New chickens in Illinois

Sarah in Illinois has been chicken farming for about a year. And in case you haven’t guessed from her previous posts, she’s enjoying it. Now she’s expanding her flock, and she’s here today to tell us all about it.

I have mentioned a couple times that I would like to add to my flock of chickens. After a couple weeks of phone and email tag, I finally picked up 4 new hens last weekend. I bought them from a family farm and CSA that is not too far from where I live.

I had very few requirements when looking for new hens. I wanted chickens that were no longer chicks but still young, commonly called pullets. I was not particular on breed, I would have chosen a couple Leghorns if available, for their white eggs, but other than that I really didn’t care.

This farm had only Red Sex Link which meant that they were Rhode Island Red crossed with another breed. The person that I picked them up from was not sure what they were bred with but since I have no interest in breeding chickens of my own and purely wanted them for the eggs, I really didn’t care what breeds they were.

The chickens I picked up are 9 months old, which means they are already laying. And after a day off from all of the trauma of relocating and meeting my older hens, they started laying right away.

Speaking of meeting my older hens, I had done a little research and randomly had a conversation with one of my customers at work on the best way to integrate the new tenants.

It is a good idea to keep them segregated but within view of each other for a while so that they get to know each other without causing many battles. I have also read that it is a good idea to put the new hens on the roost at night when the older hens are resting for the night. Then when everyone wakes up in the morning they are more accepting of each other.

Basically, we did none of that.

I did keep them apart for a short time, but then Steve got in the run to be referee and told me to put them all in together. It was quite comical to watch him reprimanding chickens but honestly it worked pretty well.

Since I brought them home early on a Saturday morning we were able to work in the yard and keep an eye on them all day both Saturday and Sunday. That way if there was a serious injury, we were right there to be able to intercept.

Another distraction was Blitz. He was quite entertained by the new chickens and ran back and forth along the run. I think it was helpful. The chickens were more worried about the 80 pound dog than picking on each other.

I was prepared for more serious injuries. Chickens do have a pecking order and when they assert their position they are likely to peck and injure each other. However, once a chicken is bleeding it is more likely to be picked on by the other hens. So I purchased a lotion that not only helps heal injuries, it dyes the blood a different color so they are less likely to be drawn to the injury. I am very thankful so far I have not even opened the bottle.

As I write this, the chickens have been together one week, and I can say I think everyone is getting along very well. I still occasionally see an older hen dash across the run and peck a newbie for no reason whatsoever, but overall, I think things are going very well.

I am consistently collecting 5-7 eggs every day. It is also exciting that the new chickens’ eggs are much darker than the older hens. They are actually quite pretty. Hmmmmm…maybe I need to start looking into Easter Eggers…

I’m so glad that your new chickens have integrated well with your older ones, Sarah. I’ve heard it can be very challenging. Glad to see that Blitz is still helping out around the farm. I love the colour of the beautiful dark eggs. I think you definitely need to explore more colours.

Moments and happenings

Barn cat on a stump

Going into this past weekend, I was a bit anxious about what I was going to be posting on the blog this week. I had nothing written, and unusually I didn’t have any ideas either.

The thing about the farm though is that something always happens. We do something or see something and that becomes something to remember and share. Some moments are simple, some are bigger.

But together, they make up life here at the farm and are part of what makes living here so special.

Saturday morning started with Matt and Bax heading out for their walk, and Ralph sitting on her stump waiting for them to come back. She does this often. Last weekend she meowed after them the whole time they were gone.

But when I came out to snap her picture, she hopped off the stump and came to get attention from me instead. This weekend, I was more stealthy and managed to get a few shots of her. Queen of the farm on her throne.

Barn cat on a stump

After the photo session, I took my  book and went out and sat with her.

The quiet of a Saturday morning. The summer sunlight. Our amazing cat. This beautiful land. A simple moment that was a special start to the weekend.

Gotcha Day 4

Baxter hiking on a boardwalk through the marsh

I haven’t written as much about Baxter on this blog since I started writing for ThatMutt.com. But Mr. B is still our favourite dude and a huge part of life at the farm.

I love that he’s by my side as I work on projects or walk over the property. And I love that he’s opened up other opportunities for me, like writing for ThatMutt.com, or connecting with our off leash hiking group.

Baxter came to live with us July 7, 2013, so last week was his fourth gotcha anniversary.

I’m keeping up my annual tradition of writing a letter to Baxter (inspired by Tracey at love lives on). It’s posted at ThatMutt.com.

Here are my letters from year 1, year 2 , year 3 and Baxter’s adoption story.

