Signs of spring

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The signs of spring are coming quickly now, one after the other. Little changes are rippling through our days. We’re noticing the usual things, such as the crocuses that are blooming (I planted them two autumns ago as early bee food, but alas there are no bees this year to enjoy them); the ground is mostly thawed and I spent time working the garden soil yesterday; the chickens are able to get out and about and forage on grass; ‘A’ and ‘H’ are enjoying playing outdoors without coats, hats and gloves; the Canada geese fly low overhead and honk, honk, honk.

There are other things too that come out of all these spring changes. The eggs from the chickens are a bit different this week – the shells are lumpy and thin. I think it’s the switch to foraging. I have no scientific proof of this, but it makes sense. I think their bodies are adjusting to the change in nutrition and it will take a little time for the egg shells to normalize. The cats are feeling the change in weather. Coco spends much of her day outdoors, and Grace, who is 14 now and looking more frail than ever, paces the house. She wants to stir, wants to go outside, but isn’t ready yet.

The end of the school year is in sight!

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The girls are rounding the final corner in the homeschooling year. My goal is be done with formal schoolwork by the end of May. Their studies are all over the map at this point in the year. They take classes with other teachers (piano, recorder, science and art to name a few). With me they learn French, writing, spelling, history, math, literature, computer programming, geography, social studies, typing, handwriting (printing) and cursive. I allocate a lot of time for quiet reading (Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Lloyd Alexander’s books and anything that resembles historical fiction are popular choices in our house right now). Now that the weather is warmer, outside play time has increased. Our days are full, to say the least.

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The new chicks are happy in their brooder box, and when Jeff is finished building the new coop, they’ll love living there. I’ll be happy to have them out of the house at that point. They still need a warm environment and they cuddle under the heat lamp. The lamp will move outside to the new coop with them. The new coop has two primary purposes: 1. It’s a brooder for new chicks and a home for the young females who aren’t laying yet. When they begin to lay eggs, they can move to the main coop and join the older hens. 2. It will serve as an infirmary for sick chickens who need to be quarantined or isolated. When Laura got sick last fall, I realized that I didn’t have a good place to put sick chickens while they recovered. This new coop is smaller than the current one, with lower roosts (younger and ill chickens don’t have to jump very high to roost), and it will have an attached run, where the chicks/chickens can go outside but still be safe.

New chicks: male or female?

I took some of the chicks out to photograph them today and I noticed that some crouched down low, as if to hide, while others stood tall and proud and eyed the camera. I have heard you can spot the difference between males and females by observing their body language in situations like this. The males stand tall while the females crouch down. See how the chicks in the photos below are standing differently? If this method works, it looks like I have 7 females and 8 males.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter right now how many males and females I have, because I plan to raise them all until they are ready for their next stop on the chicken train. When the males start acting like roosters (crowing), I’ll give them to a friend who will process and eat them. The hens will stay with me, and if I have enough, a few will go to another friend who is looking to grow her chicken family.

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7-standing-tall

You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

Life during the hatch

Our life during the hatch slowed down a bit as we took time to concentrate on watching the chicks hatch, and then care for the new babies. The process is fascinating and a bit addictive. We slowed down but haven’t stopped completely. The temperatures outside are on the rise, so outdoor playtime has loosened up and increased. Even Coco the kitten enjoyed some time outside this week, her first day of many to come exploring the great outdoors.

Everyone kept watch over the incubator: when I wasn’t there, the girls were peering in. When we walked away for a moment, each cat took a turn watching the eggs hatch.

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2-coco-keeping-watch

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The girls and the chickens were happy to spend time outside, as was Coco.

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The new chicks are happy in their brooder spa.

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The Hatch of 2014

I’ll be updating this post throughout the weekend with news about the chicken hatch. Two years ago when I hatched chicks I did the same thing. You can view that page here.

