30 March 2011


I can't wait until morning. I just have to tell you all right now..... The mongrel egg has piped and the chick was chirping in its' shell. I can hardly stand the wait to see it running around, much less to see it grow enough to begin guessing which banty hen laid it! Whomever did the producing, Sal is under the impression that she's a mama.

Oh, and it's been a thoroughly Scottish day outside... fog and mist and cold all day.

28 March 2011

Restraining order

It has finally happened, it was probably inevitable. Floyd County Magistrate Court in their Monday session issued a restraining order against Mr. Fuzzy, "that he immediately cease and desist spreading misleading information regarding the change of seasons. He clearly has no competence in the field of meteorology and should keep to his regular trade as a regional representative of the Great American Snake Oil Company."

The prosecutor entered this image taken this morning as Exhibit A.

Now let us all sing together:
"I'm dreaming of a white Easter,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the treetops glisten
and children listen
To hear farmers cussing in the snow."

26 March 2011

Chick Update

Our experience with the "experimental" lot of chicks has already been a mixed bag of success and failure.

One the successful side, their foster mama, Miss Bett, has taken them to be her own and is teaching them how to be chickens. It's a new level of chicken-culture education to listen to her various calls, clucks, and coos. Some are new (mainly those relating to calling the chicks to her) and some are ones we associated with the roosters, such as food and predator alerts. Her ultra-friendly disposition while on the nest has reverted to her usual aloofness. She wants her dried bug treats but no longer from my hand.

On the failure side, four of the seven chicks died by Thursday morning. At least two died of pasting up but the other two may have died of stress or general weakness. Our first chicks never got "poop plugs." Now I go out four times a day, including in the middle of the night, to clean their bottoms. It's yucky. The chicks hate it. The big birds wig out a bit because of the distress cheeping.

The hatchery staff have been very helpful with all this chick death. They have a 48-hour survival guarantee and it's nice to discover that they don't consider not catching pasting up to be handler error. Replacements have been ordered free of charge. I could have gotten the same breed delivered at the end of April but, because pasting can be genetic, they agreed to send out a different kind of 'rock' hen which will arrive next week. Hopefully we'll be able to tell them appart from the Dominiques, as Barred Rocks are very close cousins.

23 March 2011

The Chicks Are Here!

Brooder area viewed from pop hole.
The opening beyond is the connection between the two coops.

As you can see, things have changed in the coop. First of all, the window fell off last night and I broke it by stepping on it in the dark. The big chicken window is now covered with clear plastic. It's not nearly so attractive but it is functional. Good thing too, as we're having one heck of a storm at the moment!

The coop has been invaded by a few chicks who are busily running around terrorizing the big chickens. Sadly, two proved unthrifty and passed away this afternoon but their box-buddies all seem hearty and are enjoying a good run-around from time to time.

Mr. Rufus has been endlessly fascinated by the cheeping and cooing but doesn't seem to want to hurt them. He came in this afternoon, took a sniff, and decided it would be more fun to goose Salvadora on her nest.

Here are two babies taunting one of the Cochin girls. The hens are lost between fascination and not knowing what to make of the situation. They are bold chicks!

The jump down from the crate didn't phase them at all. Two such crates provide them with chicken-proof refuge. The other one has heat. Red seems to be under the impression that these are his special charges. Indeed, we've had no issues with the roos... unless you count a chick scaring the living daylights out of Number One. That was pretty funny to watch.

And here is Bett with a chick emerging from under her protection. I slipped them under her and she immediately accepted them. Unfortunately, she didn't stay on the floor with them but she keeps a watchful eye on them at all times.

22 March 2011

Spring has arrived - maybe to stay, maybe not

Gentle readers, after much discussion on this blog, Mr. Fuzzy has concluded that Spring has finally come to stay. Sort of...

The days are in the mid-60s to low-70s now with commensurately warm nights. However, there will still be some cold nights ahead; the question is whether there will be killing frosts or not. The ground is warm already, seeds and weeds are germinating, flowers are blooming, the insects are hatching (much to the delight of the chickens).

Some trees are in bloom, most notably the maples (above).

Along the stream, the bog iris and skunk cabbage have shaken off the winter doldrums and are seeking the sun's comforting rays.

