Journal 2019

A periodic journal of homesteading occurrences here:  farm and land happenings, weather events.  Location, the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts.
Hardiness Zone 5B, rural.
Most recent dates and posts are to the top.

May 20:   I spent the entire day Saturday without seeing any of my chickens even once.  Why?  Friday I drove down to Maryland for my 90-year-old uncle’s birthday celebration.  What a fantastic choice!  The party was on that Saturday, and a load of other relations were there.  You know, even though I’ve overnighted elsewhere from my home here on a few occasions, two days ago (18th) was the first day I was gone so long I couldn’t check on the chooks at all, since first starting doing chickens in early May 2018.  Yeah, I need to get out more!  I left Friday and returned yesterday evening.

I wish to thank local poultry-raiser Noreen for her hand in dropping by and taking care of the Chicklets and the Layers while I was out.  The Chicklets especially need daily / twice daily attendance, and having someone who knows her way around Gallus gallus domesticus is good to bring in when one has to go out.

Yesterday when I got home – first day of the year where outdoor temps were higher than my preferred indoor temp.  Yes, I will be getting central A/C sometime soon!   Just got to get my rear in gear on detailing that!

May 15:  It snowed on the 12th for Mother’s Day, somewhere close to two inches by the time I woke up the next day.  I understand it’s not usual, but it will happen.

I’ve been letting the hens out a couple hours at a time – I don’t want to encourage Yin, who is broody, to stay out and away from her eggs.  Tiny Dancer (the rooster) took two or three pecks at my legs on Monday – the second I actually kicked lightly at him.  No he is NOT going to be the Dominant Critter here on the farm.  The third time was when I went back out to work on the alternate housing “tractor” – putting up the wind/sun tarp for Goldilocks, who will be moving into it later today.  She’s been henpecking many of the other hens – pretty certain it’s her as she’s totally unruffled, and Idril (also unruffled) had been too busy being broody until recently – as Yin is now.

Anyhow Tiny Dancer did another swipe at me then, just seconds before a gust of wind flapped the not-yet-secure tarp around, scaring all the poultry back.  He was fine after that.

Tuesday I didn’t let them out because I was headed early morning down to Connecticut for the day.

Today, Wednesday, I let them run free range.  On my way back up here (about 30 minutes prior to typing this) he took a vicious double jab at my left leg – and actually drew blood with one of those hits.  Through the corduroys  I’m wearing.  I firmly (not harshly) pushed him aside with the hiking stick.

Although it is no longer winter (I hope!), I do like to have at least one of those hiking sticks with me as chickens are worse than cats when it comes to getting underfoot – sometimes I need to gently move them aside for balance (mine) and not wanting to step on them (their) reasons.  Twelve chickens can get underfoot more rapidly than can five (the number I had at my max) cats!

Tiny Dancer’s fate will not be decided until A) the new chicks from the hatchery grow up and B) if his behavior modulates.  I can deal with him not being friendly – and he’s never been aggressive inside the run or coop towards me.  He’s absolutely fine “indoors”!  A long winter may be something he needs to deal with now that he free-ranges once again.  He’s got a month or thereabouts to decide.

The surviving chicks from the hatchery are all thriving.  My little home-grown one will likely always have a splayed leg and I will simply have to see how well he/she adapts to it as to this chick’s future.  Full of spunk, and while awkward, gets her or his fill of the water and feed.  There’s been improvements noted (I got some good PT/physical therapy advice), but she/he still walks on the dorsal-ish side of that right foot.  Just somewhat better.

If this chick proves to be a cockerel, I may have to cull.  Even if I do replace Tiny Dancer (far from making a decision yet), I need a fully-protective rooster steady on both legs.  I don’t have the winter coop set-up to have more than one roo over-wintering.  Eventually I’ll expand, but not ready yet.  Not sure yet at all what this will mean if the chick proves to be a (female) pullet.

Yeah, I’m attached.  The little feather-ball still lacks a name, but I’m attached.  Maybe because I can more than empathize with having leg issues myself???

May 8:  The little chick born here had curled up crab feet and has a splayed leg.  I managed to splint the better foot successfully, but am still working on her(?) bad right leg.  She’s fighting, which is good.  And there are incremental improvements.

chicks new1

Replacement hatchery chicks, six.  Delaware, Buckeye, Cuckoo Marans, New Hampshire Red, Speckled Sussex, Welsummer.  All male. Some appear redder than normal due to red heat lamp pushed inconclusively to the side.

