Journal 2018

A periodic journal of homesteading occurrences here:  farm and land happenings, weather events.  Location, the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts.
Hardiness Zone 5B, rural.

December 26th, 2018:  104 eggs total this morning.  I brought two dozen to the local community center for sale at $3.50 for a dozen.  This seems to be the regional going price for local eggs.  I’m not going to count them any more, but I will track what I sell.  I won’t be turning a profit, that’s for sure, but I’ll help keep my neighbors all yolked up.

One of my eggs last week had to be composted.  It had frozen and cracked where it had been laid in the run (as opposed to the nesting boxes), and some chicken or another had poo’d on it.  No way to clean that safely!  OUT!  If it’s something I won’t eat… I won’t sell it. Or gift it.  Or anything.

We had two essentially snow-free days.  It had melted.   Or had been melted in part by an incessant pummeling of rain, that turned vast sections of everywhere into mud.  Now, snow is trying to worm its way back in onto the landscape.

December 17th, 2018:  60 eggs total!  First time I had one that was supremely warm when I collected it.  Just laid, of course.

December 16th, 2018:  Landmark, today I went out and discovered a total of 54 eggs laid since discovering the first two on November 20th.  I’m thinking the landmark 50th egg was laid yesterday — I got home after dark, and since it was warm enough I didn’t need to refurbish their water, I let them be until morning.

6:45 am:  Tiny Dancer, the rooster, crows a few times, saluting a grey-blue monochrome snow-threatening dawn.  The color is pleasant, but heavy.  I visit the coop, freshen water and food, and retrieve six eggs.  Celeste, my pet, has long lost her purple leg tag, but even without looking at the two Australorpes (they resemble her), I immediately know which one is she.  Breakfast is three slices of applewood-smoked bacon, two eggs obtained from my coop from an earlier date.

By ten, there’s a light freezing rain, which will change to snow.   I plan the day:  laundry, finishing up writing seasonally-appropriate cards, building the root cellar rack upon which I will hang the bag of onions and (far enough away), lay out the Yukon golds.  Lunch will be Vietnamese dumplings, made from tapioca starch – planned for a blog post here, should I succeed.  Dinner:  a stir fry of asparagus, mung bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, and whatever I’ll deem at the moment to put in for flavors.  Plus a little Arctic char, bought at a reputable roadside stand on my way to Connecticut yesterday.

I also hope to repair the squirrel feeder.  Yes, it is supposed to be a wild bird feeder, but I’ll work on improving that function some other time.  Also, I will be on line to order gifts for those folk I won’t be seeing in person this festive season.  Last year, today, I was a patient trapped at Yale/New Haven Medical, still recovering from knee surgery two days prior.  Five years to the day after the horrific Sandy Hook murders, which occurred only minutes from where I then lived.

For some reason, I also seriously desire to be creative this day.  Or contemplative.  Or, both.

November 28, 2018:  A few days ago when I went down to water and feed, everyone except Idril (a buff Orpington) came out of the coop into the run, to eat.  I went around to the coop from the human-sized coop door, to replenish water (it stays warmer in the coop, so it is longer before the stuff does that good ole phase change to solid…) and Idril was there, jumping from layer box to layer box,  just wanting me to leave, and with no immediate interest for food.  I dealt with the water, and left, returning three hours later to find another egg.

To date, I have 9 eggs, 8 of them are the same color and shape and laid in the first laying box.  Always in the same spot in the same box, too.  The odd egg out was lighter, and laid in a different box, and shaped more like a teardrop than the other 8.  My guess here is that Idril laid eight, and someone from a different heritage laid the other.  And that the second hen hasn’t cared enough (yet) to continue the task.  I have to say each morning seeing an egg in the same spot reminds me of the movie, Groundhog Day.  Waking up to the same song each morning???

Thanksgiving day:  our low was plus 2 degrees F.  The day after Thanksgiving:  Our low was minus 1 F.  Birds were too thankful to give me eggs on Thanksgiving, but other than that, I’ve been getting approximately one egg a day.  Their coop itself (when the temps were that low, I kept them IN the coop) was fairly toasty all feathers considered.  Saturday after it was a balmy 26 F when I went to visit early morning.

November 20, 2018:  My first two eggs from the layers today!!!  Not sure who is laying, all my layers give brown eggs.  There may be tonal differences, but right now I don’t know what tone is what or from whom, but these two look different enough that I suspect there’s two layers.  Then, a third egg was found when I put the hens to bed!