First Pip!

first-pip

Saturday, March 29, 9:30 am

The first pip has appeared! Chicks hatch out by using their beak to break through the membrane inside the shell. They get a breath of air after breaking the membrane because the air sac, located on the large end of the egg, holds enough oxygen to help them get through the early part of the hatch. After breaking the membrane, they get the energy to break through the shell. This is called a pip. Now that this chick has pipped, it will rest a while before starting to break open the rest of the shell. Birth is an exhausting process!

There are a total of 23 eggs in the incubator. Seven of the eggs have a green shell and I wasn’t able to candle them at all because the shell color was too dark. The egg that pipped is one of these eggs. These seven eggs were put in the incubator 21 days ago, along with eight others. Eight more were added the following day, and I expect them to hatch tomorrow.

1:30 pm

Egg #2 hasn’t shown much progress. It will move occasionally and if we peep loudly at it, it peeps back. Just now it is showing signs of breaking through more of the shell. So far no other eggs have pipped, peeped or wobbled.

2:00 pm

Egg #2 is working its way out! This might take a short time or a long time. You never know.

2:20 pm

Egg #2 is chipping away at the underside of the egg. There doesn’t look like there’s much action from above, but the egg is shaking and if I look closely I can see broken shell underneath.

 2:31 pm

Egg #2 has hatched! Its head is out of the shell. Now it will rest a bit before kicking off the rest.

 3:20 pm

Egg #19 has pipped.

 6:30 pm

Egg #12 has pipped. For the few who have access to the webcam, I am keeping the camera on the chick that hatched. It keeps moving around the incubator. Eggs 12 and 19 will hatch sometime this evening, and when they get closer I’ll keep the camera on them.

Here’s a photo of Egg #2 hatching, and one of it as it dries off in the incubator. It’s from the Easter Egger lot I purchased on Ebay.

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Sunday, March 30, 6:20 am

When I went to bed last night I didn’t see any change in activity. #2 had hatched, #12 and 19 had pipped. No other eggs had pipped. I thought for sure I would wake up to several newly hatched chicks. I thought about sleeping downstairs next to the incubator, but decided to stay in my own comfortable bed. Good thing, because Coco the kitten slept by my side all night, which means she wasn’t attacking the incubator instead.

This morning the only chick that has hatched is still #2. Several pipped overnight though.

Currently pipped eggs:

1
4 (I think)
5
6
7
12
17
18
19
25

This is 10 eggs that are currently pipping and will hatch today! 10 pipping, 1 hatched, 12 additional eggs waiting for action.

Chick 2 is still in the incubator. It can live without food and water for 24 hours (some say up to 72 hours), and I’m reluctant to put it in the brooder alone. I’m waiting for another chick to go with it. I just think that for warmth and security, it should have a friend there. Hopefully I will have another chick that has hatched and dried off by this afternoon.

 9:15 am

No new hatches yet. I just realized that there is water under the incubator on the floor. It’s either a slow leak or it’s condensation. I tossed in a wet paper towel and checked the water reservoir levels and they seem okay. The chicks need a certain level of humidity in order to keep the membranes in the eggs from hardening and sealing them inside. I don’t track the humidity level, I just try to keep the reservoirs in the plastic incubator tray full.

Eggs #18 and 19 are making progress with pecking at their shells.

10:15 am

I’m concerned about the humidity level in the incubator. Egg #12′s membrane was getting white and hard, and I didn’t see the hole it had poked in it anymore, so I used a paperclip to repoke the hole. It’s breathing. I added another warm, wet paper towel. Egg #19 looks like it’s getting ready to hatch. Its membrane is nice and translucent.

10:45 am

Egg 22 pipped.

11:30 am

Egg 19 hatched! It’s dark – one of Michael’s, and I’m assuming it’s a Black Australorp. It’s a big one!

3:10 pm

Egg 18 hatched! Looks like another Black Australorp.