I lost a bunch of the ordered chicks, close to half.  Could have been the postal transit weather, or the new setup for heat not being as optimal as one might like.  Or something.  The company sent me 6 new chicks which arrived today and whom all seem to be doing well – but I’m not going to count my chickens until they hatch (oh, wait, they did that) until a couple weeks go by.  At any rate, whatever happened to the initial batch of chicks has not affected Idril’s love child, although they’ve been housed together (well, with some – I’d split them into two groups essentially because I didn’t want my home-grown chick with feet and leg issues to be mobbed, and chicks that dropped came from either group).

Idril decided to stop being broody on the 6th.  Hey, yay, I can give the coop a good good cleanout!  Nope.  Yin, a black Australorpe, has stepped into her place, and is now broody.  She has four eggs and I don’t plan to have her set any more than that.  This time, the eggs she has were all put under her (or laid under her) in a 24-25 hour time period.  That’s fine.

Big ole hawk was out circling my back forty this afternoon.  Gorgeous bird, but I don’t plan on feeding him what he probably desires.

Weather has been perfect yesterday and today.  60 F right now.  Yes, folks, that’s perfect, with sun.

May 2:  The dual-purpose, mostly-heritage cockerel chicks arrived yesterday.  I put the hatchling from my own crew in with them, but decided that was too much stimulation (16 co-habitants???), so overnight she(?) stayed with five others and the rest went down to the actual brooder.  There was one really weak chick that I kept up with her in that lot.

She’s doing okay although I am trying to rectify her toe/walking issues with bits of cardboard and cuttings from band-aids.  As seen on the Internet…

However, just now, I had to cull the weak one.  He was chirping but obviously in distress.  While yesterday he was simply smaller than the rest (and a bit unsteady), this evening he was markedly smaller and mostly flipping over on his back.  His feet were fine, so no excuse on that end.

I used the method detailed at How to cull chicks to do the deed.  Essentially, but read the link – CO2 generated from baking soda and vinegar combined in an enclosed container, driving out oxygen.  I’m sad.  And yes, I do mean for the new arrival chickens to become meat for dinner, but I want them to have but that one bad day… after enjoying life.  And I did come to the conclusion that a pair of sharp scissors will be much more humane in the future.

April 30:  Snow on Saturday April 27th, we had fun with our Maypole while it snowed.  It didn’t stick, however, but the day was cold and dank.  I have one lone asparagus stalk, and onions that I didn’t pull last year (they were awfully small) are coming back up.   The wormwood is looking good, and I have a really neat leafy thing that I apparently planted last year – no idea what I put there!  Daffodils are stalks, have yet to flower here.  Note:  chickens don’t like sweet potatoes that much but will eat them when they have to.

Yesterday, the 29th, woke up to frost on the ground.  The last, one hopes!

Also, yesterday, my first chick, a silver-laced Wyandotte x buff Orpington F1 cross, hatched.  She* doesn’t walk very well.  I hope she grows out of that.  22 or 23 days of “gestation”.  She’s currently indoors.  Find out more on today’s blog post.

  •   (I am assuming gender here.)

April 26:  This morning two breakfast yolks were noticeably more golden than the third.  Now that the hens are getting outdoors, they’re beginning to reap the benefits.  Or, just maybe, those hens had snacked on more kitchen carrot discards than the last bird… I’d planned on making an omelet, but this golden-ness prompted me simply to pan fry them sunny side up.  (I cover the top of the skillet so that the whites cook all the way.)

Carpenter and his buddy came yesterday to fix my back door to the deck.  Took them four hours, and while they are functionally done, it’s not completely done.  They’ll be back later in May.  (It got too dark to work, and it was already after 8 pm, and I’m sure they wanted to go home for dinner!  Yes, and I wanted them to go home for dinner so I could cook my own dinner without having to have them drool while they worked…)  Yes, they weren’t appreciative of the original job on this door.  But considering four hours for two people… gonna be an interesting bill.  (Old Chinese curse, allegedly:  “May You Live in Interesting Times!”)

