Sunday, January 31, 2010

RIP, Blue Silky

I just lost my first chick. Death is bound to happen with animals but that doesn't make it any less sad. I went out to check on the chicks and noticed that one wasn't really moving. In fact, one of the other silkies was using her as a stepping stone. They were all fine last night and this morning. I don't know what happened! We brought her inside, wrapped her up in a warm towel and my daughter held her on her lap. Bubbles began to come from the chicks beak and she gasped for air. My daughter decided to say a little prayer for the chick. A few short moments later, the silky took her last breath. And that was it. Sweet little chick.

A burial was held for the chick, and we placed her in the backyard with a lovely view of the lake. I asked my husband if he wanted to say anything and from the look he gave me, it was a no. What is the proper protocol for a chicken funeral? Surely not just dig a hole and throw her in? I said a few short words and we left our little silkie in peace.

I just checked on the chicks and they all seem lively and happy. I'm hoping the death of blue silky was just one of those things and not something that will infect all of them.

On a happier note, we received 8 more frizzle eggs yesterday and they are now snug in the incubator with the others. So we have a total of 16 eggs cooking in there. We will candle them in the next few days and see if we can see anything happening in there. But first I need to learn how to candle. :)

Donkeys, Mules and Chicks

Our poor little donkey Brownie. We went out to the farm on Thursday for a visit and sweet Brownie was in a mess! Her lip was torn off from the side to halfway across and was hanging down about 6" in the front. Ouch! That had to hurt. We thought she might have gotten her lip stuck on the barbed wire or some other sharp thing and tugged to free it.

Obviously we needed to do something. Having just gone through the very expensive and stressful ordeal with our cat, a dangling lip was not something we wanted to see but there it was. Google did not provide a large animal vet name for us so we called Tractor Supply and they recommended Dr. Melinda Gray. We called and she answered! She agreed to come out the next day.

Brownie wasn't sure what to make of this and the mule wasn't liking it one bit. And Dr. Gray didn't like the mule. As she put it to me, "He's young, stupid and has no manners." The donkeys and the mule have not been handled by people and they aren't sure they want to be... ever. Since the mule weighs close to 1000 pounds, we were voting for someone else to be the first to handle the mule!

Dr. Gray finally isolated Brownie and went to work fixing her up. She had to take the lip off which resulted in a bloody mess although Brownie didn't seem to find since she was a little loopy on a sedative and pain medicine. They both handled it like a trooper.

My husband spent the whole time feeding the goats. He said he couldn't stand to see her in pain. My 5-year old daughter was totally fascinated and watched the whole thing. Dr. Gray asked her if she was going to be okay with watching, and Annaliese assured her she would be just fine. And she was. Brownie also had a tetanus shot and some antibiotics.

Next up was Cookie since he was limping badly. He did not care for being isolated one single bit. That donkey can kick up a storm! Good thing we have all this fencing. And now we even know what some of it is for!

Cookie just had a sprained ankle, so he got his tetanus shot and an anti-inflammatory shot. Dr. Gray said Nature will take its course on both of them from here. I guess that's the way it is on a farm!

Both donkeys had a yummy treat of sweet feed and even though Brownie was bleeding all over the bucket, she had no problem eating. Dr. Gray sweetly suggested that maybe we should castrate Cookie if we plan on keeping the donkeys. We will be taking care of that in March ( I don't think any of us will be watching that. Yuck!). The mule is also not castrated and Dr. Gray said she would guess that Cookie and the mule were fighting over poor Brownie, with one of them ripping off her lip and Cookie getting injured. "Vicious" was the word she used for fights like that. The mule started raising quite a raucous and proceeded to try to lean over the fence to bite either the Doctor or the donkey. I don't think he cared which one.

So now we have a large animal vet and that is a relief. We came home and listed that mule on Craigslist and a nice young man came and got him the next morning, leaving with promises that he will be riding him before long. All I can say to that is Better You Than Me. So no more mule and two donkeys doing a happy dance. Those three were forever fighting, kicking and in general bad behavior.