5:00 pm

Here’s the status of the hatch: 3 have hatched so far. They are slow, aren’t they? I expected the hatch to be winding down by now. I think two factors are involved here:

1.) I have thought throughout the incubation time that the temperature was 1-2 degrees too low. They are supposed to be incubated at 100 degrees and the thermometer in my incubator read a consistent 98-99. There is a sticker on the lid that says something about how the calibrated temperature is usually correct, whereas the thermometer in the incubator may be off by a degree or two, so just trust the equipment… I wonder if I should have. A lower incubation temperature will lengthen the hatch time.

2.) Many of the eggs I am incubating are larger breeds, and larger breeds like to stay in the shell for a longer time.

So many have pipped and two are working their way out as I write this. I am hopeful the hatch will continue to move along.

 5:45pm

#12 hatched!
10 eggs are currently pipping:
1
3
4
5
6
7
17
21
22
25

4 eggs have hatched: Eggs 2, 12, 18 and 19

Number of eggs that have no activity yet: 9

6:45 pm

#17 hatched! I am so happy for this chick. I’ve been cheering it on all day. It sat for hours with its beak poking out of the shell, just peeping all day. Now chick #1 is getting ready.

7:00 pm

#1 hatched!

Moving to the Brooder

The first two chicks that hatched have been moved to the brooder box. Some people who incubate chicks say that you should wait until all the eggs have hatched before opening the lid of the incubator and moving the chicks to the brooder box. I don’t do that. My eggs in the bator do just fine if I open the lid quickly to get a few chicks out, and I see what a difference a trip to the brooder spa does for the chicks. They dry out and fluff up so nicely under the heat lamp. It’s quiet, and the business in the brooder box the first day or two is all about sleeping, eating, drinking, and stumbling around. They get a good head start on life if they are moved to the brooder a few hours after hatching.

 7:40 pm

They went like popcorn for a while, but now things have slowed down. My guess is that 25, 23 and 7 will hatch next, but not for a while.

9:25 pm

Egg 25 is next, I think. It’s pipping out a row underneath. Doesn’t look like much from above, but I think it will hatch in the next hour.

10:00 pm

Egg 25 hatched. This was the first to hatch from the eight I set on Sunday, three weeks ago. This one has dark skin and black feathers! My webcam is now down for some reason.

Monday, March 31, 8:15 am

Morning update: 4 more hatched overnight. All in all, this is a slow hatch! 12 have hatched in total. We will see what today brings.

11:30 am

#13 hatched. The humidity in the incubator is all over the place. Sometimes the eggs are too dry, sometimes too wet. #13 still has some unabsorbed yolk attached. It is too wet. I am lowering the humidity and hopefully more will hatch. At this point only one more has pipped – #26.

Tuesday, April 1, 3:00 am

I woke up in the middle of the night so I took the opportunity to check on the eggs and chicks. The chicks in the brooder are as happy as can be. One chick is in the incubator (#13) and it is looking frisky and healthy. Two eggs are pipping: #26 is getting closer to hatching, and #27 pipped a little hole a few minutes ago. It pipped on the small end of the shell which means it could have some trouble zipping out, but the small end isn’t very small, so we’ll see what happens there.

I adjusted the humidity some more (lowered it), and I did a float test on the remaining eggs to check for viability. I could smell a bad one in the incubator and I had to know which one it was. I could have skipped the float test, as I knew immediately when I picked it up and sniffed it. I completed the float test on the remaining eggs and disposed of two in total that were not viable. I have questions about a third egg but I left it in the incubator just in case it’s a good one.

So, if these two that are pipped hatch out, I will have six eggs left to go. In theory I could have 21 chicks.

7:45 am

Well, if nothing else, getting up for an hour of care taking in the middle of the night makes me very tired the next morning. I may always have room in my heart for another child, but I don’t have room in my sleep schedule for one! All done with that chapter of my life!

I woke to find that #26 hatched and it is doing okay. It’s “wet” like the one that hatched before it (#13). Meaning the yolk isn’t fully absorbed into its body and the whole chick is kind of floppy. The yolk with dry off and detach and the chick will get enough energy to survive and do just fine. It will need extra time in the incubator for this process. Another egg is still pipping and although I hope it hatches soon, I know that #26 will benefit from having some time to heal alone.