IF my eggs that Idril is brooding over hatch, this may well start to happen tomorrow.  I’ve potentially found a home for future hens that I may not be able to house here – someone local who has done chickens often in the past and has the facilities.  I’ll also provide them a future rooster — I mean, this is all assuming I have even a semi-decent hatch rate.  Just gratis, simply because poultry really need to be appreciated.

Guests coming tomorrow:  Serving snacks, make it yourself sandwiches (or lettuce wraps) including chips, dips, and a veggie platter. Of course, anything I found that someone might want to put in their sandwich… .Mid-day:  oatmeal/dark chocolate chip cookies plus sparkling cider.  Dinner:   Vegetarian track is a Chickpea Stew that I plan to post here down the road.  Omnivore track is a locally-farmed crock pot Beef Brisket that follows more or less a recipe I’d posted a few years ago.  Sides:  Salad greens with choices of the dressings from the recent Japanese salad post and a couple decently-ingredient-ed supermarket ones, mashed sweet potato/white potato/onion casserole, riced cauliflower, and the last-minute thin stalked asparagus.  Dessert is supposed to be strawberry and blueberries set in dark chocolate. (Just realized I may not have enough of the chocolate for that…  Being rural, driving that far for ONE ingredient is obscene.  May have to punt…)

April 24: The Raintree Nursery fruit tree bundles have arrived.  I’ll keep them protected and watered until they can be planted in May.  Five apples, four plums.  I see they now have pears for order in a bundle, but I think I may hold off.  Much as I also want them, we have to get the new orchard area set up with what I’ve gotten already.

Last Friday I discovered that Idril was nesting in the wrong box, and that her eggs sitting in their correct box were cold.  However, she’s been on them since, as far as I can determine.  I’ve reconciled myself to the possibility I may have a less than perfect hatch rate, and that perhaps they might not hatch at all.  We’ll see.  I really didn’t need the quantity she’s been sitting on, especially since I do have those dinner chicks on order.

April 15:  Taxes were mailed out last Friday.  Yay, team.

Idril has a total of 11 eggs under her.  I relented and let her have two more.   It may be there is too long a period between the first “due date” and the final, but we’ll worry about that later.  I’m not really wanting 11 new chicks running around (especially since I’ve ordered 15 intended for meat to arrive about the same time these do).  We shall play this by ear.  PS, I finally entered her name into the spell checker… 

The hens are free-ranging when I am home and the weather permits.  They love it.  Idril gets out, too – I think she needs the protein from any grubs or (one certainly hopes) ticks she may find.

On April 13th, the last of the snow finally melted.  (I don’t consider the piles left behind by snow plows in these assessments. Though those are gone here, too.)  This doesn’t mean it can’t snow here again this spring.  Just sayin’.

April 9:  Final egg enrolled in the Idril Broody Scheme.  In total, five of hers, 4 others.  Eggs should start to hatch on April 27th, or so.

April 8:  On April 5, we got an inch of snow late in the day into evening. It melted by mid morning on the 6th.

On the 5th, I went down to check the chickens, and Idril’s egg was cool to the touch. SO… I collected it. By the next day, however, the two eggs now sitting in her nest box were warm to the touch so I left them. She’d also been the last to go down to the food, so maybe she’s taking the job more seriously.

On the 7th, she’d laid another egg (I am assuming these are hers, as she only seems to leave the nest to eat (and presumably, to drink)). Apparently, and nicely, she also appears to leave to poo.

broody hen, homesteading, buff Orpington

Here’s Idril! Brooding on the state of the world!

I used a black magic marker to label these three eggs as 07 – for the date. Two of them might be a date off (as in 06), but one day is not critical. I gave her another egg from another nest box, shaped differently, and labeled that one as 07, but with a teal magic marker. It was still warm, having recently been laid by some other hen. I figure she can collect eggs until, say, the 9thor 10th, at which point I’ll remove anything she’s laying after that – so that her clutch will all hatch out within a few days of each other.  And, as of this morning, she’s gotten herself another egg!  Five in her clutch so far – it’s early morning –  (there weren’t any volunteer eggs in the other boxes, either for me or to be given to her).

This is fascinating!

