Early mornings in Illinois

I would not call myself a morning person, but there is something magical about those early moments in the day. Time to be alone and enjoy the quiet of the farm. Time to be productive and tackle a little bit of work. Sarah in Illinois–also not a morning person–has come to appreciate her morning routine. She is here today, sharing a bit about how she starts her day.

Having chickens requires me to get up a little earlier every morning to tend to them. This isn’t the easiest for someone who readily admits she is not a “morning person.” However, I do enjoy the fact that everything is a little more peaceful just as the sun rises. It also allows me to spend a little one on one time with Blitz. We like to play ball and visit with Ruff the barn cat.

These two have comically become good friends.

I think because it is early morning, and they both are still a little groggy from sleep.

When I leave the barn I usually pat Ruff on the head and her head is always soaked in Blitz’s slobbers.

I have begun to really enjoy this quiet time in the morning. It helps remind me to slow down and look around.

Are you a morning person? What do you enjoy about the start of the day? Do you have a pair of unlikely buddies around your house?

Aww. It’s great to meet your Ruff, Sarah. I wonder how she and Ralph would get along. Baxter and Ralph’s relationship is definitely not as buddy-buddy as Blitz and Ruff’s. I would say Ralph tolerates Baxter. She definitely does not allow him to slobber on her. It’s great that Ruff and Blitz have become such good friends.

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Chickens by the numbers

It’s been more than a year and half since Sarah in Illinois welcomed her first chickens. She is here today with an update on her flock.

7 – Number of chickens still happy and healthy.

2 – Number of breeds of chickens still on my wish list (Leghorns and Ameraucana).

4 – Number of chickens my stepdaughter put charm bracelets on.

5 – Average number of eggs I still collect every day.

3 – Number of weeks a 50 pound bag of feed lasts.

1 – Number of wheelbarrows of corn I still have left to crack

0 – Number of chickens that will leave the coop if there is any snow on the ground.

100 percent – How happy I am that I decided to take on this adventure.

Between their bracelets, disdain for snow and hand-cracked corn, I think you have some pampered hens, Sarah. (Although I think aversion to snow is fairly common in chickens.) It’s great that you’ve been able to keep them healthy and happy and keep receiving eggs from them. Your enjoyment of them is obvious.

Inspiration and a mantra for 2018

Happy New Year from Sarah in Illinois. I’m very happy to have Sarah continuing as a contributor this year, sharing news of what’s happening at her farm in Illinois. Like us here in Ontario, she’s starting off the year in a cold snap, but she’s looking ahead with optimism. She’s sharing some of her inspiration for 2018 today.

Happy New Year!

Our new year in Illinois has been great, but very, very cold. We have not made it above freezing temperatures in about two weeks. Last night we dropped to -6F (-21C) actual temperature. Keeping water available to the chickens has been my biggest struggle, even with a heated water bowl.

There is one more inconvenience that I am dealing with. Frozen eggs!

I gather them in the morning before work, but by the time I get home and there has been 10 hours of single digit temperatures, I usually find this:

However, relief is on the way. The forecast for the upcoming week shows that we are going to rise above freezing every day and I am looking forward to it.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming year. A new year always feels like a blank slate. For us, 2017 had some good points but a lot of struggles and the promise of a fresh new start is invigorating.

If you remember my posts last year or the year before I used the website My One Word to find an inspirational word for the year.

I decided this year that I want to use a phrase as a sort of mantra for my upcoming year and I wrote it in the front of my new planner.

I am not sure where this phrase originated. I found a version attributed to Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart: “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.”

I found this quote by David Cottrell: “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact, sometimes it’s real hard – but just remember that doing the right thing is always right.”

And if you are a fan of Harry Potter then I am sure you remember Albus Dumbledore saying, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

No matter who first said it, I think it can be applied to every aspect of my life from what I choose to eat, to getting chores done around the house and barn.

So what about you? Do you have a word or a mantra to start your new year? Or do you write out resolutions? Do you feel like I do and think of the new year as a clean, blank slate?

This is a great mantra for the year, Sarah. I like how it can apply to big things as well as the little everyday tasks. I’m doing a word of the year for the first time this year, and I’ll be sharing my choice in an upcoming post.

I’m curious to here how others are starting the new year. Leave a comment and let us know your resolutions or words or mantras.

