calls.  Jet was quite interested in the noise, but since he couldn't find the source, he lost interest quite quickly.  That was fine, but as we headed home and went up the driveway, all of a sudden, a frog jumped in front of us.  Good thing I had a tight grip on the lead, or that frog would have been history!  Jet was very exuberant in his pursuit of the frog and I had to reel him in quickly.  Of course, a full nasal investigation had to be made of the area where the frog had been.  Now he's on the scent, I think we'll be stopping to check out frog trails on a regular basis.

But that's not the peeping that I'm actually going to write about today.  I'm talking about the peeping of baby chicks.  I'd promised myself, adamantly, that I would not hatch any eggs this year because I have enough chickens and I really don't need any more.  I love incubating eggs and watching the hatching process, but at 16 hens, I have plenty of eggs to spare.  So, when I went to the feed store this week, I was amused, but firm with myself about the pens of peeping chicks.  The feed store here is nothing like the ones I used to frequent in Iowa.  There, I could choose from a wide variety of interesting breeds in a rainbow of colours.  Here, by contrast, there are 3 kinds of chicks available.  There are broilers (meat birds), white egg layers, and brown egg layers.  They don't even know the breed of the layers - they're just "commercial" I was told.  Ho hum.  So, this didn't really tempt me.  I said to the feed store guy that I would only be tempted by special breeds, like silkies.  "Oh," he said, "I have some silkie chicks over there." Dang-gummit!

The feed store proprietor hatched some chicks from his own flock of silkies, and had them in a separate location in the store.  I tried...really I ignore this whole matter, but it was just not possible.  I just had to see what colour they were, because if they were white....meh....I could do without.  But no, they were buff and black.  Oh, it was too much to resist.  Truly.  I was smitten.

In Iowa, I was able to order hatching eggs online from all kinds of small and large flock owners, giving me access to a veritable encyclopedia of breeds.  In addition, there are a wide range of hatcheries specializing in unusual breeds of chickens, including the rare breeds in need of conservation, which were of great interest to me.  Here in Canada, it's practically a chicken wasteland.  There are very few hatcheries and the existing ones don't have many breeds.  Even crazier - the one special breed actually developed in Canada, the Chantecler, is easier to find in the USA than in Canada.  There are a lot of miserable government regulations associated with chickens here in Canada that make it difficult for small farms to prosper, which may be part of the problem, but it sure doesn't help with breed conservancy and it's difficult for those of us who want to do our part but can't even find a source of birds in the area.

So, I am now the happy owner of 2 little buff silkie chicks and one black silkie chick.  Of course, this will mean that names must be chosen soon.  Here's the little black one.

Instant Cup-o-Chick!

I hope I've got at least one hen - these chicks were "straight run" (meaning unsexed) so I don't know what I've got, but I did a top secret test and I tried to pick ones that supposedly show female tendencies.

Just look at those fabulously feathered feet!

I added one solitary "breedless" brown layer chick, just to see what it turned out to look like and whether I could figure out the mystery of the breed.

She's really quite cute.

There are so many commercial brown layers - ISA browns, golden comets, cinnamon queens, and many others.  It's disappointing that there just isn't the interest here in breed specifics.

So, I succumbed to the silkie temptation, but I'm still not hatching any chicks this year!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Out with the old (the truly horrible and decrepit) and in with the new

I've lived in this house for nearly two years now.  I can't believe I'm still here some days.  It's the kind of place I never would have imagined myself living, but a few bad decisions get made and suddenly *poof* everything changes.  I try to walk around with my eyes half shut all the time so I don't really have to see where I live.  Slowly.....e v e r    s o    s l o w l y...things get better.  My parents have helped with innumerable small projects, like putting in stair rails for safety, adding baseboard to my bedroom (yay, the first room to have proper baseboard!) and other helpful projects around the place.  There are some jobs, though, that are too big to tackle by myself, or even with my parents' help.  A major one was the installation of a safe heating system this past winter, which was finally finished in late January, even though the work on it started in October.  Yes, things take a long time to get done around here sometimes.  At least I now have a full baseboard heating system that runs on propane, along with a safe, properly installed wood furnace.  The old one was incredibly unsafe and not installed according to code.  A fire trap waiting to happen.  Ugh.