Dr. Gray confirmed that several of the goats are expecting and maybe the donkey too. One interesting fact is that the gestational period of donkeys is 13 months and they can get pregnant again just 3 short days after giving birth. Cookie is definitely going to have his little procedure, so if Brownie is pregnant, this will be her last one. And I guess we need to decide what we're doing with the goats. Dr. Gray thinks there are 5 girls and 2 boys which could result in gobs and gobs of goats if we're not careful!!

The day was cold, ice was on the way but we left the farm comforted that Brownie was stitched, Cookie would survive and the Mule would be gone soon.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hatch time!

My incubator is set up and the eggs are here! However, things didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped.

Because I have zero knowledge about incubators and hatching chicks, I decided to get an incubator that is easy to use and requires very little from me. After doing research online and asking around, I decided on the RCom 20 which is supposed to do it all for me. Unfortunately no one told me I had to assemble it.

The first warning sign came when I opened the box. You know you're in trouble when this is on the box.

The beginning of life affection. Obviously this is not made in America. I remained hopeful though that the instructions would be complete and comprehensive. NOT! They were in English but the words didn't go together and many things were just plain wrong. Even I knew that you do not TIGHTEN THE VOLT as it encouraged me to do twice. Unfortunately many parts were not addressed in the pitiful manual so when I actually translated and accomplished what I could out of the instructions, there remained a pile of things that I didn't know what to do with. Luckily I found some videos online that had no words but did show someone assembling it and I figured it out from there.

My first batch of eggs arrived yesterday and they are now safely in the incubator. Eight little frizzle eggs. In 21 days, we hopefully will have a few chicks peeping and peeking out of their shells.

In the meantime, I just need to make sure the incubator stays on (Please, impending ice storm, do not make me lose power!), make sure the pump keeps operating for humidity, and make sure neither of my children decide to see what's in the eggs. Since this is my first attempt at hatching, I'm prepared for the disappointment of no chicks hatching but I'm also hoping I'm wrong! We should start hearing some peeping around day 19 or 20. I'll keep everyone posted!

Field Trip!

Blue skies, warm temperatures (for January anyway), and the need to clean the cages prompted a major Field Trip for all the chicks. One at a time, I carried each little fuzzball out to the front lawn, all the while hoping none of my neighbors would drive by and wonder why there's a flock of chickens at my house.

The chicks promptly began scurrying around, checking things out and attempting to fly. They mostly just flutter from place to place and generally land on one another. They moved around in a little group, never far from each other. A few of the chicks became little thiefs, stealing whatever they brothers and sisters found. One of the yellow chicks kept zooming off into the Great Unknown and all of the rest would immediately zoom after her. We spent a fun afternoon watching the antics of the chicks on their first Excursion to the Outdoors.

Despite all the fun, the sun began to set and the time arrived to go back home. The most important thing I learned during our Field Trip is that putting them outside is easy. Putting them back home is not. Thankfully no one taped me running after each scurrying little chick, trying desperately to get one. They are fast little buggers. Fortunately I managed to get them all home safe and sound, feed them a nice dinner and settle them down for the night.

Round two is this afternoon!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A girl, her lollipop, and her chicken

The day was sunny but a bit cold and just a teensy bit blustery. Still, we decided to see how Toffee did outside. She's 4 weeks older than the rest of the chicks, seems to have all of her feathers, and frankly, curiosity got the best of us. Annaliese supervised Toffee's excursion to the Great Outdoors although apparently even the Supervisor needs her lollipop.

Toffee's hair seems to be in her eyes and I'm not sure how well she can see. A haircut may be in order soon. She seemed to be a bit confused about this whole Outside business but she did start to do a few chicken things like pecking and looking around. I spent the entire time petting her, reassuring her and taking pictures of her. My poor mother-in-law, visiting from Far Far Away, just shook her head at me and said "It's like she's your baby." Well, actually she is. :)

Hopefully it will warm up enough in the next few days and we can bring all the little ones outside for Exploration. Now that should be fun!


