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.

A whole clutch of wild turkey eggs

Clutch of turkey eggs

On Friday I shared with you a wild turkey egg that Matt had found while walking with Baxter. On Saturday while clearing one of our very over-grown areas, I found turkey eggs.

Look at these.

Nine turkey eggs

From the looks of the nest and the feel of the eggs, these are not from this season.

I’m a bit dismayed that this clutch was obviously not successful. But I’m ecstatic that I got to see this nest.

Ahh, I need some birds of my own.

Wild turkey egg

Wild turkey egg

My husband knows me well. He found this wild turkey egg while he was walking Baxter and carried it home for me.

Little things like this bring both of us so much joy now that we’re living on the farm.

It’s broken, and it’s so early in the season that I don’t think we have a little poult running around. But perhaps it’s still early enough that a mama turkey may be out there somewhere on this Mother’s Day weekend.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms–human, avian or other. I hope that you have a special weekend.

Building a chicken run in Illinois

Chickens are on my wishlist for the farm. But part of what’s holding me back from getting them is the coop. I know I need to rebuild the coop and part of that is a secure, covered run for our birds. Sarah in Illinois is nearly a year into chicken farming, and she has recently added a run for her hens. She’s sharing that project today, and also looking ahead to a few more.

As I mentioned a few posts back, I was concerned with keeping my chickens free range. I loved that they could roam the yard, pick all kinds of greens and bugs and worms and have such a healthy diet. However, Blitz was becoming quite a concern for me.

I know very well that it is his natural instinct to chase and catch. I also know that the only way for us to overcome this is for me (and the other members of our family) to work with him constantly, to train him and teach him to leave the chickens alone.

It is still possible for us to achieve this and for Blitz and the chickens to live in peace and harmony, but then Steve and started thinking about how we were going to keep the chickens out of the garden this year and we decided it was time to make a chicken run.

We will not get any awards for our design or our building technique but the chickens are safe from Blitz and our garden is safe from the chickens.

20170409_173010

It wasn’t long after we built our run that I read that Kit over at DIY Diva was building a run for her free range chickens. Unfortunately, she lost a few of her flock before she could get them contained. I am thankful that we only had a very close call with one, and all four are doing well now.

We used part of the existing welded wire fencing to make a run about 8 feet wide and the length of the barn. Then we lined the inside of this fence with chicken wire. To support the roof we used old fence poles that we had laying around. We ran the chicken wire over the top and secured all of our seams by twisting wire ties every few feet.

Like I said, we did not use any advanced carpentry skills. If we ever get a hungry raccoon looking for a meal I don’t think that our fence will do anything but slow him down. I still make sure to close their coop door every night, and I look over the fencing often to make sure there are no signs of something trying to make its way inside.

I don’t recommend our approach for anyone with problems with tougher predators. We did not put anything underground like Kit did. Her approach was much more thorough. It is also possible that we will have to reevaluate everything if we get other predators, but for now it is keeping out one goofy pup.

I also mentioned last time that I was going to set my new goals for my next three months. So here we go. By June 30 I hope to have a few more things accomplished:

1. Light box for my mom.

She has asked me a few times to make her one and has even sent me pins about it, but I haven’t started one yet. So that will be a good project for rainy days or evenings.

A light box is basically a shallow box with a clear or opaque lid. Inside is a light and when you put something that you want to trace on top the light shines through and lets you trace much easier.

My mom loves to sew (mostly quilts) and she could really use one. I have pinned one that I am going to base my design on but I need to talk to mom and make sure these dimensions work for what she needs.

2. Grill lighting

We need to figure out some type of lighting for around our grill on our deck. I say “we” because Steve does most, if not all, of the grilling, so I am going to have him help me decide what will work and look the best. Right now, this is purely just an idea in my head and I have done no research.

3. The Garden

For my third project I am not setting a specific project. I am just going to say “garden.” The list of what needs done is so long that I am going to just group it all together and say that any work that gets done in the garden is on my “to-do” list.

We increased the size of our garden this year to 68 feet by 64 feet. With the rain we have gotten lately, we are behind on getting our potatoes in the ground.

So basically, if I am not working on numbers one and two listed above, I need to be in that garden.

I know what you mean about “garden,” Sarah. I actually think it should be “The Garden.” That’s a huge area you have. Between that, the puppy, the chickens and your other projects, you will definitely be keeping yourself busy. Hopefully the run helps to make at least a couple of things easier. It looks like it should do what you need it to. Good luck with your list.

How to encourage egg laying in the winter

Back in December, Sarah in Illinois shared some of the lessons she’s learned since adding laying chickens to her farm. In the post, she mentioned mentioned that their egg production had declined as winter set in. She had a few ideas to encourage more laying, and today she’s back to share what happened.