Home Goals 2017 mid-year report

Hello July. Holy moly we’re already halfway through the year.

Halfway through the year means it’s time to take a look at how we’re doing on Home Goals 2017.

July also means summer vacation. I’m going to be taking a brief blogging break this week in favour of spending some time working on more of these Home Goals.

Office

The first room makeover of the year and the last bedroom to be redone. In case it’s not clear from all of the posts I’ve done about this room–including last week’s video tour–I’m loving this room.

China cabinet storage in the office

Pond shore

The pond shore was my one and only property clean-up goal this spring. However, between time, weather and then a broken arm, it didn’t happen. Argh. Expect to see this on the 2018 home goals list.

Instead of the pond shore, we tackled some other property clean-up. Matt and I burned an overgrown area behind the driveshed–but then I never cleared the rocks that we uncovered, so we haven’t been able to mow it, and it’s almost as overgrown as usual now. I’ve ever so slowly been tackling the jungle behind the house. So property clean-up hasn’t been a total skip this year. It just hasn’t been focused in the area I had hoped.

Cleaning up brush with fire

Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is off to a slow start, but a good one. The new blueberries, blackberries and grapes that I added are all doing well. The year-old grapes even seem to have recovered from their infestation.

I’m later than I would like on planting, so everything is pretty small still. Plus, so far I haven’t had any luck finding straw for our deep mulch experiment, so the battle against the weeds is being waged by hand. But between me and weeds, we’re even. I can’t say they’re winning yet, so I’m counting that as a win for me.

Weedy potatoes

Flower gardens

The flower gardens have been getting a bit more attention this year than they did last year. As a result, they’re–surprise, surprise–looking better than they did last year. The peonies were stunning, and we’re moving on to lily season.

I’ve added a couple of new plants–an astilbe and a white lilac–which will bring more blooms to our very green beds. Everything needs a good haircut–deadheading the spent blossoms and shaping up some of the very bushy bushes–so that’s the next to-do on the list.

Pink peony

Basement

I was really excited to share the basement TV area a little while ago. There are two more spaces in the basement that I’m hoping to show to you before the year’s out. They just need some art, some styling and a major tidy. Organizing the basement is tops on Matt’s list for the summer, so between the two of us, we may finish the rest of this space yet.

Basement TV area

New barn cat

We’ve decided that the best thing for Ralph for now is for her to continue to enjoy her days in peace and relative solitude. Our best girl is queen of the farm and doesn’t need a sidekick. So we will continue to be a one barncat farm for the foreseeable future.

Our barncat Ralph

Coop

This final task is a new addition for this year’s Home Goals courtesy of Matt. He is determined to have some hens to eat ticks next year, so that means we’re taking down the old coop and building a new one. I have lots of ideas about how to build the coop, but I haven’t entirely worked out all of the details of this project. I expect this one will take a little while. I guess I know what we’re doing this summer.

Old chicken coop

In fact, we’re getting a little start on the coop this week. With my few days off work, and Matt now on summer holidays, there will be gardening, weeding, organizing, cooping and cat scratching. Somewhere in there, there may be some relaxing too.

As part of my holiday, I’m taking the rest of the week off the blog too. I’ll be back next week with more news from the farm.

How are you doing on your projects so far this year?

How to feed hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are magical little birds. We see them occasionally around the farm, and the farm came with several hummingbird feeders that are tucked away in the driveshed, but we’ve never filled them. I feel like it may be time to change that given Sarah’s experience with her hummingbirds in Illinois.

Like Julia, I like to take care of the birds that stop by in our yard. However, I tend to cater to the hummingbirds. I am guessing I got my love of hummingbirds from my Grandma. She loves all kinds of birds especially hummingbirds and has all kinds of bird feeders in her yard.

She has always told me little facts about hummingbirds, such as did you know when a hummingbird travels south for the winter it flies across the Gulf of Mexico? That’s over 500 miles non-stop. It is also thought that a hummingbird may travel the same route each year. So the hummingbirds you see in your yard could very well be the same ones that visited last year.

The most common hummingbird I see at our house is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

The females are light greenish/grayish and white.

And the males are green with a bright red throat.

You can buy pre-made hummingbird nectar but I much rather make my own. It is easy to make and I know there are no chemicals in it.

Hummingbird Nectar

4 parts water
1 part white sugar

Boil water and sugar until just dissolved then let cool.

That it. It’s so simple. I usually make about two quarts (8 cups water and 2 cups sugar) at a time and put the extra in the refrigerator. Having it ready to go makes it really easy to refill when needed (which right now is daily).