The chicks are growing and thriving and getting fluffier by the day. It seems they get bigger overnight. Several of them are beginning to show signs of their crest (or as my daughter call it.... their hat).

Annaliese is still enjoying taking care of her babies!

Waiting on Pumpkin

We have a beautiful cat named Pumpkin (or as we also call him, Chunkin, and at 14+ pounds, he more than earns that name!). Pumpkin fell ill last week and despite his attempts to tell me about it, I didn't understand and by the time he made it to the vet, he was gravely ill. He spent the weekend at the vet's office here and had to be transferred up to an emergency animal hospital an hour north of our little town on Saturday night. Pumpkin had surgery yesterday and thankfully, he is doing great! All of this was a huge shock to our wallet and to my son's heart, but I'm happy to report that Pumpkin is coming home on Thursday and should be good as new in a few weeks. My son had a message for Pumpkin on our chalkboard.

I think that says it all.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chicks and Hard Boiled Eggs

My little chicks are growing and fluffing! It looks like they've gotten twice as fluffy overnight. One of my new chicken friends told me that chicks love snacks. Well, honestly, who doesn't??? She told me to give them a hard-boiled egg. So there I am.... boiling eggs for the chicks which seemed to my husband a little bit like cannibalism. I can assure you that the chicks don't care! They are like crazy little fluff balls running around like (excuse the pun) chickens with their heads cut off. The egg made them nuts!

I had a long talk with the chicks today about getting their feathers at rapid speed. As much as they love this cozy little home, they must move out to the farm in 10 days and they need all their feathers. Hopefully they listened!

This week we receive our first hatching eggs. Frizzles and Sizzles!

This is Puff and hopefully our chicks will look just like this! Puff is owned by the breeder I got the eggs from and he is a frizzle. A frizzle is a chick (and it can be any breed... they just need to have the frizzle gene) that has feathers that curl up instead of lay flat. A sizzle is a silkie with the frizzled feathers. A little fluffy chick that looks twice as fluffy because his feathers go up. As a curly-haired lady, I can relate! I just love the frizzles and sizzles. I want lots of them! My incubator has arrived and we will desperately attempt to hatch a real live chick. It takes 21 days so please check back.

We also have a bunch more chicks arriving in the next 2 weeks (which is why these chicks must move out to the farm!). My current babies arrived at 4-weeks of age. The new ones will be just a few days old. I feel like I've gained a little experience and some confidence due to the fact that in four days, I haven't killed any of them. Little bittie chicks are a different matter and I'm hoping I'm up for the challenge!

All I know is that right now, my chicks are growing, happy, fed and poop machines. And that is how it should be. And my 5-yr old daughter is talking about crests, breeds, and various other chicken knowledge. I'm rubbing off on her!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's a silkie?

I keep getting the same question from people when they see the chicks... what's a silkie? I usually answer: a super cute, fluffy chicken. That's not a very good technical answer. Maybe this will help!

10. Is it a chicken?

Answer: Yes, a Silkie is a chicken. It is a true bantam, meaning that it was not selectively bred from larger birds to gain its small stature. It is not known where the Silkie originated, but Marco Polo wrote about them in the records of his travels of China during the 13th century.

9. Can you eat them?

Answer: Yes you can eat them. Although they are not commonly used as meat birds in the US very often, they are sometimes considered delicacies in Asian cuisines. It is thought that the black skin/bones has healing properties and health benefits.

8. Do Silkies make good pets?

Answer: Silkies make great pets. They are a very docile breed, and with regular human interaction will sometimes learn to follow their human owners like puppies.

7. Why are Silkies fuzzy?

Answer: Silkies are fuzzy because they lack the cartilage material found between the individual strands of "hair" on the feathers shaft. This cartliage material is called Barbicels, and acts as microscopic "hooks" holding each hair together. These barbicels are what give a "hard feather" their shape. Because Silkies lack these barbicels, the individual hairs on their feathers fly free, and thus appear as fur.

