The Homestead Adventure

20171102_173719Snapshots of the Week on the Farm

I opened the outside drop-down door to the chicken coop to gather eggs. The (not so) Littles, always the last to come down to breakfast in the morning, wedged themselves side-by-side in the coop doorway atop the ladder leading down to the run. They hesitated and then as if they had planned a countdown…3…2…1…jump….the pair of fluffy butts launched from the doorway across to the roost, nailing a perfect synchronized landing. So cute it made me forgive everyone for not laying any eggs for me to retrieve this morning.

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The lot at the bend in the road was mowed down months ago in preparation for building a house, but for now it remains empty and open, several stumps and large logs still strewn about.

It was on one of those stumps that something caught my eye as I headed out to work. Not one, but TWO bald eagles. Oh my! I slowed the car nearly rolling into the ditch as I gawked at the pair. One quickly flew away, the other sat still, only marginally concerned with my car drifting slowly down the road. I wanted to grab my phone and take a picture, but there was a car behind me – another somewhat rare occurrence on my little street. He soon realized why I had slowed to a crawl and did the same.

Bald eagles are fortunately not a super rare sight in our area anymore, but that doesn’t make spotting them any less breathtaking. I saw one as I was crossing the Veterans Bridge a couple of weeks ago, but it’s been over a year since I have seen one near my neighborhood.

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Surry has always gotten a walk after meals while the boys are left free to roam about the yard. The face waiting for us at the gate when we hit the driveway remains the same – Petey Do. No matter if we have been on a 90-minute run or a 5-minute stroll, there he is, wiggling himself into a frenzy at the sight of his big sis and then she starts to trot and wag her tail as well, it has just been so long!

But one of my favorite things is when Petey waits not at the main back gate, but on the other side of the yard by the garden gate. Excitedly he freezes, right front paw raised and watches us as we walk past, waiting until the last possible moment as we pass the mailbox to dash across the yard as fast as his little legs will carry him. He reaches the main gate as we step into the driveway, having lost sight of us for less than 30 seconds. And on some occasions, both boys are in the yard by the garden gate and catch sight of us. So, imagine the above scene being played out in duplicate!

It’s always the little things!

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Something has been trying hard to get into the chicken coop at night.

I’m guessing fox or raccoon. I first noticed the various attempts at digging several weeks ago. It went on for a couple of nights, then stopped, then returned once, then stopped for more than a week, until the other night.

“Dude, clearly you aren’t getting anywhere, so why don’t you just move along.”

I predator-proofed the coop in the spring digging a trench and sticking hardware mesh down in it and then out along the entire perimeter of the coop. So while this obviously hungry and very persistent predator is not making progress it is still very unnerving to come out each morning and see various paw prints and digging attempts.

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Egg(S)!

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The chickens have long since put them selves to bed before I get home from work now. Which is one of the main reasons I spent the better part of my staycation single-handedly building a substantial extension to their run before the time change.

Once I have calmed the canine chaos which erupts because I have been gone for an eternity and there is so much to tell me about their day and “oh wait Moma! I have to pee really bad.” I can then start Surry’s food incubating (she has EPI), change clothes and head out to tell the chickies goodnight.

I don a headlamp, secure the door connecting the coop run to the extension, then glance into the coop itself, tell everyone good night, then shut the coop door itself, grab the waterer to freshen in the morning when I head out with breakfast, and head back in.

The design of this coop – which was store bought – makes it difficult to truly separate the nesting boxes from the roosting area, which is positioned at the exact same level as the nesting boxes, and well they sometimes sleep in one or two of the three nesting boxes, which I realize is supposed to be a big no-no, but, well, it doesn’t keep them from laying in the boxes and it helps Mr. Millie position himself in front of the girls so that if anything busts through that door it has to get through him first. I do adore that bird!

Despite the fact that there is a back flap I can open to collect eggs, if they are in the nesting boxes, it just seems highly unnecessary for me to disturb them to check for eggs in the evening when I’ll be out there again in roughly 12 hours with breakfast and I can scoop them up.

Now, please notice the pluralization here.