It has been tradition for a long time to add red food colouring to the syrup. This is not needed and usually not recommended because there is some concern that the food colouring is unsafe for the hummingbirds. Most hummingbird feeders have red on them anyway, and I never have any problem with my hummingbirds finding my feeders with clear syrup.

I try to put my feeder out around the middle of April. I have kept track the past two years of when I spot my first hummingbird of the season. In 2016 it was April 25 and this year it was May 3. So I try to make sure I have food ready for them when they get here.

I leave the feeders out until the first chance of the syrup freezing. I have read that occasionally a bird will be injured or sick and stay behind a little longer than the others so it is a good idea to leave some food out for them.

That is all it takes to just sit back and enjoy them. They are really active around 7am at my house but by far the best time to watch them is from 7-8pm. They put on quite a show fighting over the feeder. Then just about dark they quiet down and head, I assume, back to their nests.

What type of birds do you feed? Do you have any hummingbirds at your house? Have you seen any other hummingbirds than the Ruby-Throated?

Those are amazing pictures, Sarah. We used to have a huge Rose of Sharon that attracted all kinds of hummingbirds. I think they were mostly Ruby-Throated, if I’m remembering accurately. It died a few winters ago, and we haven’t seen as many hummingbirds since. I feel like I should put up a few feeders, and they might come back.

Baby robins spreading their wings

Baby robins in a nest

A few weeks ago, a mama robin moved into one of the old nests on the driveshed. Last week, I noticed a few tiny mouths stretching up over the edge of the nest.

On Sunday, Mama and Daddy were trying to convince the babies it was time to leave the nest. One tried to tempt them with some food.

Robin with a worm in its mouth

But the babies did not agree it was time to fly on their own.

Baby robins

Every so often, the parents would discuss their problem children.

Pair of robins

One flew down to the ground to try a different angle. Of course, Ralph noticed. That led to a discussion between Ralph and me.

The babies stayed high on the rail at the driveshed–even though I convinced Ralph to move on.

Baby robins

I didn’t see the babies finally take flight. I hope that they found their way safely. I enjoy all of the different animals who call the farm home. New babies are extra special.

Terrible, terrible ticks

Tick on Baxter's leg

Ticks have been awful this spring.

We’ve removed more than 20 ticks from Baxter, ourselves and various surfaces in the house. Matt has expanded and extended pathways all around the farm so that we can avoid the long grass of the fields. We’ve made tick checks part of our regular routine every time we come into the house.

Container of ticks

I try not to worry about them too much. I know some ticks can carry dangerous illnesses, but we’re diligent checking ourselves and the dog regularly and pulling off any we find. (I wrote an article for ThatMutt.com about techniques for protecting Baxter from ticks.) As much as the quantity of ticks we’ve faced this spring is an anomaly, I feel like ticks are part of living on the farm.

However poor Matt is losing his mind. He’s mowed so much grass this spring–determinedly riding Wiley around on tick killing missions.

The one upside of this plague is that adding birds to our family has moved up our list. Hens, particularly guinea hens, eat ticks. Birds have always been on our someday list, but Matt has put them on the “we need to kill these ticks now” list. When my husband makes a decision, things happen fairly quickly.

Tick held in tweezers

After that statement, you might expect to see a picture of a cute fluffball chick or a feathered hen here. We’re not that impetuous. First we will build the coop and then we will get our birds. But I think we may have found our summer project.

Any coop building tips to share? Or any tick fighting strategies? Do you have ticks at your house? What pests are you battling this spring?

Real life in Illinois

Unfortunately, nothing seems to be going well right now for Sarah in Illinois. But philosophically, she says, “That is life!” She is here today with a chicken, fruit tree and garden update.

I’d love to start this post with a tale of how I walk out into my back yard, with my dog at my side. We walk to the chicken coop where we lovingly pet the chickens, gather more eggs than we could eat, then walk over to the garden. We pick multitudes of strawberries, sugar snap peas, rhubarb and gaze at the full garden of healthy, thriving plants that will soon provide healthy vegetables to all of our meals.

Unfortunately, this is real life. And life doesn’t care about your plans.

This post will be full of things that have gone wrong. But I promise, I am keeping a positive outlook.

Chickens

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what I am going to write here. One of my chickens died. I don’t know what happened.

Last weekend our neighbor texted Steve and said that she had some type of predator that has been getting in her barn, and it killed two of her young kittens. So Steve went to help her, and the plan was to set a live trap and hopefully catch the culprit.