If you remember my post a couple months ago, I gave an update on the chickens and mentioned that their egg production had declined.

I thought that it was either from lack of daylight or cooler temperatures. I was willing to try to add some artificial daylight, but that I was not going to risk a barn fire by adding heat.

I am happy to report adding some light did the trick.

I went to the local home improvement store and purchased a light socket with metal shade. All you do is add a bulb and plug it in.

I took it a few steps further.

First, I chose an LED bulb. I am serious when I say that a barn fire is one of my worst fears, and I was going to take no chances in using a bulb that would get hot.

An LED did the trick. It produces almost no heat at all. I can rest my hand on the metal shield while it is on and there is no chance of me, or the chickens, getting burned.

As you can imagine with a traditional bulb there is no way I would be able to touch the shield, it would burn me instantly.

The second thing I did was to secure the fixture.

It came with a clamp to attach it where you need light. There is a good chance that it wouldn’t move, but I wanted to make sure it did not fall and rest in the straw in the bottom of the coop. So I ran a screw into the clamp after I had it where I wanted it.

No crazy chicken antics will cause the lamp to fall.

My final step was to add a timer. I have it set to come on every morning from 6 to 7 am and again from 4 to 8 pm.

After I had all of this in place I waited.

After about a week I found 2 eggs in the box.

And then a few days later I started getting 3 eggs a day.

I even had a bonus day yesterday where all 4 chickens laid an egg.

I can say that this project was a complete success, and I have no fear of burning our barn down.

I also have progress to report on my project goals that I listed in my last post.

One of my projects is to make over my Grandma’s Saint Francis statue.

I started by scraping off all loose paint. I did not intend to remove all the paint, only the paint that was loose and came off easily.

For the most part the concrete is in good shape but it has broken off of the base.

I am sure there are products meant for this type of project, but I chose to use what we had sitting around. We had a partial bag of thin-set mortar that we had used to install tile in our house. It sets up extremely hard, so I thought that once it is painted, it may work just fine.

I really don’t know about the longevity for this use, but I decided that it was worth a shot. I mixed some water and made it thick enough that I could apply it with a putty knife.

I knew that I wanted to add a couple layers instead of one thick layer so I purposely left the first layer bumpy instead of smooth so that the second layer will have something to attach to. I waited for it to dry and hoped that it would work.

24 hours after I added the thin-set to the statue, I started thinking that it is not going to work. I think the thin-set is too crumbly and will not hold up long term.

But that’s okay. I tried it, and I will try something else and report back how it goes.

Way to give things a try, Sarah. I’m glad that the chickens’ light worked so well. It’s great that you’re able to get fresh eggs again. I would miss those! Hopefully you’re able to find something that works for your Grandma’s statue too. 

Breakfast with the birds

Chicadees at the birdfeeder

Most days, my morning starts pretty early. Too early for the sun and too early for the birds.

Which is a shame, because our birdfeeder is perfectly positioned right outside the dining room window, and I love watching the birds as I’m having my breakfast.

Over the holidays, my days started a little later and I was able to share my breakfast with a few feathered folk.

Blue jay at the birdfeeder

Cardinal at the birdfeeder

Woodpecker at the birdfeeder

The woodpecker (above) was the top of the pecking order until the dove (below) came along. Despite their reputation, this guy is not at all peaceful. He wants all the seeds for himself.

Dove at the birdfeeder

I highly recommend this simple style of birdfeeder. The birds seem to really like it, and it’s easy to fill and clean. I posted plans way back when I first made it. You can download them here.

What birds do you see at your house? Do you have a birdfeeder?

Lessons learned after 4 months of chicken farming

Sarah in Illinois has had her chickens for about 4 months. Today she’s sharing what she’s learned so far with raising laying chickens.

I was very nervous when I decided to take this on. You may remember from my earlier posts that I had done a lot of research and read several books and asked lots of questions to fellow “chicken people.”

One piece of advice from my cousin was that I was overthinking it. From what I have experienced so far, she was exactly right.

I really can’t imagine raising chickens being any easier.

Now I need to make sure to point out that I have been lucky and have had no medical issues with any of my chickens, no injuries and no pests like flies or lice. All of those problems could still happen and I will rethink that raising chickens is “easy.”

Everyone who raises chickens has different circumstances so all I could do was try my best and make notes on what to change. So here is what I have learned in my first 4 months.

Coop

The coop seems to be working very well. It had plenty of ventilation this summer and I closed off all but a very little area for ventilation this winter. The temperatures are just starting to drop here, so I am hoping they will stay warm enough.

I have had no issues with any critters trying to get in the coop. We have had several raccoons, foxes and opossum on our property this year, but we have been lucky to find them before they got to the coop.