Homesteading, eggs

11/21/18: Breakfast, two sunny side up eggs with cremini, scallion, Gouda, mixed sprouts (daikon, nasturtium, pea), ancho chili pepper.

November 16, 2018:  Swallowed up by a Nor’easter which started last night and tangled up a goodly portion of the mid-Atlantic and New England states.  It’s all snow in this burg; down south it turned into rain or icy stuff for awhile.  Definitely over a foot here at 10:00 am.  Third sticking snow of the season.. and it’s STICKING.  I’m actually glad it didn’t change back over to ice or sleet and back to snow again up here.  Fluffy is easier to deal with.

Yesterday morning, when I woke it was 17 F, but temps very SLOWLY rose.  I picked the rest of the kale, went into town to get more bungie cords for my chicken run tarp, finished setting that up, brought enough food down to their bin that I don’t have to carry it in anything slippery for the next couple weeks or so, replenished their water.  Drove some heavy stuff around back to the walk out basement area, and manhandled the stuff in, to deal with today and this weekend.  Cat food and litter were brought there as well.  Finally picked that kale, which really hadn’t thrived this year.

homesteading, chicken coup, snow

November 16 chicken coop. Compare and contrast with the laying chicken family down further, that photo taken November 13th…

Just came back from doing chickens:  I have LL Bean hiking poles, and used one, and especially on the slightly hilly spot, made snow bootprints I can walk back and forth in without slipping (once the snow hardens).  This is a technique I discovered back in Connecticut where I lived on a steep driveway I sometimes had to walk up and down upon, so I made this trail adjacent.  Having bad knees makes one adapt.

The tarp worked but at any rate a half inch to an inch of snow did blow into the run.  The birds wanted to come out of the coop, but most of them stopped short, not certain what that white stuff was.  (Reminded me of those old cartoons where whatever’s being chased runs to the edge of the cliff, and everyone behind crashes into the first one…) Only Celeste came down all the way, and she wasn’t exactly happy about the white stuff.  I gave her some extra treats.  Being my BBF (best bird friend) counts….?

So, anyhow, I also gave them some food IN the coop, and replenished their water.  Most of the food is in the run feeder (I swept up some of the snow from the door to the feeder); we will see what transpires when I return there this afternoon.

The snow fall may be stopping now… just a few flurries!  We’ll see.  (Spoke too soon… another band…)

November 14, 2018: Second snow. Just a dusting or so, but hard to tell since it is blowing ever which way. Yesterday I put a tarp up on the west side of the chicken run – don’t want snow blowing in on the girls and their food — snow tends to fling around further than rain. The tarp makes flapping noises which disconcerts them. They should get used to it… the same tarp had been on the meat bird chicken tractor to keep some shade on them from the west as the sun set during the dog days of summer. They got used to it.

We’re scheduled for 9 – 15 inches tomorrow night into Friday. Too early for that much! Will pick the kale today. And some other outdoor winterizing tasks.

Tammy update: she seems to be fine. She is definitely low woman in the pecking order.

Photo below from November 13th…
homesteading, poultry, hens, layers, eggs

A Family Photo, Twelve Birds

October 27, 2018: First snow.  It turned to rain after two or three hours.

Tammy the Wyandotte went back out to her flock yesterday morning. Before I could let her peers out of their coop and into the run (where I’d put her), she and the rooster were calling to each other. She was glad to be home.

On the 26th, I can also add a new animal sighting to my “life list” (which is what birders call theirs). Even with glasses, my astigmatism isn’t corrected enough that I’ll start a birding life list, but… instead I saw a fisher cat. It rapidly crossed the road mid-day as I was driving about 3 miles from home. No time to take a photograph or such. Certainly no fox, raccoon, coyote, badger, dog, bobcat, or regular cat… I guessed fisher cat and confirmed it online when I got home. Beautiful animal. (Fisher cats are related to weasels and pine martins, not at all to the feline family of beasts, and they can be quite nasty.)

Fisher cat, public domain photo

FIsher Cat (Martes pennanti). Photo public domain, New York State Education Department.

October 18, 2018: Last night we had our killing frost. It was 28 F when I woke up.

Yesterday, I picked parsley, rosemary, tulsi/holy basil, and brought them indoors. Today I’ll freeze much of this. I brought in the last of the outdoor potted plants. (Fruit trees had come inside about a week ago.)