Meanwhile, I’m starting a mindfulness eating program. For the first five days, pick one meal a day to eat without any distractions, and essentially pay attention to the aromas, textures and tastes of what you are eating, without thinking of the things you need/plan to do that day (the latter is not easy). Don’t bolt the food, but chew (over easy eggs don’t really “chew” however), and let it take its time. Today was the first day. It took 15 minutes to eat the below:

It’s a free 5-Day program at  I suspect it will be a good jumping off point for some other mindfulness practices I’ve lapsed from.

mindfulness day 1

They suggest that optionally, at the beginning, photograph the mindful meal of the day, and see how long you relax over it. 7:11 – 7:26, 15 minutes. Eggs, cabbage, bell pepper, mung sprouts, turmeric, ground pepper. Coffee.

High temp on the 7th (highest of the year to date) was 63F.  As of 9 a.m. today, there’s still some snow at the back end of Blueberry Grove.  I planted container strawberries, and decorative pansies yesterday.

4:30 p.m., on the 8th:  Three more eggs enrolled with broody Idril.  One is hers, two I gave her from eggs laid in other nesting boxes.  She will get (or keep) a final egg, to make this nine, tomorrow.  That’s plenty for her first broody cycle!

April 4:   Idril has apparently gone broody.  She is essentially the dominant hen and she is one of the buff Orpingtons.  She’s lying all flattened over the nesting box she’s chosen as her own.  This morning, no sign of anyone wanting to hang out with their eggs.  I went down to Connecticut for the day, and found her like this about 30 minutes ago.  This is a first.  I debated discouraging this, but then… well, it’s April.  When the fledglings  hatch it won’t be winter.  I’m getting plenty of eggs anyway.  Let’s just see what happens… and a Wyandotte/buff Orpington cross could be pretty spectacular looking.

April 3:  I thought I’d posted here Monday, April Fool’s Day, but apparently I fooled myself.  Last snow to date that stuck (only an inch or so) but I felt it was Mama Nature’s way of saying:  Spring??? April Fool’s, suckah!

Didn’t get electric fencing up yet, that will be NEXT Tuesday.

But the hens and their roo now get out often.

Today’s goal:  prune high bush blueberries (while the chickens roam around me).  Will have to happen after I come back from generic car service appointment.

Addendum.  I got back here around 3:30 pm.  High temps today reached 55 F, although the temps are now dropping back into the 40’s.  Despite a prevailing breeze, it’s now getting to be a joy to run with the chickens.  I pruned two of the highbush blueberries (the largest – Grandfather Blueberry – is well over ten feet tall).  The other highbush blueberries are still surrounded by snow, and I figure they can wait a week.  As a friend suggested, save the woody trimmings for the very least using in the grill or future smoker.  Why not try it???  At any rate, the chickens decided not to roam as far as the blueberries with me.  They’ll work their way up (or down, geographically) to Blueberry Grove someday.

Homesteading, chickens

I’m in the coop, having just changed out their water, and taking a photo from the coop door out into the chicken run. That’s Goldilocks, my one and only golden-laced Wyandotte hen. Beautiful bird!

March 28:  The hens and rooster went outside of their coop and run for the first time since mid November.  Well, slight exaggeration, as they often step out for a few minutes when I go to the storage bin.  At any rate, the snow is quickly melting and there’s plenty of areas for them to begin foraging like normal chickens.  (I could have let them out on the 27th, but I wasn’t home until evening.)  After about 50 minutes, they were all ready to go back in, except for Idril – so I put them back in, went out to lunch, and returned.  I am hoping to set up the electric fencing on Monday.

March 23: Mildly accumulating snow from mid afternoon March 22 until about 7 am this morning.  Hoping I’m recording the last of this for the season.  High winds right now, so I can’t say how much – 3 inches or so?

Thursday the Rabies Clinic came  to town, and at the Firehouse they vaxxed our dogs and cats for $10 a pop.  Both Serenity and Obi-Wan have spanking new rabies certificates, which I will drop copies off at my vet’s next time I’m down there.  Got to meet a number of local dogs and cats in for the same as we lined up.

Cheesemaking supplies came in.  I’ll start that activity up in April or May.

On other homesteading notes, I need to push on the quail housing thing, so I can order quail.  I’m also ready to prune the wild/naturalized highbush blueberry shrubs, one of which is more of a tree than a shrub, once the weather permits.  The landscaper will be here sometime in April as well.  I really want to get the raised beds going.