6. Can Silkies fly?

Answer: No. Silkies cannot fly because of the structure of their feathers. Their wings will not hold air to carry them.

5. Do Silkies make good free ranging birds?

Answer: No. Because Silkies cannot fly, they are often the target of prey animals such as dogs, rodents, and hawks. They are not able to effectively escape from other prey animals.

4. Can Silkies see?

Answer: Yes. Silkies can see, although not very well. Silkies have large crests called "top knots" that sometimes impair their vision. Birds with smaller top knots will see better than those with larger ones. (This is another reason that Silkies often fall victim to prey animals such as hawks.)

3. How do Silkies fair in winter?

Answer: Silkies tolerate winter as well as any other hard feathered breeds. They do not require any special accomodations other than what you would normally provide to other birds. Even though their feathers are shaped differently than other birds, they still have down to keep them warm.

2. Are Silkies good mothers?

Answer: YES! Silkies are some of the best poultry mothers around. Its been said that a Silkie would try to hatch a door knob if given the chance. They are often used to naturally hatch out game birds such as quail, and other non-broody poultry breeds.

And for the number ONE Silkie question of all time......

1. At what age can you sex a Silkie?

Answer: This is the million dollar question. Silkies are one of the hardest breeds to sex until they are nearing six months old or better. Even at six months of age, it is sometimes still an educated guess. Breeders who have raised Silkies for 10, 15, even 20 or more years, will tell you that it is nearly impossible to accurately sex a Silkie until they are at least 6 months old.
It's important to know which is a boy and which is a girl because it's not recommended to keep more than one rooster, unless you have a lot of hens. I'm really hoping we have mostly girls because it will be hard to part with any of them!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

kids + new baby chicks = happiness

It was a great day!

The chicks are here!

The chicks are finally here. And I've already learned several things.

1. They are kind of bony and flap their wings whenever you get near them which is a bit disconcerting.
2. They poop a lot. And it's very stinky. And runny.
3. Watching them is very entertaining and I can already see it will be a complete time waster.
4. We have no idea what we're doing.
5. They are really, really cute!

The nice lady from the post office called about 11 am and said my "live birds" were there and would I please come get them? Annaliese and I flew over there where we were handed a red box that was chirping away. They sound like little songbirds. Of course we had to take a quick look to make sure they were in there and for me to make sure there weren't any DOA's. All I could really see was a mass of fuzz and when Annaliese asked to hold one, I decided it was time for a quick exit from the post office. All the workers looked thankful.

We arrived home, opened the box and I started to pick them up and put them in the cage. This is when I learned that when you touch them, they start flapping. Picking them up with your hand over their feathers helps. I'm sure I'm doing all the wrong things and I've sent out a request for help! "Thanks for the cute chicks. Now what do I do?" I managed to get them all safe and sound in their new home.

We received our 10 little silkies plus one big ole one. I guess that was a bonus! The big one already has the crest starting on the top of its head. It's really cute although Annaliese definitely prefers the little ones. All have had food and water (this consisted of me trying to get each one and poking their little beak into the water dish... this is not easy when there are several of the same color and they were moving around. I think I got each one!).

Colin's due home from school in an hour and he'll be very excited when he sees they are here. Right now they are all busy chirping away, making a mess and jumping on each other.

Don't you just love their little furry boots?

I'll be back. Annaliese just left and said there's something she needs to tell the chicks. This could be dangerous!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Unexpected Gift

We were out at the farm on Sunday with our friends and heard thunder in the distance. My son looked up and yelled, "Look, a rainbow!"  And boy was it! Sunny skies and a beautiful rainbow.

One thing I've really noticed from being out on the farm is that I can see so much more of the world. Living in a neighborhood full of houses and trees certainly has its advantages but blocking your view of the world is not one of them. I love being able to see the sky, clouds, birds, weather. A constant show put on by God. Everchanging. Always magnificent. And I'm very thankful to be able to see it.

Our world is a lovely place. We all need to take the time to stop and look.