For more than 16 weeks there is been one egg. One single beautiful egg from my reliable Vera, aka Miss V. She started laying in early August at right about 21 weeks old. I figured at the most the Littles would be six weeks behind her, but really, I was expecting about another month, for the younger girls to mature enough.

One month passed, then two, then THREE! Every week, OK, I’ll be honest, every other day, I would google the age and breed and see what came up as if I expected the answer to change somehow. All signs led to them maturing much later and at the end of the day they would lay when they were ready. Friends asked constantly and suggested I give them some encouraging squeezes to see if the eggs came out!

I inspected their combs and waddles, which had been bright red for a looooong time, one of the things I read I was to look for. Every day, I would think their combs were just a bit bigger. I do remember Vera had a big physical transformation the week she began. Wyandottes have a rose comb which does not protrude skyward like Vera’s, so the change was going to seemingly be subtle.

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Then it happened. The Saturday after Thanksgiving Rayna’s appearance made a dramatic shift hence, she finally got her own name. For the first time since April I could tell the Littles apart, even when they were across the yard from each other. There was nothing subtle about it at all. Her comb filled out, she seemed to add another inch or so to her height and girth and the biggest signal of all, she was hanging around with Millie! She had previously shown no interest in him and his affections, in fact she usually went out of her way to avoid him and would run, wings flapping, as fast as she could across the yard to dive under the deck if he started getting amorous, an event that usually startled Nerd causing him to think 1. they wanted to play or 2. needed protection, neither scenario would end well and I would then have to distract Nerd and assure him all is well. Rayna was also easily intimidated by Vera. Not anymore. They hung out as a trio all weekend, poor Juliette being left to fend for herself with very little company except at bed time.

It was closing in on 9:00 am on Tuesday. Millie knew full well I was still home and he wondered why if I was home, was he not outside. I grabbed some scratch grains and went out to explain to him that I was going to work as soon as they were done repairing the burst pipe by the well. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Rayna was exiting the coop. Everyone else had been down in the run. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. I wish I could tell you why I even looked into the coop. I had already collected Vera’s Monday egg that morning when I dished out breakfast. But I glanced in anyway and there it was!

I gasped and smiled, just like I did the day Vera laid her first egg. It was still warm and only slightly smaller than Miss V’s current egg size.

Rayna laid an egg! I told the dogs when I went inside. They were still more interested in the workers trapesing back and forth across the front yard to share my enthusiasm.

Vera has settled into a two-on, one-off lay schedule. That particular Tuesday would be an off day. But Wednesday I should have two eggs to gather, yep two whole eggs!! I promised myself I was not going to disturb them when I got home in the evening. I was going to wait until Thursday morning. Well, I lied.

As I shined the headlamp into the coop, eliciting a tiny grumble from Millie, I spotted an egg in one of the boxes no one was sleeping in and quickly saw the second one right next to it! Yay!

OK, Juliette, your turn!

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Mr. Millie

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I pause at the kitchen window as I put my bowl, freshly cleaned of any trace of yogurt by Surry and the boys, in the sink and smile.

Mr. Millie leads the way. Vera just a step behind. He clucks and stops a couple of times to grab a bug or a piece of grass that was just too enticing. Vera strolls on out the back gate. She has business to attend to and while she is most appreciative of the escort she is not inclined to wait for him. Millie jerks his head to the side and runs into the chicken yard after her pausing so she can make her way into the run first. I see her dark black figure move slowly up the ladder to the coop. Millie just stretches his head high enough to see in. Satisfied that she is settled in to lay, he rummages around the straw of the run and then forages in the chicken yard for a few minutes before returning to the main yard.

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Mr. Millie and his main squeeze

A couple of months ago, when I realized Millie was going to hop the fence anyway, I started opening the gate to the main yard for them on weekends. Thus, they spend much of their time up by the house and under the deck unless I come out and then they go wherever I go. But when Vera gives the signal, off they go, hand-in-hand if they could be.

Chickens were at the top of the list when I began this homestead adventure, but if you had told me back in March when I brought those little fluffballs home how much they would entertain me and amaze me every day. I would have thought you were nuts and add to that the fact that the sweetest little chick turned out to be a feisty red rooster whom I absolutely adore…well what can I say. I am a crazy chicken lady now!

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