I’ll be down at the old digs often this coming week to get that going for sale.

March 21:  36 degrees F and snowing.  Not accumulating, of course.  Last accumulating snow was March 10th, and I hope it remains such, but predictions look like otherwise.

Yesterday we welcomed in Spring Equinox, along with the Indian celebration of Holi, a lunar calendar celebration that falls on the full moon.  Which was glorious last night (when I got up to exercise my kidneys).  Welcome, Spring!!

March 7:  This morning I woke to a solid minus 7 Fahrenheit.  I am fine with plus 5, when going out to the chickens, but this is just a little too much.  Will wait for an hour or so before replacing their ice with water.  They’ll also get lard treats to keep them healthy.

Yesterday was my niece Heather’s birthday.   She resides in sunny Florida with her husband and son, where minus degrees are unheard of.  (I wouldn’t want their summers.)

March 1:  The month that comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion.  Let’s hope not.

Just ordered from Raintree Nursery:  1 kefir lime plant, to replace the one I killed through negligent homicide this past winter.  It was tucked away in a place where I didn’t see it…  1 mini dwarf apple orchard (5 trees).  They’ll go out back near the one surviving apple tree I’d gotten a couple years ago while the house was being constructed.  1 plum orchard (4 trees) which will go in the front yard.  Both the apples and plums need to be around other apples or plums of differing varieties so they can happily cross pollinate, making nice little edible apples and plums for me and guests to enjoy.

Either tomorrow or Sunday, I’m starting up a Whole 30 reset dietary plan.  30 days without grains, dairy, legumes, faux or over-processed food, added sugars, alcohol.   There will be two meals with planned exceptions (I’ll be dining with others at their homes).  Can’t wait forever for a 30 day spot without food-oriented social connections… Hey, the original time I did this, I was still putting milk in my coffee, and figured one tablespoon of dairy a day wasn’t going to hurt me.   I’ve since weaned myself off of dairy in most coffee (mostly because I don’t do much other milk anyway and was tired of wasting the balance of the containers).  Oh, PS:  All the recipes for March and a few for April have already been made and written up back in January or February.  Because I figure if spring ever arrives, I want to get OUTSIDE.  This means you won’t always be seeing Whole 30 recipes this next month.  ….but several will creep in, in the future…  (Ooops, there’s been a delay on program start, more when I do start it!  Meanwhile, I’ll do largely Paleo eating, anyway.)

February 27:  Weather Updates:  Sunday, Feb 24:  Severe icing.  This was a storm that was supposed to turn into all rain, but up here in the Hilltowns, it was nearly all ice.  Didn’t get out to the chickens until about 2:30 pm.  We lost power for a few hours.  Temps did finally rise up so that this last layer melted.

And on Monday the 25th, temps were a little below freezing, but the Wind, oh the WIND! Gusts reported in places in excess of 65 mph.  I don’t have a wind gage here, but I am on a hillside, so I probably hit that once or twice.  We lost power again for a bit.  (Generator coming with spring – well, after mud season.)  The wind ran through Tuesday (the 26th), but gradually were diminishing.  Chickens did not want to go into their run on Monday, wonder why??

ATM, the 27th, it’s 4 degrees F out there, but calm.  The snow that’s out there is a solid sheet of ice.  I am so glad I have those spikes to put on my shoes, and that I have pre-formed footprints to walk to the coop in.  (And pre-formed holes for the hiking sticks.)

Note regarding quail:  I’ve seen a lot of good cage designs, but am working out the best way to cement these things into the ground.  In winds like Monday, they’d blow over!  Obviously cemented in posts, and a flat table top, and some way to secure the things to the table top (just NOT getting on my hands and knees to do daily quail maintenance)!

February 15:   QUAIL UPDATE:   Rather than getting 50 day old hatchlings, although that is still an option assuming I can find a local person to share at least half of them with me, I have found a source for fertile quail eggs that I can buy by the dozen.  With a predicted hatching rate of 70-90%, I’ll probably order two dozen, each dozen to come in separate weeks as a lot of what may nefariously happen to fertile eggs might happen during shipping.  NO, they will not be ordered to arrive before May.