No new pips yet in the eggs I tested last night/this morning for viability.

Wednesday, April 2

I have 15 chicks in the brooder, and 6 eggs in the incubator. There are no pips in the eggs. I candled them today and I am unsure of what I’m seeing. Four have distinct air sacs. Are they alive? Who knows. Tonight marks the start of day 24 for some, day 25 for others. It’s late in the hatch, but still within the realm of possibility for a hatch, so I’m going to wait and see what happens.

 Thursday, April 3: Final Results

Jeff and I opened the remaining eggs today to check for viability. There weren’t any living chicks left. I cleaned out the incubator and the hatch has come to a close. I’m happy with the chicks I have: 15 chicks that are healthy. The breeds this time around are completely different than the breeds I hatched last time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the chickens look like as they get older. I can’t wait to find out if they are male or female (I could have feather sexed them on Day 2, but I am not an expert and my expert friend was sick at that time). Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting to know the chickens and finding out more about their particular personalities.

Thanks for tuning in!

Day 20 of incubation, and a knitting project

28-knitting-hatIt’s Day 20 for most of my eggs, Day 19 for the rest. They are expected to hatch on Day 21. I turned them for a final time on Wednesday/Thursday, and yesterday (Thursday) I filled the water trays in the incubator floor to boost the humidity, closed the lid, and I vow not to open it until some hatched chicks are ready to come out.

The wait is hard for me. I did not receive the virtue of patience at birth and I never bothered to cultivate it as an adult. I can’t stand to wait for something I want so badly. I just want these chicks to hatch out! I do know from prior experience that these last hours are to be savored, because after the chicks are hatched our household is going to rev up to high speed. I’m still setting up the brooder and the webcam (I hope to be able to stream the hatch). I started with one brooder box, then wondered if I needed something with higher sides, so that I can raise the heat lamp more easily as they get older.

In the meantime I’ve been working on my new knitting project. I’m making my first hat. My friend Kristin works at the yarn store and she assures me that I can successfully make this hat pattern and at the same time, I’ll experiment with a few cables too. Kristin has a lot of faith in me. I am an eager student, but I’m still a beginner when it comes to knitting. I’ll be working on this hat for a while. I usually rip out my work a few times and start over. I look at the whole project as a learning experience. If I’m going to spend so much time knitting something, I may as well learn to do it right, and do it as well as possible. Sometimes ripping out and starting over is just what you need to get there. Sometimes learning to correct mistakes as they’re made is the right step. Sometimes learning to live with your mistakes is the only answer. Luckily, I get to experience all of those things with every project!

The pattern is called Fortnight by Brooklyn Tweed, and I’m using Cascade Cloud in Ruby. It’s knit in the round and the first several rows are garter stitch. In the round, that means one row is knit, the next row is purled, and the pattern repeats. This way of knitting leaves a little seam that runs up the back of the hat. I wondered if there was a way to knit it and omit the seam. I ripped out my work and searched for a new way. I found a method on a website that called for shifting the stitches over so that the seam was staggered. I tried it, and I wasn’t happy with the result. It looked like my hat had a mistake in every row. So I ripped it all out and went back to the original pattern. The seam will be there, but after it’s blocked, it won’t be too noticeable.

25-seamless-knitting-failTomorrow I hope to have good news about the status of the hatch. So far I haven’t seen any rocking eggs or heard any peeps. I am doing my best to suppress my irrational thoughts that the chicks aren’t going to make it. Tomorrow and Sunday are the big days!

Making Lemonade

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Today was a great day. We started out the day at a UU service, followed by a walk through the woods with other wonderful UU families, and ended the day by doing good work around the homestead.