Mr. Fuzzy has confidence that there will be no more snow (although Floyd has seen significant snows as late as May) and thus has traded the box blade for the easy lift on the Ford tractor. Mindful of his grandfather's advice of decades ago, he also conducted a thorough house cleaning on the old Ford, checking carefully for fluid leaks and fluid levels. A good wash job with the power sprayer and she almost looks new again - ready for the season's tasks at Stratheden.

21 March 2011


Mrs. Fuzzy got her computer back from Floyd I.T. and it seems to actually be working so she will be able to receive e-mails again by tomorrow. Her in-box is surely overflowing with trash. Maybe three weeks of bounce-backs has gotten her off some lists?
All our blog banners went up in metaphorical smoke when her hard drive died. We will soon have a more seasonable banner to replace that cold, cold, snow picture.
In other news, the house needs cleaning after much garden-induced neglect.

17 March 2011

The Peepers Are Awake!

Tree peepers, that is. I thought I heard them on the other side of town on Monday and I was pretty sure I heard them at the supermarket Tuesday night but I definitely heard them here on the farm this evening. So, it's official: Late Spring has arrived! If you don't know what peepers sound like, play the video.

The daffodils are in bloom, as are the irises in my greenhouse, the witch hazel, and the forsythia bushes. Our daylillies are well up too, though it'll be a while before the first of them come into bloom. Our greenhouse lettuces and beets are ding well. And, finally, it's dry enough to try to till again!

The big news on the farm these days (besides alleries from all the wild things abloom) is a major expansion of the chicken flock. As noted before, the roosters are starting to do some damage to the hens as a result of over-mating so I'm doing the "thing not done" and adding hens instead of eating the roosters. Today I paid for a new greenhouse-coop from Blue Ride Mini Barns (here in Floyd) that will be delivered some time next week. I'm getting the display model so it's quite a bit cheaper than what they list them for online.

Yes, I know... I could have built my own for a bunch cheaper but considering how far behind we are on "DIY" projects and my receint poor luck with anything vaugely mechanical I thought this the more reasonable solution. The 8x8 building has an automatic vent and will be connected to the old 6x6 coop by a breezeway (built by me and utilizing scrap lumber). Heat from the summer sun should not be too great an issue as the location is well shaded by mature oak trees.

To fill this amazing 100+ square feet of chicken palace I have ordered 50 female chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Half are "rose comb" Brown Leghorns and half are Red Star hybrids. Both are standard commercial laying breeds known for excellent production and an ability to forage. I wanted to go all-heritage but the econoomics just don't wash out well. To compensate, I'm thinking of my choices as liberating a few hens from Chicken Barn Hell. That's a picture of the Leghorns over there. Hopefully by hand-raising them I will be able to help them be less "flight" animals. Surely the ultra-mellow Cochin hens will teach them to take it easy?

Why the concern for production? Aren't these animals mainly for bug control and secondarily for eggs? Eh????

That was the original idea but Salvadora has agreed to partner with me and be my spokeschicken / coop manager in a little organic mico-farming egg adventure.

11 March 2011

Egg-citing Developments

Well, folks, there is news coming out of the hen house these days and I am co-opting Mr. Fuzzy's computer to tell you about it! (My computer remains at the e-doctors after two weeks. It is expected to eventually recover life as a franken-machine.)

A while back the automatic coop door began to act up and I only recently got all the necessary bits together to contact the manufacturer and ask for a replacement. I needed to 1: determine it wasn't a battery issue, 2: remember during business hours, and 3: not feel likely to loose my cool on the phone. I finally got all three to coincide and called the other day. To my great delight the owner answered my call, looked me up, explained the cause of the problem, and queued me up to get a free replacement door. I was off the phone in under five minutes. Turns out the metal in the gears can't take sub-zero temps and bent due to cold-induced brittleness. I should have a new door with a better mechanism from ChickenDoors.com within 2 weeks.

In the meantime I'm manually closing the door and checking nightly for wayward egg-stealing dinosaur-mammal hybrids (also known as possums) in the coop. We have had one in-coop sighting but no real problems thus far. The cats and dogs do a good job of keeping 'coons and possums away from the birds.