The Houses are here!!

Yippee!! The houses for my soon-to-arrive chicks are here. Of course the chicks can't actually live there for a few months, but their housing will be ready when they move in. The movers arrived right on time at 9 am and did a great job getting the houses where I wanted them. They didn't even seem to mind me saying "A little to the left.... now to the right... back it up... is it level?".  Patience abounded! I'm really happy with the way they look and can't wait to fluff them up and make them pretty, add the chicken run, some shrubs, all the fixings!

They're here ! They're here!

All in place and looking right at home! Love the little porch swing although I imagine it will be full of chicken poop before long. The chicken doors turned out great and all is well!

Still waiting on confirmation of the chick delivery for tomorrow! Fingers crossed!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Coop Edits and Chicks are Acoming!

Thanks to my many new friends at Backyard Chickens, it became apparent that my cute little chicken coop needed a few revisions.... namely, more ventilation. Luckily, Ron is accommodating and agreed to put two ventilation openings near the roof on each side and to add a screened window on the back. Hopefully this will provide the chicks with enough air movement despite the season or the weather! The coops are being delivered in the morning and I can't wait!

I also have become friends with Bobbi Porto who raises adorable silkies. She recommended that we get 3-4 week old chicks to start out with and is shipping us 10 of her beauties tomorrow. We should have them on Wednesday. This exciting news prompted a quick trip to Tractor Supply (as quick as any trip in Greenwood is since everything is 15 minutes away minimum!). I bought most of the remaining things I need so I don't kill the chicks when they get here. Of course I forgot a few important items so I'll be back there tomorrow.

Stay tuned for pictures of our new chick babies in the next few days.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Undiscovered

We finally hiked all the way to the back of the farm and along the way, made a bunch of discoveries. There's a creek running along the side of the property and our hike was accompanied by the sound of babbling water. Awesome! That same side is full of hills of fine sand, deep and narrow valleys, and my boys declared it's "Perfect for Paintball". It's not going to be good for much else since it's too steep so I say Go For It. Just don't shoot your eye out!

Our property line runs along the forest on all three sides (except the road). We discovered a nice gate at the very back where we can go explore in the woods. So magical! Spaced wide enough to move around easily, the pines soar magestically to the sky and have dropped a soft and fragant floor of needles. The air was still and the whole place felt very serene. Since there are gobs and gobs of woods all around us (owned mostly by a pulp wood company who I pray will not be coming around any time soon!), we all forsee lots of future explorations. Perfect for hide-and-seek!

I snapped a picture from the very back of our property and Cole commented that it's the only place we've found that you can actually see all the way to the front. We also discovered that we are apparently in much better shape than our two children who proceeded to drag their feet, whine, and at one point, actually laid down on the ground claiming they just couldn't go on. Oh, please.

To the left is where the creek is and way, way up ahead is the road. It's much farther than it looks with numerous little hills in between. I just can't wait until this brown is gone and some green emerges. Of course that also means we will have to come up with some way to mow this 100 acres which at the moment is a mystery to all of us. I think we need a tractor.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Our new chicken coops

Yippee!! My new chicken coops will be delivered on Tuesday and after much research and daydreaming, I'm happy with what we picked out. As mush as I wanted the hobbit house, it just wasn't practical and it was too expensive. We ended up with two 8 x 6 coops. The "little" one has two working screened windows, a door, built-in nest box and a chicken door/ramp. It's cute! The "big" one is basically the same size except it is much taller. It has a full-size people door, windows on three sides, vents, a front porch and a porch swing (although that's not on in the pictures). My new friend Ron, our amish builder, is going to put two chicken doors in for me and I already have a great galvanized nest box that I bought from a chicken farmer in Georgia. We bought some red barn paint today and white gloss for the trim. I'm trying to decide whether I want to paint the coops or not. The big one is already stained and I could have the little one stained the same color. It's nice but just seems a little boring to me.

My little coop

The nest box has access from the outside so you can collect eggs without going into the coop.

The nest boxes from the inside.