This afternoon I took my dead-beehive situation, a metaphorical bowl of lemons, and tried my best to turn it into lemonade. I look at it as a learning opportunity. I cleaned out the hive and as I went through each frame, I examined it. I made mental observations about placement of honey, placement of dead bees, placement of stored pollen. I looked for signs of disease and signs of mites. I looked for the queen (I didn’t find her). I tried to assess the ultimate cause of death. After examining the entire hive I stand by my earlier assessment of death by freezing temperatures. The bees were mostly found in a heap at the bottom of the hive. There was no sign of disease. No foulbrood, no wing disorders. There were mite bodies that had fallen through the screened bottom board, but not enough to cause a serious problem in the hive. A few bees were found face-first in the honeycomb, a sign of a “starve out”, or a starved hive, but not enough of them were in that position to indicate that there was a real starvation issue. Besides, there was plenty of honey left in the hive. The bees were just too cold to access it.

23-signs-of-a-starve-out

The two bees in the center are head-first in the comb. This is a sign of starving bees. If all the bees in the hive were found this way, it would have been a stave-out. You can see that other bees died as they were walking on the frame. They didn’t starve.

I worked for a long while on cleaning the hive and readying it for the next colony of bees. I made a pile of frames with lopsided and loopy foundation, and I will replace the foundation in those frames or discard them entirely. I scraped down propolis and replaced my 10-frame arrangement with the nine frames I have wanted for over a year now. It’s easier to do all of this when the bees aren’t busy in the hive, busy growing new life, busy watching out for intruders, busy storing food for the upcoming season. I am still a young beekeeper. I respect the awesome power and ability of the bees, and I happily stand back and let them do what they do best. In my newness, I forget that my job as a beekeeper is to steward, encourage and protect them. I fulfill my basic promise by providing them with boxes and frames in which to store their brood (baby bees), their pollen (a protein source) and their honey (a food source). But I can’t just leave them to do their thing. I need to make sure their frames are being used to the best of their ability, and if they are not, I have to replace them. I need to make sure their queen is doing her job, and if she is not, I have to replace her. I need to make sure their home is as perfect as they try to make it.

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There was a lot of honey left in the hive. This deep frame is almost full of honey. The bees were too cold to get to it, even though it wasn’t too far away.

It is a combination of three things that keeps me from fulfilling my duty as the bee’s steward:

1: Fear of killing the queen. I am so afraid that if I take out frames and spend time moving frames around, I will inadvertently kill the queen. I think I may have killed the queen during my first year of beekeeping, and it has haunted me ever since. If the queen is dead, the colony is set back. It’s not the end of the colony necessarily, but you certainly don’t want to kill the queen;

2: Fear of getting stung. I get stung quite a bit. I take it as a sign of being a beekeeper. The guard bees are ready to defend their hive as soon as you open the cover. The smoke from the smoker does only so much to subdue them. I have gotten stung enough that I now get phantom stings when I work in the hive – my legs will start to hurt as if I have gotten stung, when actually I haven’t. Fear of pain is a powerful subconscious motivator;

3: My firmly established desire to leave the natural cycle alone. I come from a place of letting things in nature do what they will do with minimal interference from me. If the bees are happy in their hive, why do they need me in there with them? I let this mentality take over where the fear of killing the queen and of getting stung leave off.

All of these honey comb cells are packed with pollen stored from last year. The bees need the protein from pollen as they enter the spring season. If they had survived this winter, they would be eating this pollen in the next few weeks for energy.

All of these honey comb cells are packed with pollen stored from last year. The bees need the protein from pollen as they enter the spring season. If they had survived this winter, they would be eating this pollen in the next few weeks for energy.

I am coming learn that to be a responsible beekeeper, I need to get into my hives more often and take on a greater role in managing them. What that means for this coming year remains to be seen. I have learned some valuable lessons about beekeeping so far, all through trial and error. I’ll employ these tactics in addition to some new ones this summer:

  • Add more honey supers before you need them. In my first year as a beekeeper I didn’t add honey supers quickly enough. A few things happened as a result: the bees swarmed multiple times, and I didn’t collect as much honey as I would have if I had added enough supers;
  • Feed more often than you think: I realize now that the bees use sugar syrup to help build comb. Even if all of the frames in your hive have drawn comb, some comb might be too brittle or misshapen. Give the bees some food and energy so that they can clean their house as well as they like;
  • Check each frame to be sure the comb is drawn out to the fullest. If adjacent frames are being drawn out but one or both sides of a frame are not, remove the frame. Replace the foundation or spray it with sugar syrup. Something about that frame isn’t right. Ditto for frames with partially or irregularly drawn comb.