I’ve found a good incubator that will hatch out eggs from quail to goose size, with good recommendations.  This is a gadget I want, anyway.  Cobbling together their brooder in my basement will be easy.  Right now I’m surfing around looking for some reasonably easy DIY quail hutch projects I can get underway sometime in March, before I order.

When adult, they’ll be housed right outside my basement back door, on a platform I can easily access.

Goal is to raise for both meat and for eggs.  The eggs are wonderful both in sushi dishes, or hard-boiled and pickled in a variety of pickling choices.  No, I don’t plan on making mini-omelets.

February 11:  My project right now is to ready the future pantry for a contractor to come in and construct it.  I’ll be calling a nearby one to see if he’s still got time (possibly, since it’s winter), and I have another name if he can’t do it.  I want wood shelves and a counter, no cabinets, and have sketched out the preliminary design.  So, I’m hauling everything that I’ve stored in there out, to find new homes (some temporary) for stuff.  Everything had been in boxes on the floor:  foods, paper towels, cleaning equipment – okay brooms and the like hadn’t been in boxes… Meanwhile, since the root cellar now has all (well, nearly all) its shelving, I’ve been bringing the grains, pseudo-grains, legumes, and rice pasta collection down there.  I do plan on getting one more metal shelving rack system for the root cellar, which will bring this to a total of four.

Actually, paper towels and cleaning equipment can remain in the future pantry until whichever carpenter actually comes here to do the work.  Then that stuff should be in the garage.  Which I want to re-organize in some upcoming warm, non-rainy day we have, by hauling everything out to the driveway to begin again.

Part of the issue was getting tired of not knowing where my Asian packaged goods food collection was.  Oh, bits here, bits there… so I re-organized a couple kitchen upper cabinets for that.  Easy to find, assembled by culture, and at eye level.  (Liquid sauces, oils and vinegars remain in the condiments drawer by the range.  Spices mostly on spice racks.)

organize, homestead, shelving

Like reading a book: far left, dried mushrooms (to be in future pantry), generic Asian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesion/Filipino, Korean/Japanese/seaweed. Bottom shelf, Indian subcontinent, Mexican, Middle-eastern and Moroccan.

I did consider putting metal racks in the pantry, too.  But they come in pre-formed lengths and depths, and that will not really work for the pantry.  I also want a shelf over the upright freezer (which stands at 5 feet), and I finally hope to get slots for my pans and platters, which should really sit on edge for accessibility.  (Something my GC apparently forgot to follow through on in the kitchen proper…)

It is predicted we will be snowed in Tuesday into Wednesday; Friday I plan to go to Connecticut and spend the night doing some major work, since it will be warm enough I won’t need to baby the poultry ice, er, I mean, water.  Schlepping down for just a few hours at a time doesn’t seem to be working out all that well.

4 eggs total yesterday.  None frozen.  Only two eggs today.  Likewise, however, none frozen.

February 5:  My late father’s birthday would have been today.  He passed away at age 91 in November 2014.  He came to visit my land twice, but well before I built anything on it.  I’m sorry he never got to see this home at least under construction.

Weather has been a Ferris wheel.  For a couple of days recently, we’d bottom out at minus 10 F.  27 F felt downright balmy.  Right now it is 48 degrees; earlier this morning I was able (finally!) to clean out the “clean out” drawer under the roosts in the chicken coop.  Frozen poop just doesn’t even allow me to open that drawer!  I’m wondering if I should switch to a t-shirt today…

Chickens are doing fine, but only 3 eggs in the past 24 hours.

The winter treads for my shoes work well enough in mud, too.  I have a combo of ice and mud and semi-mushy snow.  Tomorrow temps will go back down, and back to snow, but I like the moments of change here now.

Winter, chickens, poultry, access

The spikes dig in somewhere between a quarter inch to a half an inch.  DON’T wear indoors!

I am really looking forward to spring.  I don’t mind a bit more snow, but I am really DONE with that sub-zero Fahrenheit stuff.  And I know places out in the Midwest had it much worse than us.

One thing though – living here, I’ve come much more in tune with the cycles of nature, of the day and night balance, and the signals of seasons.  Not a bad thing, not at all.

January 22:  The storm ended up not being what it had been cracked up to be.  No complaints here!

