Sunday, December 11, 2011

Operation Chicken Drop or Chickens Can Be Real A#@holes!

I wanted to increase the number of chickens in our flock because my 17 chickens have not been producing enough eggs for us or for my egg business at work.  On a good day lately I would consider myself lucky if I got 4 eggs.  The eggs usually vary from day to day so I know that many of the chickens are laying but too few and far between to keep up with demand.  Supply was low.  I can't blame it on the cold either because this had been going on since the summer when a good number then was 7-9 eggs/day with that number slowly decreasing.  In the spring most of our chickens will be 2 years old which is arguably approaching the end of good egg laying days for the girls.
When we initially bought our chicks in the spring of 2010 we picked a variety mostly for looks and not necessarily all heavy layers.  We get many big eggs and many small eggs from the smaller, but unique looking chickens; variety in chicken and variety in egg is nice but I really want consistency now that I've gotten the unique chicken thing out of my system.  Chicken feed certainly isn't getting any cheaper and the girls need to earn their keep.  Periodically in every flock chickens die and over the past almost 2 years we went from 20 or 21 down to 17.  Time to get more chickens.
There are several means to get chickens: buy as chicks on-line or at a local feed store (not possible this time of year), friends of friends that raise them, craigslist, or rescue.  I opted for the last, well thought I would look into it anyway.  Within the last couple weeks I contacted the Erie County SPCA (where we adopted our pot-bellied pig in January 2010) to see if they had any hens that might be looking for homes.  At the time they did not but a few days ago I got an email from the barn manager to tell me that some hens became available.
There were 5 in all: 4 white chickens (possibly White Orpingtons or White Rocks) that were found as strays in Elma (Elmanian chickens-since my parents live in Elma my mom and I will periodically discuss whether or not they are Elmanians (read terrorist sounding) or Elmanites (Amish sounding) as my mom prefers) and a Red Star that came from somewhere else.  They all seem to be laying eggs quite nicely so I decided to go check them out.  Drove out to the SPCA yesterday and the place was a hive of activity as they were in the middle of their annual Radiothon to raise money.  I was happy that most of the dog kennels their had signs on them saying "Adopted: going home soon" or "Adoption Pending."  I didn't get to see the cats because the place was full of people waiting to get processed and take their forever pets home.  We have plenty of those furry types for now so I was the guy adopting chickens.  Yep, I like what I saw so they came home with me.

2 hens in one dog crate and 3 in the other.  2 of the white hens had some feather loss; who knows why since they were strays.  Could be normal molting or weather related.

The chickens remained in the crates until nightfall at which point I added them to the flock of "sleeping" chickens.  Flocks are much more likely to accept new members if added at night because they are in a way tricked into thinking that they were there all along.  Chickens are not the brightest...or always the nicest.
First thing this morning I checked on how things were going and if the new girls were assimilating, being allowed to is more like it, into the flock.  The coop was very loud as the girls were trying to figure out what happened overnight.  For the most part things were going well but of course the chickens were picking, literally, on the one that had the most feather loss.  Not sure how long this will go on but once chickens lock in on something they tend to not give up on it.  It can take months for them to accept a chicken, and will beat up on it in the meanwhile.  Not all chickens survive the hazing process.  I hope that is not the case here.  Chickens CAN be a#@holes!

The 4 chickens on the ground are 4 of the 5 new ones.

And the 2 white ones to the right are new...

Breakfast in the coop is always fun to watch!

And Czar, backlit by the morning sun coming through his window eats his breakfast and wants to know what all the ruckus is about.

As does Divo.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Plus One/Minus One: the Birth of Our Son, Henrik; the Loss of Traveler

On October 10th, 2011 Sarah and I welcomed our first son, Henrik Finn, into the world and he arrived epicly, to say the least.  To give you the brief version: 27 hours of labor, followed by an unplanned c-section, followed by Sarah hemorrhaging and needing a blood transfusion due to losing half her blood volume (had it been a different era she would have died during childbirth and if not then, from the hemorrhage for sure).  I am lucky that she is still here.  That was scary beyond words.  All in all we stayed in the hospital for a total of 6 days (we were camping at the hospital in Fort Henrik as we deemed it).  I have never seen anything like the labor that Sarah went through; it was mindblowing!  She could have easily moved a mountain with the amount of energy that she put into it but for some reason our little 6# 13 oz son wouldn't budge.  I have never seen anything like it.  The word does not exist to describe just what it was. 

and mother of the year...