It was good for me to go through the hive today and become reacquainted with these rules for life. It even felt like I was making lemonade out of lemons while I was working. The outside temperature was in the 30s – cold for some of you, but pleasant for us. I started thinking about how life is essentially good for me right now, how things are coming alive and are on a good path. I looked over at the maple tree near the hive and thought,

There is only one thing that will make everything sweeter: maple syrup.

You know by now what it means when I think something like this. Jeff was in the woodworking shop making the new chicken coop, so I grabbed him and asked him to drill into the sugar maples to see if the sap was flowing… and it is! Out of the drilled hole dripped a steady stream of clear sap. I went to buy some taps and buckets but it was too late on a Sunday to get anything, so tomorrow I will go out again. We won’t get the 40 gallons needed to make a gallon of syrup, but we might get enough for a good homemade taste. We’ll boil it down on our wood stove.

Syrup is better than lemonade!

Now that the beehive is cleaned out, I’ll order a package of bees that will probably arrive in a month. I’m setting this one up with 9 frames in each box instead of 10, so that may yield more honey and may make it easier to get in and out of the hive. When 10 frames are pressed into a small box, it is hard to get them in and out. I’ll find out this summer if it is easier to manipulate them. I will start with a sturdy hive. Most of all, I vow to be a more responsible beekeeper. Life is one learning experience after another, isn’t it? Life is about making lemonade.

 

 

The new hatch

21-eggs

I’ve got baby fever. Eggs are in the incubator. I started with 29 eggs and after checking to see how many are fertilized and viable, the current count is 23. The target hatch dates are March 29 & 30 – starting in about a week.

I’m excited, and I also have huge reservations about being excited. You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” – do you know why you shouldn’t count them? Because they don’t all hatch! With an incubator hatch, some or all of them will hatch, or perhaps none of them will hatch. You never know until its over. Isn’t that just the truth about everything in life.

I hatched chicks two years ago and you can read about it here:

This year I’m nervous. Is the temperature in the incubator correct? What about the humidity? Are they developing on schedule? This time around I am such a nervous Nellie. I’m trying so hard to disconnect from the whole process in case it fails. It won’t fail, I know that. But the irrational chicken-lady, baby-fever-mama in me is telling me to not get obsessed.

The 29 eggs I started with this time around didn’t just fall into my lap. This is partly what’s driving my nervousness. I sought them out. I worked for them. I wanted them so badly. The place I rented the incubator from had only meat eggs for sale (our local cooperative extension office). Those chicks would have turned into meat birds and would not become egg layers. MAYBE they could get me a dozen red sex linked eggs (egg layers), but it wasn’t likely. I had hatched a dozen sex linked eggs from them last time. From that hatch I have three red sex link hens (Carrie, Aries, and Fuzzybottom) and one Buff Orpington (Faye). Faye’s egg was added to the dozen by accident, I’m sure. I wasn’t expecting her to hatch out and be anything but a red sex link, and the folks at the cooperative extension office weren’t expecting a Buff Orpington either! As it turns out, we love Faye and we think we would love more Buff Orpingtons (BOs). Our sex linked chickens are our most nervous hens, and although I thought I wanted more of them because they are good layers, I decided I don’t like their disposition. When I asked the folks at the cooperative extension office this time if I could get some BOs, they didn’t know where to source the eggs.

I hit a wall there. This was one month before I planned to plug in the incubator and start the hatch cycle. I started talking about my plans (and hopes and dreams) with EVERYONE. I worked it into every conversation I had. Friends, coworkers at the farmers market, and complete strangers. I always said I was looking for Buff Orpington eggs… did they know anyone who had fertilized eggs? I turned to the internet and found that BO eggs are pricey. They can sell for $50 a dozen. I consider that to be a lot of money! I did some homework and learned more about chicken breeds and decided our priority was family-friendly chickens. There are a number of breeds that fill the bill.