Today's improvement wasn't related to the heating system though, it was the installation of a proper water pressure tank and upgraded well pump.  This morning, the water pressure in my home was about 20 psi, and it was connected to a piston pump such that the water came in little gushes all the time, interspersed with lulls of minimal water.  Taking a shower was a dreary exercise, and it took forever to get the shampoo out of my long hair with such minimal water pressure.  To improve the pressure, one had to repeatedly drain this enormous, hulking tank that was supposed to retain an air pocket at the top to put pressure on the water, but it constantly lost pressure and was essentially useless.  Add to this the fact that the tank was corroding both on the inside and outside, and you've got a potential mess on your hands.  A small leak in the corroding tank would have meant that the pump would start running, and running, and running, until you could paddle yourself in a canoe around the basement.  Not a good scene!

Lest you think that I exaggerate....I present to you, the former pressure tank.  I left the chopped wood in the picture so you could get a sense of the size.

In this picture, you can see the spigot on the end of it - that's the size of a normal outdoor hose spigot, so that is one massive tank.  It was at least 5 feet tall when installed.

Here's a close up of the corrosion....really bad pitting.  This was happening on the inside too.  How do I know that this was happening on the inside?  Well, when the plumbers tried to drain the tank, they couldn't fully drain it because there was so much corrosion debris inside that the water couldn't get out.  Yuck. 

So, here's the new tank!  Itty bitty!  That's a half a pallet that it's sitting on, to give you an idea of size.  On top of the tank is a brand new jet pump that brings in water from the well.  Far more efficient and much faster than the piston pump that used to run the system.

So now, instead of it taking about 3 minutes for the toilet tank to fill after flushing, it takes about 30 seconds. The shower is behaving like a normal shower, that actually gets the shampoo out in a reasonable time frame. The kitchen sink is positively gushing with excitement.  My water pressure is now about 50 psi, which is a normal home pressure.  And it only took 2 years to get there.  Goodness gracious.

Oh, and another recent improvement related to the water system...a new hot water heater!  Here's the old one, recently removed.  When they removed it, they were amazed it was still working.  It was over 30 years old.  Far longer than the average lifespan of a hot water tank.  Well done, Sears!  But it was time for it to go.

Here's the new one.  Efficient, clean, and modern.  Oh happy day....

Not cheap projects by any means, but progress is being made.  The aesthetics of the place has to take a back seat to practical things like heat, water, and...soon...a new roof, because the current one leaks.  But that's a story for another day.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring is for Lovers

Naturally, as Canadians, we inhabitants of the funny farm are fully in support of equality and liberty for all couples, including inter-species couples.  It seems, this spring, that a romance is blossoming between a certain sheep and a certain goat!

Here we have Tucker, the Woolly Bear of sheep, in all his Cotswold-Shetland glory.

And here we have Caramel, the 50% Nubian, 25% Alpine, 25% LaMancha goatie girl, in all her glory.

But what is this?!  Do I hear Tucker whispering sweet nothings into Caramel's tiny ear?  Look at her expression!  She is clearly entranced by his words of love!

Oh yes, there is a romance underway in this unlikely couple - the dainty elf-eared goat and the woolly "dark horse" on the farm!

See how she caresses him tenderly with her hoof?  She is such a tease!

I think he's kissing her neck!

He tells her of her stunning beauty, her fine aesthetic lines, her sweet little ears and her delicate colour.

She's fallen for him.  Nuzzling and resting her head on his warm, woolly back.  Oh Tucker, how long I have waited for you to notice me...

Don't worry - Tucker is a wether, so there won't be any geep (?) shoat (?) babies on the farm!  But it does seem that spring is in the air!