A few days after returning home Sarah just was not recovering like she should have been and on top of being sleep deprived, recovering from major surgery and producing milk she was still anemic.  Really anemic, needing a second transfusion and a second, this time 2 day stay, in the hospital.  This same day we had made the difficult yet right decision to euthanize our beloved, rescued Alaskan Malamute, Traveler, after a battle with neurologic degeneration in his spine that caused him to have difficulty walking but did not affect his brain one bit.  For those of you that knew him, I don't need to say much.  For those that didn't I could go on and on as I have never met another dog like him.  I will be brief and use what the author Jon Katz calls the "lifetime dog" that he describes as "a lifetime dog is the one that enters your life at a particular, critical point and changes or affects you in ways no other animal can or will.”  He made our life better and his love of his family, or pack if you will, was paramount to him.  To say that this love was human like sells it short.  Words cannot describe him.  Our life will never be the same without him and we are so happy that he stuck it out to meet Henrik.  A friend of mine told me that animals have that amazing ability to know when it is time to move on or out of the way to make room for the new arrival so that we can focus on what needs to be focused on.  I have talked to so many people who have lost pets just as they had a baby.  To describe it in human terms it isn't to say that they don't want to be around anymore because of the baby or are jealous and can't possibly compete but rather that they love us so much that they move out of the way so as to allow us to focus on the baby.  I wish this was not the case but it certainly is a beautiful perspective. 

The timing of losing Traveler could not have been worse because we were torn between sheer joy in Henrik, and sheer, and ripping loss in Traveler.  It was odd to be so distracted from losing him that it made it easier.  I still haven't fully realized that he is never coming back.  Maybe I never will and perhaps there is something to be said for that.  He doesn't feel gone, but rather in the other room, outside or at my parents house visiting with them and gram.  If every day feels like this her will never be fully gone.  It does wash over us periodically and to say that we miss him does not do the feeling justice.

Welcome home Henrik Finn!
Goodbye Traveler.  Thank you for making our life better while you shared it with us.

How things balance out don't they.  Plus one.  Minus one.

Traveler's final resting place in a park like setting in our front yard, amongst a grove of maple trees.  Every morning and night I say good morning and goodnight to him.

ps-this arrival has TWO legs...and the chickens don't count!  Below, Henrik in a carrier meets our pig, Morgan Sophia Beasley for the first time!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

You Put the Turtles Where?!?!

For the winter we are hibernating our rescued box turtles.  How does one do this one might ask?  Well, in the fridge (in the garage) of course.  Yep, it's true!  Turtles, in the wild, do this naturally and it is actually quite good for them, helping them to live longer.   Read about their arrival at the farm here:

Shortly before Henrik was born I stopped feeding the turtles any fruits or veggies.  While they had access to wild food in the form of bugs and plants by withholding anything else, coupled with a few warm water soaks prior to hibernation, would allow their gut to remain relatively empty for their long winter's nap.  Had I not done this any food that they had left in their gut could rot, making them sick.  I then got 3 clear rubbermaid containers, drilled holes in the top and filled them with moist but not wet peat moss and some straw.  I placed the turtles in them, one in each, then simply placed them in the fridge.  Have to make sure that the fridge temp remains between 35-45 degrees F and does not freeze.  This is the necessary temp to hibernate them at.  I must admit that it goes against one's nature to place a living animal in a fridge and it does take some getting used to.  You must then wake them up every 4-6 weeks by putting them in a room temp setting.  Simply check them out for health and start the process over minus the soaks.  Basically just put them back in the fridge.  The fridge must be opened periodically to get oxygen available to them otherwise you have to run an aquarium air pump and tube into the fridge to supply air.  Cold blooded animals are quite amazing creatures.

Here is a photo of the containers in the fridge.  Once the temp hits freezing I will move the containers to the barn where the heat that the horses produce keep the barn at about 40 degrees F all winter long, even at its coldest point.  The reason I can't keep them in the garage fridge all winter is that the ambient temp in th garage will affect the fridge temp dropping it too low.

 And you can barely see the turtle mixed amongst the substrate...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Project Update: Back Pasture Fence and Drainage Project

My Dad and I have been in the process of laying out and installing a new pasture fence in the back pasture.  I have had this pasture "closed" to horses for almost 2 years now in order to give it a chance to re-grow and re-establish itself after re-seeding; having been over-grazed previously and decimated.  It is doing beautifully well and the fence is coming along nicely. 
We have had over one hundred holes to dig and my bit of advice is DO NOT EVER use a 2 man post hole digger to do so.  They are awful and I'm pretty sure they made the job more difficult.  Digging with a shovel and manual post hole digger has been easier.  Unfortunately it rained way too much this October to be able to use a tractor back there.  It simply would have done too much damage.
We have a natural gas distribution line that runs diagonally across our property and the fence crosses it twice.  The day that we dug the posts around them we had to have National Fuel on site in order to know where the line is and standing by in case we hit it.  This is the day that we rented the 2 man digger and it was a waste of time for sure.
At the end of summer I installed a culvert pipe to help drainage in a low spot that will get a lot of traffic and also ordered 15 tons of bank run gravel to cover it, in effect making a small bridge ove it to get to the pasture.  It turned out amazingly well and with the serious amount of rain we had in October it tested quite well and actually works.  And next time if someone wants to buy we a tractor with a front end loader we won't have to use a wheelbarrow and shovel next time to move 30, 000 pounds of stone.  ;)