I talked to everyone all over again, repeating my conversation about looking for eggs, this time saying we were looking for eggs of a number of different breeds. I emailed Ebay sellers and placed a bid on Easter Egger eggs. I picked up the incubator and knew I was plugging it in on Saturday, March 8 (‘H’s birthday – I started the hatch on her birthday two years ago, too). The Ebay eggs arrived in time, and somehow everything came together. By the end of the weekend I had 29 eggs in. 7 came from my Ebay seller, 12 came from a local farmer, and 10 came from Michael, the farmer I work for. And by now, everyone around me knows I’m hatching chicks. Everyone.

Like I said, my hatch date is in a week. I have not done anything to prepare for their arrival. Next week I’ll clean off the heat lamp and get feed and water dishes; I’ll tape together a cardboard box to use as a brooder; I’ll raise the room temperature of the craft room, where the chicks will spend their first week or two. A week from now I’ll listen for the peep peep that comes through the shell the day before the chicks peck their way out. And then, hopefully, we’ll be in chick heaven.

21-incubator-in-cage

The incubator is under a wire cage at our house, to protect it from Coco the kitten.

An Update on the bees

I checked my one remaining beehive today to see if they needed food. Much to my dismay, they were all dead. There was plenty of honey left so I’m thinking they died from the cold, not starvation. It was not easy to see it. The mass of all the bees in a hive are equivalent to a small animal or two. The clean up on my end is enormous. These feelings that come with losing a beehive will stay with me forever, I’m sure. Just like so many other feelings.

I’ve come to understand a few things, and one of them is that animals and insects live and die, and although we are here to steward them through the process, we don’t ultimately control anything. My small-scale hobby farm radiates life and death. It is just a part of the process. I do my best to protect my animals and the bees, and I am sure I’ll continue to learn and do a better job along the way, but in the end I am learning to accept the fact that all of these living beings around me will die. That’s a tough concept, right? It is the way of the world.

Because I am the eternal optimist, I am looking forward to new life – chicks soon, followed by a package of new bees, a garden filled with sprouting seeds, apple blossoms on the trees, and Robin eggs tucked snug in their nests. Life goes on.

 

 

First day of Spring

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The first day of Spring doesn’t feel very “springy” this year. There’s still snow covering the ground, the air is cold, and we’ve even seen a few snow flurries today. However, there are spots of bare ground here and there, where the snow has melted. Time and patience are required now. We have had a couple of warmer days and the girls have enjoyed spending time outside without coats and hats.

The Spring Chipmunk comes to our house the night before the first day of spring. It’s our version of the Easter Bunny. It came last night and hid eggs filled with jelly beans around the house. It left a few gifts for the girls and – surprise! – a bowl of jelly beans for Jeff and me. Yum. The girls each got a copy of the book Don’t Eat This Book and they love it. It is a book that encourages the reader to be interactive with the book. It makes you stretch your imagination and test your boundaries. It’s a good way to read and write. I’m glad they like the book!

We have a number of ongoing projects here at the Village Homestead. I have 23 chicken eggs in an incubator and the target hatch date is March 29 and 30 (Saturday and Sunday). I will post about the incubation process another time, after I candle the eggs one more time to see which are viable.

I wrapped up a knitting project and finally got it blocked – yay for me! The Honey Cowl I started in the fall has been put into use and I’m so happy with it. Now I’m starting work on my first knitted hat, with cables too. Two big firsts for me. Stay tuned.

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‘A’ had a baby tooth extracted to make room for her adult teeth – she did a great job at the dentist’s office. Schoolwork is moving along nicely. I started teaching the girls French this week. I’m not fluent, but I know enough to get them started. The girls are involved with a lot of different school projects. Their favorite subjects right now are WW2, Harry Potter, nature journaling, and they LOVE learning French.