About a foot of the white stuff fell here.  Then, the temps plummeted.   They reached a low of minus 13 F / minus 25 C Monday morning, ie, yesterday.

minus 13

The cold was worse than the precipitation up here, although down in CT the stuff had turned into freezing rain as it fell, then as a semi-solid sheet of ice.  So, my old digs had about 5 inches of stuff, with that sheet of ice.   (I had to go down last night to check my forced hot water heating system after a power outage earlier that morning.  Fortunately the power was not off long enough to make me a mess.  Another reason I am glad I have forced hot air heat here in MA.  May be less efficient, but works fine, and any burst system will only spew hot air around.  A lot easier to clean up after!)

I’d never met minus 13 F before (this included wind chills in the minus 30 F / 35 C mark), but still had to go give chickens some liquid-phase water (and their feed, but it was water that was critical).  I can bundle up effectively, but definitely need to up my game on doing this.  BTW, the chickens were fine in their protected coop, but 3 of four eggs laid that day were cracked from freezing.  I must have come upon that other egg shortly after it was laid!

January 19:   Prepping for a Big One.

Prediction:  over two feet of snow is scheduled to be dumped upon us overnight and through most of Sunday.  If it’s less than that, the “less” will be taken up with ice, so having the “more” is probably better, since we’re not going to be able to avoid the path.

Since my Internet is satellite, and my cell service provides maybe some text occasionally, I’ll be non-communicating Sunday almost certainly.  Overnight after the storm, temps will plunge to about 0, and that’s Fahrenheit.

Chickens:  Bringing them a whole new pack of pine chip shavings, storage in bin.  Bringing down an additional 25 lbs of their food for the bin.  Since I can’t store their water down there – they don’t like “solid phase dihydrogen oxide”, I’m filling water containers up here in the house should my power go out – probably  it won’t but since I won’t be driving anywhere for a bit, better safe than sorry.  For both of us.  (Well, there’s always wine, but they’re not old enough for alcohol.)  A snow shovel is down there, and their broom will be brought back down later today.  Their oyster shell and grit containers are prepared for their near-future needs.  Since the new freeze-proof water pan won’t be in for a few days, I will be picking them up a new pan later this morning.

Me:  Car will be IN the garage, not left outside.  Dump run this morning is scheduled.  All devices will be charged – not that I can use them when the satellite and phone goes down, but… I can read the Kindle!!  Grill will be covered.  I know where the charcoal and matches are, and I’ve food that doesn’t need cooking in the event the lights go out, too.  Flashlights / lanterns available.  All of Christmas has been taken down – I’m speaking of those outdoor lights; the tree had left the building a while ago.  Compost will be composted before this starts – want to minimize my wading through snow to just performing  chicken errands.  I picked up 40 lbs of rock salt earlier this week; need to move it to where it will be most useful.

NO, I am not picking up the stereotypic milk or bread – I don’t consume hardly any of either even without snow.  And there’s leftover milk anyway from last weekend’s house guests.  Plenty of TP here for half a year.

I’ve done bigger ones (Indiana, ’78, and a couple nor’easters in CT) but I’ve not been responsible for chickens before.  It’s also a lot longer to walk to neighbors, now.

January 18:  Equipment fail.

With winter, the chicken waterer buckets freeze up at their port of water exit, since that’s narrow.  Whether you use the nipple system or the usual hanging waterer.  So, I’ve resorted to kitty litter pans (new and virgin of course).  Add hot tap water, let chickens drink, and refurbish whenever the temperature indicates it will freeze.

Well, when you try to remove the ice so you can re-fill it, and the temps are at, say, 6 degrees F / 14 C, the plastic those things are made from are not hardy for that purpose.  Yesterday, one of mine broke apart completely, shattering in the cold, whilst I was trying to remove a layer of ice so I could add their water.  Chickens aren’t fond of trying to drink frozen-phase liquids… wonder why???

I have stopgaps until the new pans arrive, but I scratched my noodle, and recalled that back when I was a career scientist, we had nifty pans and other containers  that held dry ice (frozen CO2/carbon dioxide – a negative 109 F / negative 78 C) or liquid nitrogen (negative 320.4 F / negative 196 C), with no ill effect to the container.  Ahem, I now have a couple on order.  Not that I’ll ever be providing liquid nitrogen to them, but I know my new containers won’t break due to the cold temperatures we are apt to get here.  Or, say, anywhere else on this planet.

