And just as I wrote how “my” creatures were doing so well, our little runt, Pebble, who had held her own and was doing so well, got a wing torn off, through the wire fence of the chicks’ extra run, in broad daylight. We isolated her, and I looked at the wound as best I could on my own. She seemed alright, roosting, eating, drinking. But then chickens never want to show they’re hurt or in pain; the flock weeds out the weak links instantly and viciously  (we’ve seen it). Still, foolishly we thought, “let’s give her a chance.” After a while I was able to look at the wound, with DH helping, and she was smelling bad already. I sharpened my cleaver, speaking gentle words took her to the back of the garden, laid her down on a tree stump, and without thinking about it took off her head. Amie and I buried her in the pet cemetery. RIP, Pebble.

The Little Coop they’re in has a coop (box) and a run made of welded wire, impenetrable by predators and their claws. It is getting too small for them, so I had made an extra run out of some garden wire staked into the ground, a garden wire ceiling. Not knowing what got Pebble (we thought a cat), I let them in their extra run and stuck around, reading a book (Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative, in case you’re wondering). After an hour or so I looked up to a commotion near the big chickens’ run: it was a racoon. At 3 in the afternoon! Aren’t they’re supposed to be nocturnal? Then I realized  he/she was inside the run, but how? I was sitting right in front of the only entrance. My exclamation of surprise sent it scurrying through the hole he/she had made, giving it away: a narrow gap between the fence top of the run and the coop. So that’s why I was blasting through chicken feed so fast: each evening before dusk we closed the run, but this raccoon had been partaking of the buffet, night and day. And yesterday I also took Pebble’s wing.

So we’re somewhat stuck. We’re letting the big chickens out, hoping they can fend for themselves, but we also closed the gap and now that racoon may be getting hungry enough to go after them. The little chicks are cooped up in their too-small run, except when I am in the chicken yard with them, reading books (not a bad thing). It’s not sustainable. Stay tuned.

The six chicks are now 6 weeks old and last week I put them outside in the Little Coop. The dust from their food was driving me up the walls while they were inside the house! It hasn’t really warmed up yet, so I had the heat lamp on in there at night. But yesterday it was 50, so I didn’t turn it on: their first night in the dark. The little ones seem to bear it well. They are fully feathered out, growing fast, eating lots, and the Easter Eggers are growing their whiskers. But they still pip-squeak like little chicks.

They still don’t have the hang of going inside the coop when it gets dark. When I turned on the red heat lamp after dark, they’d all skedaddle in, but now I need to coax them in with a flashlight. I thought it might be the lack of a roost, so I made them one out of Amie’s IKEA toddler table (the one in this picture, where has the time gone?).

You were wondering why I kept it for nine years?

But nope. I still need to haul them in. They’ll get the hang of it, I hope, because the raccoons come a-prowling not long after the automatic coop door opener on the Big Coop closes. Any stragglers are shut out and had better hope the humans get there to correct the situation first!

Amie loves playing with the little ones. I created a quick fence around the back of the Little Coop so that when we open the back door and they run out, they’re contained. For one, they’re fast and small, hard to catch. Second, if they get out they’re at the mercy of the big hens, who have somewhat gotten used to their presence in their yard, but who might still give a mean peck to any that come within range.

The picture to the right is of the runt, Pebble. She is holding her own, she’s just smaller. Compared to her, Jiggle, also an Easter Egger and the biggest one of the lot, is a giant.  It makes sense they hang out together.

Unconventional way of carrying a chicken. She does this with the big ones too! An upside down chicken is paralyzed. Amie says “hypnotized” but I wonder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is other fowl.

 

We’re not used to seeing wild turkeys in our neighborhood, but one day two came strolling through our front yard on their way to the aquaduct (which runs behind our house). We’ve seen them a couple more times. They bypass the veg garden (thank goodness / so far) and go via the bee hives.  The female goes first, the tom follows ten feet behind. He tries to get her attention by displaying and calling when she doesn’t deign to look back (which is mostly). He is quite handsome but it looks like something took a bite out of his tail feathers. We’re careful around him – I’ve seen wild turkeys go after people and it isn’t pretty.

 

 

 

 

Our flock is down to six. Three generations:

  1. From 2012: Tweety (Rhode Island Red), Pecky and Skipperdee (Black Sexlinks) – we suspect that only Tweety still lays eggs. (Lost Toothless, cause unknown.)
  2. From 2014: Oreo the Ameraucana – still the trusty provider of blue eggs. (Lost Nocty, cause unknown.)
  3. From 2015: Kerfluffle (the Buff) and Lucy (Barred Rock) – both laying well. (Lost Jennie to a predator, probably a fisher cat, as well as Goldie, who decided to escape from the chicken yard and never returned).

This year we got six chicks through the Natick Organic Community Farm (what a place it is in Spring: baby piglets): three Comets (Cinnamon Queens) and three Easter Eggers. One of the latter (the little black one in the upper left corner) is either a runt, or an errant bantam We’re keeping an eye on her.

Amie is ecstatic to have chicks in the house again. And it’s fun, peppering one’s day-to-day conversation with friends with words like “pasty butt” and “chick grit”. Their arrival also prompted  us to clear up the chicken yard. I hope to find a way to split that yard and fence off an area to grow some forage for them.

But first I will be taking care of the two non-laying Black Sexlinks soon.

DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.

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Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

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It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.

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My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

The hens were ecstatic, escaping the confines of their run. I open the run door every day now, but I do chase them back in when we are going out and there will be no one hear to keep an ear out. My friend Kath had quite a misadventure with a hawk, so I’m cautious.

All nine hens are healthy. One day I had nine eggs, which is the best way to tell.

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Don’t try to eat something on the patio when the chickens are around! They’ll want some of what you’re having.

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We set up the temporary fence/gate between the chicken yard and the patio/backyard. Now only Oreo, the most adventurous and acrobatic, can get in. As long as she stays out of the veg garden, I don’t mind one chicken underfoot.

A friend found a dead sparrow and brought it to us for our home school. It resided in our freezer for a couple of weeks until today we remembered it.
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We unwrapped it and studied it for a bit, which wasn’t easy as it was frozen stiff. Then Amie suggested a funeral. We brought it outside to the compost bin. I put it in there, and Amie said some words. She had no connection with this individual bird, so it was a different, exploring kind of speech. She tried “Have fun in heaven” and “You flew so high”. Then she remarked that we all have to die, “like Gilgamesh learned”. (I had told her the story of Gilgamesh yesterday evening.) That was fitting. She poured some “happy sand” (yellow sand) on the little corpse. Then we turned the compost over it so it can feed new life.
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After that we visited the chickens, which were yelling for us. They are such complainers, but they’re very generous: in the nest boxes we found eight eggs.
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Our last stop outside was also with a bird. This was a chicken Amie made in summer out of clay. This is what it looks like after a winter on the porch:
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Amie knew exactly what had happened. It had been wet and then frozen, so it exploded from the inside.