Thanks to my Dad for all his help on this project.
Tractor?  Anyone?  Anyone?  55 holes left out of well over 100!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Summer Blends Into Fall or BEES!

I fell in love with tens of thousands of insects this evening.  It wasn't just the bees though, it was the melding of perfect weather with my fascination with the honeybees that I keep. It created a moment in which time stood still and I was the same as a beekeeper was thousands of years ago, the time between those two moments did not exist and it might as well have been one in the same.  I sat mesmerized for an hour watching and learning.
Today was one of those days, those perfect late summer days that blend into fall.  It was full of warm sunshine yet there was that chill in the air, and the changing light, that made one feel cozy and long for wearing a  sweater.  It was a perfect day for football, GO BILLS!, and apple picking I suppose.  And watching bees.  This is really a perfect time of year.  I suppose that if I had to choose one weather all the time, it would be this.  Not too cold, not too warm.  Autumn's here summer, say your goodbyes.  It's okay if you want hang on for a bit.  We're not quite ready to let go but that sweater that is fall, sure is cozy.
As summer nears its end our honeybees have never been busier.  You see this is the first time, that this young hive (started it in April of this year) has been drunk on Goldenrod.  This time of year, for honeybees in the Northeast, is the equivalent of not just one buffet but a buffet consisting of all your favorite restaurants all in one place (bees having a 3 mile radius territory) serving exactly what you most crave, all the time, for weeks on end.  It's the equivalent of a billionaire having so much money that they don't know wuite what to do with all of it.  In a honeybee hive's territory there is so much goldenrod that they could never use it all. 
Goldenrod is the first flower (see photo above), of such hefty quantity, that is producing nectar since July.  There has been no honey being produced in this area until now.  Clover honey I believe is more of a spring/early summer honey.  Bees need nectar in order to produce honey, in the process of getting the nectar they also collect pollin to help cross pollinate flowers and also to bring back to the hive.  I have said it before and I'll say it again, without bees humans would not exist.  They are that important. 

The bees ingest the nectar and take it back to the hive where they chew on it for a bit and then 'spit' it out into the comb.  The nectar is 75-80% water and 20-25% sugar.  The bees then fan the nectar with their wings within the hive to dry it out until the percentages swap so that the sugar content is then 75-80% of the product and only 20-25% water....this my friend's is honey.  As one approaches the hive it reeks of the sweet smell of nectar turning into honey.  It is intoxicating.
I took advantage of the sublime weather today and sat next to the hive for a good hour, just watching.  I opened it briefly to inspect the production and status of the hive.  They have only just begun to use the top "super" where honey is produced but they are working hard.  While I didn't open the lower "brood" boxes where new bees are made I am quite certain that they are making honey in there as well which will feed them for the winter.  This is for sure where that rich smell is coming from.  All looked good so I decided to watch the activity in and out of the hive and directly on what I like to call the "front porch."
It was mindblowing and mesmerizing to say the least.  I can only describe the amount of bee air traffic in and out of the hive as all airport plane traffic at all airports at given time, combined into one.  I love changing my focus from looking at the hive entrance up close to the air surrounding the front of the hive.  It is then that you really get to appreciate the amount of traffic.  It is never ending as bees come and go arriving with their payload.  It appears to be non stop.  Busy is an understatement.  Hardworking doesn't quite cut it.  Each bee knows exactly what needs to be done with each having a unique job that is a small part of the whole.  I couldn't stop watching it.  I was in a way falling in love with this amazing and tiny creatures.  What sealed the deal is when I saw one bee in particular pick up a dead bumblebee that was probably ten times its size and carried it off the front porch and up a blade of grass to get this intruder out. WOW!  I had to pry myself away because there was other stuff to do.

 PS: As I write this I have stopped quite a few times to put my hand on Sarah's ever growing belly where she too, much like the hard working bees, has been hard at work tenderly growing our son.  We have 4 weeks left until his arrival and boy was he active tonight.  It may have had something to do with the vanilla ice cream, strawberries and yes, ironically or coincidentally, honey on top.  Not our honey yet, but he was diggin' it!