You don’t want something deep, but you do want a pan big enough to water your chickens.  Get a couple.

January 10:  I’m getting ambitious for this coming year.

Chickens:  All my layers are happy and healthy, and I believe I have a good number of poultry in their coop, so unless things change, I am not ordering any layers this spring.

My eventual goal is to have a self-sustaining chicken setup here, so I do want to check out the dual purpose, and mostly heritage, poultry breeds for meat production.  I found five breeds I wanted to try, that would/should also be good for laying (when I try that later).  So, I ordered 2 males of each from Meyer Hatchery.  Cool, but… they told me it was a $30 shipping fee for ten, but if I raised my ante to 15, they’d be shipped for $15 in shipping.  I went for the latter.  Two males of each:  Barred Rock, Buckeyes, Delaware, Silver-Grey Dorkings, Cuckoo Marans, Speckled Sussex, Welsummers.  One New Hampshire Red.  I know that most, if not all of these, will take longer to reach maturity than the broilers I ran last summer.  But I’m wanting to raise up my own poultry down the road.

I’ll need to build a secondary chicken tractor between now and then, since 15 cockerels in the original tractor is overkill.  This will be fine, just need to get my plans in place during this season when the snow flies!

homesteading, eggs, egg holder.

Egg holder for unwashed eggs. Do have the thing tilt so you are safe if a little too much pressure is on the wrong side. (Ask me how I know…)

My other goals this year (that relate to homesteading):

Raised beds.  I’ve plotted out what I want to grow, and how to do crop rotation, and that one of those beds will be perennial (obviously no crop rotation there).

Quails.  I’ve found a hatchery that will sell me 50 straight run.  I’d love to find someone in town who will take the extra 20-25, since I really don’t want 50.  I’d house them almost immediately outside my back door (leaving room for my planned greenhouse.)  Working on this.

Buy a homesteading tractor.  I’ve got the Yanmar in mind.  A couple models in mind, but more later.

Plot and design for four-legged livestock.  At the moment, I am serious about Shetland and/or Soay sheep, Kiko meat goats, mohair goats, alpaca.  They cannot happen this year… they need housing, fencing, perhaps a livestock guardian.  This is a year for intensive research, not actually bringing them on board.  It will obviously not be all of the above, but the options for what I do get are open.  At least one or two of the above would be for breeding, raising up my own herd.  (NO DAIRY! NO PATIENCE!)

I also want to keep the option open for feeder pigs, it is really NOT practical to raise up pigs on a small farmstead.

Maple syrup.  I have a lot of sugar maples on this property.  Some that are relatively more easily accessed will be tapped NEXT winter for the syrup, and even for maple water.  I am not a fan of sugar in any form – I go through about 5-8 ounces of maple syrup a year – but I could sell some and keep some around for my own usage, and it would be a lot better than regular sugar anyway.  I do love the flavor:  if properly refrigerated, maple water (not concentrated down to the 1:40 necessary for syrup, but tested to a tasty but less sweet level) would be a lovely taste treat.  Yes, this would HAVE to be frozen, or similar, until use.  At any rate, I’ll be marking the appropriate trees this coming September.  I’ll even look into birch syrup, why not?

Honey bees:  More for fertilizing my crops than for actual honey, but, hey!  This would not happen this next year, but I’ll certainly plan for this, as well as for native bee habitat.  The latter may well actually happen this coming year…

January 3rd:  This morning I went out to collect eggs.

One thing with freezing weather is that in addition to a regular water feeder in the coop, I have a kitty litter pan with water… pour in hot tap water a couple times a day and it won’t freeze so fast.

This morning I found a new treat… an egg laid into the kitty litter pan of water; the water was lightly frozen on top.

Hmm.  It did have a longitudinal crack so I tossed it, who knows what got inside.

Water, my dear birds, is NOT a place to lay your eggs.  You are NOT salmon who fight your way upstream to lay ikura for me to sample!

I’d been wondering about my rooster.  He was either celibate or shy.  I found out yesterday on a mid-day hen-house check that he’s just very fast, wham bam thank you ma’am.  Yasukai, my small Australorpe, barely noticed.

I hope in the spring… but not until spring… one or two hens go broody.  The likelihood is for hybrid offspring, as I’ve four breeds here.  Will be interesting.