Last weekend we had two hens go broody. Bett and Salvadora are both sitting on their nests. Bett, a Dominique, is utterly determined to hatch some eggs while Sal is quickly lured away by the production of treats. She'll do anything for a peanut. Therefore, Bett is sitting on some real eggs (including Sal's hybrid chick) and will be allowed to hatch them naturally. Madame Plays-At-Incubating is sitting on golf balls and will have seven Partridge Rock babies stuck under her bottom in about two weeks. We're going to experiment with raising chicks in with the flock instead of in a separate brooding coop. We'll see how it goes.

Finally, I have decided that instead of diminishing the number of roosters to balance the flock's sex ratios (currently 1.5 hens per rooster) I will be adding a large number of hens to bring the ratio up to 8:1.

Why? Well, I learned a second-hand lesson on rooster utility this winter and I decided it was a lesson sufficient to not do the usual thing. A friend had several young roosters from his spring hatch and a single mature rooster, which was quickly challenged and bested. All but the best individual of the young roosters went to new homes or the "freezer coop." All was fine for a few months until Mr. Rooster was picked up by a hawk. The hens fell into disarray, abandoned their coop, and were being picked off by the hawks for want of a protector. (That's where my Number Three went.)

With six roosters on patrol the girls are well informed of every possible danger by land or air whether out foraging or sitting on the nest to lay an egg. These roosters grew up together and get along without significant arguments. I would hate to unnecessarily disturb a good system so they will be allowed to live a natural life so long as they are able protectors and willing to work cooperatively.

Those of you who know the crew are aware of our 7th rooster, Guido. He is not accounted for in my calculations as he is the bottom chicken, thoroughly hen-pecked, barred by the girls from mating and by the boys from taking on any real man-chicken duties. I suppose they just can't imagine a one-pound rooster as anything but window dressing. As he's too small to even flavor a pot of soup (much less add meat to it!) he's allowed to stay on as a pet. He earns his keep with cute. Yesterday he followed me on a circuit of the house begging for a treat. A half-feathered banty roo doing the chicken mating dance for his human is a painfully funny thing so, yeah, he got a great big pile of private "woodpecker food."

06 March 2011

Same Old Question: Is it spring yet?

Our dedicated cadre of one or two readers will have noted that the coming of spring has been on Mr. Fuzzy's fuzzy mind of late. Its not just the normal mammalian impulse desiring warmth, fresh food and beauty, no indeed, for Mr. Fuzzy's chief concern is having the Farm's ducks in a row when the time cometh. Last year, the ground was almost totally covered in snow the first week of March but by the third week of March, spring had moved on and summer was no longer just waiting for her debut. Mr. Fuzzy has never seen such a short spring except for one year in Austin, Texas; four of the five years he was there, it was 90F by Valentine's Day. Dreadful.

It has been a dry winter, a burn ban is already in effect, and the old timers here are very concerned about whether this pressages a dry summer and poor crops. Thus, when an inch of rain fell last Sunday, we were elated. The daffodils jumped an inch the next day or two. Then a few seasonable days of bright sun, days in the 50s and nights in the 20s.

Yesterday was a very Scottish type of day- gray (the solar disk was never visible), still, and a non-stop drizzle which only produced 1/4 inch of rain in about 18 hours. Oh it so reminded Mr. Fuzzy of Fife and his friends there, sigh. Today has been another story: the high temperature was 51F at midnight and has fallen ever since - right at sunset (if the sun was visible) it is 30F. Rain has fallen hard much of the day and the wet deck has now a thin coat of ice, as do the trees. Some snow was mixed in with the rain late in the afternoon.

The area at the front door was badly conceived by the builders of this house and it is optimally graded to force about half and acre of rainfall right to the front door (and undoubtedly to the basement walls). There was such an depth of rising water there this morning that Mr. Fuzzy had to dig a relief channel to drain it away from the residence of ten cats, two dogs and two humans. This is only the second time in 27 months that the water had so accumulated. The solution is to alter the topography of the entire half acre which will not be easy or pretty. Oh what to do?

It is due to clear tonight and the temperatures may drop low enough to badly damage the iris, daffodils, lillies, crocus, etc.; we can but hope otherwise.

What does the week hold? Is this the last gasp of winter or merely a reminder there is more to come? Surely the spring pancake breakfast held by the Falling Branch Association last week must indicate spring is here, no? Hmmm.

02 March 2011

Meal time at Stratheden farm. Actually, its never this quiet.

Image provided by Doctor Erskine - thanks!