DIY cracked corn for chickens

Most of us will do anything for our pets. With the help of a local farmer, Sarah in Illinois is giving her hens a special treat this fall. Although I’m not sure how helpful this farmer has actually been.

My chickens are fed layer feed every day, but once in a while I buy a bag of cracked corn for them as a treat. I throw it around in the run for them to peck and scratch at during the day. It gives them something to do and they seem to love it.

So imagine my surprise when my farmer neighbor knocked on my door a few weeks back and told me that he had spilled some corn in the field while he was filling his bins. All I had to do was go out behind my barn and scoop it up before it rained. Well, heck yes. Free corn!

I went out in the field with a wheelbarrow and a scoop shovel, and I got corn. Lots of it.

While the chickens will occasionally eat whole kernels of corn, they much prefer when it is cracked, and I think it is also easier for them to digest.

My dad, whom I have mentioned before doesn’t throw anything away, said that he thought he had an old corn mill stashed somewhere. And it turns out that he did.

The mill is a simple machine. You fill the hopper on top with whole corn. It holds about 4 cups.

Then there is a wheel to crank and it turns a cylinder inside. It has a few slots that the corn falls down into and as it turns it crushes the kernel.

There is a knob on the side that you can turn and adjust the clearance inside the mill. The tighter it is turned, the finer the corn is milled.

We adjusted it to a point where the corn comes out just slightly cracked so that it is a good size for the chickens to handle.

All that is left is to crank away.

And crank.

And crank.

Steve asked me when I wanted him to mount an old motor to the crank.

I am getting closer to giving him the go-ahead!

I am making my way through this corn… 4 cups at a time.

Wheelbarrows of corn, 4 cups at a time. You’re a woman dedicated to her chickens, Sarah. When I was growing up and we had ducks and geese, they would get a ration of corn mixed into their winter feed. I think my Dad’s rationale was that the corn was higher fat and would help the birds in the cold weather. So the timing may be right for this influx of corn. Whether a treat or a bit of extra warmth, I hope your girls appreciate your work.

Lots of eggs in Illinois

The flavour of a fresh, home grown egg can’t be beat in my opinion, so an over-abundance of eggs would be welcome around here. Abundance is exactly what Sarah in Illinois has. Add a few chickens to your household, and the eggs quickly pile up. Sarah is here today sharing some of her favourite egg recipes. She’s also seeking suggestions on other ways to use up her bounty.

We still have 7 healthy chickens so that means we have 6-7 eggs to collect every day. Those eggs add up quickly. I really hate to have any waste, so after I have given eggs to our immediate family, I try to use everything that is left.

The most obvious use for eggs is breakfast. I like to scramble a few and add fresh chives and dill from my herb garden before I leave for work. On the weekends, Steve fries them or makes his favorite: omelets. His specialty is filling the omelets with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese, sausage and fried potatoes.

Probably the most common way we prepare our eggs is hard boiling them to have for breakfasts or an easy to grab, high protein snack.

Blitz’s favorite breakfast? Boiled eggs mashed up with butter. No lie.

Our go-to carry-in dish is to make deviled eggs. This past weekend I made them to take to our family reunion and used a basic recipe of mixing the yolk with mayo, mustard and relish. Then I added ranch dressing to thin it out a little. This isn’t Steve’s favorite, but the kids and I like it.

However, even with all of these uses, we still have plenty of eggs left over. So I decided to search for more recipes.

Growing up mom often made a quiche. I think I am going to try this one by Paula Deen.
One dish that I have always been curious about is Eggs Benedict. I have never tried it before but I think this would be an easy recipe to try.

I keep telling myself to make a batch of these scrambled egg muffins and freeze for a quick breakfast on mornings we are running late.

One of our overachieving hens laid this double-yolker.

What would make your egg recipe list? How do you like your eggs for breakfast? What are your favorite ingredients in an omelet?

Mmmmm… eggs. I love eggs. (BTW, I love that spiral egg rack too.) I’m a poached egg person usually. I love dipping toast fingers in the yolk. We also make our own version of McMuffins some weekend mornings. Omelets, quiches and frittatas are a go-to for an easy dinner. If you’re looking for something a little fancier, a strata is a good go-to. I’ve made this one a few times and it’s good.

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.

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.