The next evening I went to close up my chickens and I found the Rhode Island Red dead in the corner of the coop. The other three chickens are perfectly fine.

I inspected the coop and run and found no point of entry. There was no blood and no damage to the body of the chicken. So even though I have been on alert with my neighbor having an issue, I really don’t feel a predator killed my chicken. I think it must have had some problem that I was not aware of. But believe me when I say, I am keeping a much closer eye on the coop.

Fruit Trees

I posted a few weeks back that we had planted two cherry trees. I had ordered them through a seed and plant catalog, and they came bare root. If you have seen a small bare root tree, it basically looks like a stick.

I had confidence that with all the rain (more on that below) I would see some sort of life in our two “sticks,” but after about 4 weeks they showed no sign of life, no leaf, no bud. In fact one was very brittle and Steve was easily able to break the top off.

One day we were at our local “buy everything in one stop” store and there was a 4-foot cherry tree with healthy leaves and even a couple cherries hanging from it.

We decided it was time to give up on our “sticks” and purchase trees that were about 4 years further along in the growing process.

While we were there I told Steve that we should go ahead and pick up a peach tree. They looked healthy and peaches are Steve’s favorite fruit. He looked them all over, made sure the leaves looked healthy, made sure the trunk was straight and we made our purchase. When we got home, we dug a hole and when we lifted the tree to set it in, we saw the tag hanging off of it: Apple Tree ‘Pink Lady.’

We got a good laugh out of how both of us could inspect this tree so closely, look at the leaves that were obviously not peach tree leaves and still bring home an apple tree.

The next day we went back up and picked up two peach trees. We checked and double checked the tags this time.

Garden

In my last post, I talked about how much rain we had.

In 6 days we measured 9.7 inches of rain in our rain gauge. Since then I haven’t kept as close record, but I know for certain we have had at least another 3 inches. I looked online and our average rainfall for the month of May is 4 inches. We have had over three times our normal rainfall.

As I write this, the forecast is calling for 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight and 50% chance tomorrow. So the fact that I have ANYTHING growing in the garden is close to a miracle.

I have had to replant potatoes, but thankfully the second crop has broken ground and is much more likely to make it.

We also replanted cucumbers and sugar snap peas, and they also look much better.

Remember last year when I overdid it on the radishes? We we took a much better approach this year, and my crop is a lot more manageable.

However, our tomatoes and green peppers are showing signs of stress from the excess rain. The leaves are starting to yellow. We planted 2 green peppers on little mounds hoping that would help, but I am still not sure about them.

As you can see, our garden is struggling a little bit. But it is still early and I have high hopes that it will come around. Looking closely at my pictures, you can see I have some weeding to do.

As soon as it is possible we still need to plant green beans, squash, cabbage, watermelons and sunflowers. I will plant pumpkins sometime in early July for an October harvest.

That looks so, so soggy, Sarah. You’ve had some tough breaks. I love that you can still laugh about apple-peach trees and look ahead to a successful harvest.

Odds and sods

Collage of photos

We’ve had some ups and downs over the last couple of weeks, but tonight the first long weekend of the “summer” begins. We don’t have a lot of plans for this weekend, which is probably a good thing. There may be gardening. There may be hiking. I may simply sit in the garden with my book.

Here is some of what we’ve been up to, and some other interesting things I’ve seen recently.

  • One of the big downs was that Matt was in a car accident and has a broken arm as a result of the airbag. We’re very grateful that he was not more seriously hurt, and it looks like his car is going to be replaced fairly easily, so things are looking up now. Plus the blue cast that he chose put the Blue Jays on a bit of a winning streak–one that they can hopefully recapture this weekend.
  • While we’re watching the baseball games, I’m hoping I can multi-task and catch up on some of the One Room Challenge reveals that I haven’t seen yet.
  • I got a new phone two weeks ago. This is a huge upgrade over my four year-old Blackberry. I’ve been super impressed with the camera, which gave me one of my favourite pictures so far of Ralph surveying her domain from the barn.
  • Just because we can’t play favourites, there’s another cute photo of our other furry dude and some of his furry friends (are horses furry?)
  • Back to Ralph, I’m adding catnip to the garden for her this year. I came across this cat herb garden last week, and now I’m thinking our best girl might need a few other herbs too.
  • Another brilliant garden idea that I saw this week was this double-duty yard tool/yard stick for the garden–so smart.
  • Ending on one more up, trillium season is always special. I love seeing their flowers around the farm. We even have one blooming in our front garden.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. And to my fellow Canadians, Happy Victoria Day. How are you marking the weekend?