The only thing that I plan to change in the coop is maybe making them a new door, but that is purely for my own satisfaction, not a necessity.

Pen/Enclosure

I have gone back and forth on what type, if any, enclosure is best for the chickens.

I foolishly thought that they may stay in the fenced area that I already had set up for when Treu was here. That clearly did not work. They have been fully free-range so far. I really liked them being able to have a varied diet, hunt down bugs and just over all be healthier and happier.

But then Blitz came along. Blitz is not happy with them being free-range. I can’t tell you how many times I have run across the yard to grab a chicken out of his mouth.

Lately he has been grabbing them by the tail and dragging them as far away as he can. We are working on discipline, but I think we are fighting a losing battle.

Steve and I are pretty sure we are not far from him grabbing one just right and killing it. So we are going to continue to work with him coexisting with the chickens, but we have also bought a large roll of chicken wire to enclose the chickens and protect them from puppy bites.

Heat/Light

The chickens had been laying eggs very well up to about 2 weeks ago. We still had warm temperatures and enough daylight that I was getting 3-4 eggs a day consistently.

However, as expected, their production has decreased a lot now that we’re getting closer to winter. I am getting 2 eggs one day and nothing the next.

Some people add heat lamps to their coops for them to continue to lay all winter. I will not be adding a heat lamp. I am too nervous and have heard too many horror stories of coops and barns burning down from heat lamp accidents. But I have thought about adding a lightbulb on a timer to simulate longer hours of daylight. It would produce a minimal amount of heat but mostly just give them the feeling of longer days.

Food

Since the chickens have been free range, I have not been worried at all about their food. I always have pellets handy for them, but they eat very little chicken feed when they are free to roam the yard and fields.

I did make them a feeder out of PVC pipe. I found several samples on Pinterest, but the idea is very basic.

I used a piece of 3-inch diameter PVC pipe, a “y” and two caps. I cut about 3 inches of the straight piece of pipe, this was used to connect the bottom cap to the “y.” In the picture below you can see how I stacked a cap, 3-inch section of PVC pipe, “y,” the remaining PVC pipe and a cap on top to keep out dust, dirt and chicken poop.

I fill the feeder approximately every 10 days. I expect to fill it more often as winter sets in and the chickens have less grass and bugs to eat.

Water

Right now their water may freeze over slightly overnight, but it has not been cold enough to freeze to where they can’t get water. I obviously will have to decide what kind of heated water container I am going to use and probably pretty soon.

More chickens

Yes, I plan to add chickens to my flock in the spring. I have known from the beginning that I may add to my flock.

Steve doesn’t like brown eggs. I know that is shocking. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had where people can’t believe that and swear that brown eggs are richer, taste better and are healthier. But hey, we all have likes and dislikes and his is that he doesn’t like brown eggs. So I just see that as an opportunity to add more chickens!

When we built the coop we planned for it to be big enough to house 10-12 chickens. Now that I know what raising chickens is like, I can comfortably add more and not feel overwhelmed. My plan is to add 2-3 white egg layers (possibly Leghorns) that are 3 to 4 months old.

I am not ready to attempt to keep baby chicks alive, so that is why I want them to be a couple of months old.

Clearly this was the more photogenic of the chickens. She was always in front of the camera!

Another reason to add chickens is that 4 chickens produce enough eggs that I can occasionally take some to my parents or Steve’s mom, but I don’t have enough where I think “what am I going to do with all of these eggs?” So I feel I can add a couple and easily have eggs to provide to our parents and my brother and his girlfriend.

So how do I feel after my first 4 months of being a chicken farmer?

I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience so far. If you are thinking about raising chickens for fresh eggs, do it.

Do your research, ask questions, then go for it! If you have questions for me, ask away. I will answer to the best of my knowledge with my short experience.

Yay, Sarah! I’m glad that your chickens are working out so well for you–despite the challenges with Blitz. I am so looking forward to the day when we have our own farm fresh eggs. I have to say that I’m on team brown… or blue (I love the idea of Ameraucanas) when it comes to eggs. However, I don’t really notice a difference in taste based on shell colour. I notice a difference in taste between farm fresh and store bought. I love the flavourful deep orange yolks!

Growing sunflower seeds

It’s been neat to watch the sunflowers go through their various stages of growth.

More than a month ago you saw the cheery blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago, the seeds started to come in. The spiky flowers in the centre of the blossom dropped off to reveal the tightly packed seeds.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

It was about this time that the local wildlife seemed to discover the sunflowers.

I had hoped to get another photo this week, but the flowers have been nearly picked clean. Most of the seeds have been consumed.

The biggest culprits are the blue jays. Any time I walk past the garden, at least six jays erupt from the sunflower patch. We’ve also spotted chipmunks and squirrels.

So it appears that we may be buying bird seed again this year.