In the chicken department, Tamiko (Tammy) a silver-laced Wyandotte, exhibited signs of abuse from her harem peers, so I brought her indoors, she’s not so happily ensconced in the Poultry Nursery (aka my basement workshop) to recoup (or should that be, “re-coop”)? I advise chicken keepers to get a dog crate for such eventualities. I also have some goop to medicate her injury with.

homesteading, chicken, Orpington

Female buff Orpington.
She’s either Eowyn, Fimbrethil (Fim) or Idril.
Can’t read her leg band… Yes, Tolkien fan here.

October 6, 2018: A week ago Sunday we dispatched 7 of the 8 meat broiler hybrid birds. Six were roosters, one a hen. As far as texture goes, these (the roosters anyway) were about a month late, but then again these birds had an extra month of good foraging here. They do have more taste than your supermarket Cornish Cross, but I need to adjust cooking accordingly.

One good thing about learning how to do this, is that if any of the layers is severely injured beyond my or a vet’s capability to handle, I will be able to dispatch such a chicken as painlessly as possible.

And no, even though I did it personally with one of my meat birds, it will not be, and should not be, a task taken on lightly and without a care. I choose to eat meat (I can’t eat most tree nuts, for one, although I’ve just recently discovered almonds are okay), and any of these birds here have a better life than at a Tyson chicken factory. The saying is, One Bad Day… although I don’t think they were pleased the day they got moved from their basement box to the tractor in the great outdoors, either.

In the hen house/coop, Celeste is the lovely hybrid meat broiler with Australorpe background that, due to her friendliness, I’m now considering her a laying hen. She may not be prolific, but that’s okay. She tucked her way into my heart.

Tiny Dancer was the runt among the Wyandottes but turned out to be the rooster. He’s a sweet fellow to his harem – he lets them come down in the morning from the coop, first, and lets them chow down before he looks for his own food. He’s skittish around me, but I don’t care since he’s so nice to his ladies. He’s only recently learned to crow. Amusingly, roosters apparently sound like really LOUD cats coughing up hairballs before they get that CROW sound right!

Regarding that date… We first went over to a friend’s home, where she had 7 drakes to cull.  There were five of us, two men who’d had dispatching experience, and three of us women who did not.  I wanted to learn, since I have poultry, and the third woman was there to understand and appreciate where her (and our) meat-food comes from.  The two men dispatched, and all of us hand-plucked, after hot water soaking, the feathers.  We all learned how to, and thus removed the innards.

Then, we moved over to my place, and I am glad we did ducks first.  Yeah, chickens are easier in all aspects.  I did dispatch one broiler rooster, then we moved into hand plucking mode, then gut removal.  Chickens, at least these at only a few months, were a LOT easier to pluck than those older drakes (male ducks).  We removed the innards (I saved what I wished to save), and I am truly grateful to these wonderful four individuals who helped out AND taught me many things on that date.

June 17, 2018: I moved in to my homestead property in western Massachusetts on December 11th, with my three cats (a ragdoll and two American curls). The ragdoll (Serenity aka Miw) came into my life via a writing workshop also attended by the breeder, so no pricing issues with her. I promptly went into surgery on my knee for a benign but large tumor on the 14th of 2017 (necessitating a few days of hospital stay), and became a legal resident of Massachusetts on December 30th.

Winter was spent waiting for it to stop sn*wing, for me to start driving again, and doing physical therapy to regain range of motion and strength in my leg. And, making plans.

On May 3rd, we (the cats and I) were joined by eight day-old broiler chicks. They’re not Cornish Cross, but they will grow fast and furious. Just not as fast and furiously. GOOD.

Eleven laying chicks arrived on May 8th, although one of these is technically not a layer, as he’s the future rooster of the laying lot. I still don’t know which one he is, other than that he should be one of the silver-laced Wyandottes.

So, ATM, we are now 23 vertebrate critters living on my farmstead, at least inside the house. I see a variety of deer, wild turkeys, salamanders, and other critters outside on my property so far this year. Not to mention a luna moth and certain other moths. Last fall, Monarch Butterflies hatched here. Yea team! Yes, there’s an indigenous population of milkweed, which I try to encourage although it likes growing where it may get run over. (Oh, we won’t mention the mice I’ve found in the garage…)