The cute little chicken door that folds down into a ramp.

The big coop.

The kids checking it out. I can already see Annaliese's wheels in motion. This would make a great playhouse!

Can't wait for the porch swing which Ron assured me would "hold anything".

Here's my new friend Ron. I'll be back for the greenhouse soon!

After the coop visit, we headed out to the farm to mark off where we want them. Luckily we have electricity available near the Chicken Area which will come in very handy since the big coop is already wired for electricity. Did you see the spot for the porch light? So cute! And the window boxes! We marked it off with paint, took advantage of a few trees and will end up with a cute little neighborhood for our chicks. Cole and I will attempt to build a run with walls and a roof for them to ram around in and keep them dry and safe from hawks, foxes, dogs, coyotes and any other varmint that wants to steal my babies. If we can figure out what to we're doing and I promise you that it's questionable, the chicken run will be 22' x 25' and that's big enough for me to have lots of chicks!

While we were figuring out the coop, Colin was busy on the dirtbike and Annaliese was running after him.

What 9-year old boy wouldn't love having a ton of land to zoom around on and looking so cool in the process? He's in heaven!

Annaliese was also busy helping her daddy measure this ugly shed we got with the property. Cole thinks we can put log cabin siding on it and make it look like a log cain. I have no idea what he's talking about but we measured it just in case. I hope he remembers the dimensions because I sure have forgot.

Yes, Cole's pretty proud of his overalls. I've tried to throw them away twice but he always finds them. Today was overcast and sprinkly but it's always a great day for the farm!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Warm weather and a new magazine

We spent a beautiful day out on the farm. The temperature went all the way up to 70 degrees! And in the middle of January! Of course, tomorrow it will probably be 20 but I don't care. Today was absolutely spectacular. The only thing that ruined it is that that mule tried to bite me. I'm just about done with all of those animals... but that's a different post.

Our neighbors have a dirt bike and brought it out today. Being a dirt bike novice, my son was a little tentative at first and he told me he "teared up a little" when they took the training wheels off. But he perservered and in no time was flying around the place like a pro. Both he and his daddy had huge smiles on their faces and my precious husband just kept saying, "Isn't this great?"

A girl can only take so much dirt bike noise and let's face it, watching boys go round and round on a little bike is only interesting for about 5 minutes. I spent the rest of the time glaring at the mule for his attempted nibble, watching the goats mess around with each other endlessly, and daydreaming about where I'm going to plant my vegetable garden, my cut flowers, the orchard.... There's a grouping of smallish fruit trees near where the chickens will be. What type of fruit trees is yet to be determined since the seller "couldn't remember" what he planted. I paced it out and I think we should plant about 20-25 more trees which will make a nice little orchard in a few years. Plus it will provide some much-needed shade. We have very, very few actual trees on this property.

When we finally got home, guess what was in the mailbox? My first issue of Mules and More magazine which, according to the front cover, is Published Monthly for Mule and Donkey Enthusiasts. Even though I'm not feeling particularly enthusiastic about either the mule or the donkeys today, I'm still looking forward to perusing this little gem tonight. The cover is pretty at least!

Happy trails!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is it possible?

In researching chicken coop designs, it has become clear to me that most are pretty ugly. And I do not want anything ugly at Sugar Hill. So I started looking at playhouses, knowing I can customize the inside to work for my chicks.

Oh!! Happy Chick just contacted me and said my eggs are all in the incubator, so cross my fingers, and she'll call me in about 20 days. So you cross your fingers too!

I fell in love with this little house. Wouldn't it just be the perfect chicken house? We are getting the basement at our lake house finished right now, and my poor contractor is going to be confronted with this picture first thing in the morning, with my batting me eyes and saying "Can you build this?" A girl can dream, right?

It would need to be a little lower to the ground or my little babies will fall right out. Want to see some others that I love?

Okay, seriously, how cute would this next one be as a chicken coop?

I need to stop now. My children are hungry and for some reason, they expect me to make dinner. :)
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