Those are some quick updates.

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Waiting for…

5-chickens-outsideWe’re waiting. For something. For spring. Snowmelt. Green grass. Warm air.

Once winter begins in earnest, I don’t mind it so much. The snow and cold are okay. They are almost welcomed, as the weather forces us inside and encourages us to get to know the house again. We spend time in the house and re-learn every creak and crack. We sit and read and knit. We clean the closets and organize the shelves. We feel at home again.

It is about time for us to go outside. We all feel it. I’m planning my garden and looking forward to new chicks hatching (the eggs are going into my incubator on Saturday). The girls are hungry to play outside without wearing so many layers. The chickens are tired of following the paths cut into the deep snow. They want to walk as a the crow flies.

From inside we watch the bird feeder. We look for any sign that spring is coming. This week the variety of birds at the feeder is at an all-time high. They are all winter birds, for sure, but the variety is increasing. Today alone we saw house finches, goldfinches, juncos, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, starlings, mourning doves, sparrows, robins, blue jays, chickadees, and white and red breasted nuthatches. The woods are stirring.

Things are rolling along here. The piano is tuned and ready for lessons (the girls start next week); the collection of Harry Potter books on our shelf has been discovered and is being devoured; we are learning more about World War 2 and the atomic bomb; outer space beckons us, as always; the chickens are back to laying on a regular basis (Fuzzybottom laid an enormous, almost 3-inch egg this week); my car is just about ready to celebrate 100,000 miles and will do so with new brakes and tires; ‘A’ is reaping the benefits of good dental care with her new palate expander; and finally, my girl ‘H’ celebrates a big milestone at the end of this week – she turns 7. Yes, 7 years old.

Things are good here. Waiting for the thaw and the warm weather, and other than that, things are good.

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Looking forward to spring!

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Here it is at the end of February and we are looking forward to spring. Less than a month away – it is within reach! The days are noticeably longer and brighter now. The snow is still piled up and the cold is just as cold as ever, but soon it will all change.

Climate change is real, folks. The cold weather we have been experiencing in upstate New York this year is a result of a shift in the jet stream, which is a result of the melting ice caps. We need to address our fossil fuel issues soon.

Looking ahead, I see a few months of school left, and I am excited to wrap up some projects with the girls and start new ones. I see gardening season around the corner and I’ll be starting seeds indoors in about a month. I see new chicks in our future – the details are still foggy but will surely be hammered out soon. I see housework related to the spring thaw ahead: cementing the cellar walls and installing a gutter. Kitty-training is on the horizon too, as Coco will be introduced to the outdoors after the snow melts and the nights warm up a bit (she’ll hopefully come in every night, but the possibility that she doesn’t is very real; she’s a barn cat at heart).

Looking back, I am holding onto memories of last week: my grandmother, my last living grandparent, passed away and I had the opportunity to see relatives I love at her funeral. Separately I saw a much-loved aunt and uncle on the other side of my family. It is truly a blessing to have happy and supportive extended family.

Back home, in the present, I find that we are moving all the time. We live a bit in the past, sometimes in the future, and predominantly in the present. There is always something to do, something to learn, something to read, something to create, something to photograph, someone to talk to, something to cook, someone to hold, something to clean.

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I have a few photos of the beach at my mother’s home at the Cape. I was there for a few days last week. Have a great day, and I’ll see you here soon.  26-girls-walking-down-to-beach

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Olympians on the TV, song birds in the chicken coop, and other things

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The Olympics are going on now, so if you’re wondering where to find my children, you can bet they’re in front of the TV. If they’re not watching the games, they’re thinking and talking about them. They, like many of us, are totally transfixed by the sight of athletes pushing the physical limits. I cringe when I watch the skiers and sledders head down the track at speeds faster than I have ever driven in my car. The girls think it’s fascinating. We all appreciate the effort the competitors have put into their sport and are grateful for the chance to watch them compete and perform.

When I opened up the chicken coop this morning, a songbird was in there. I had closed the door of the coop after dark last night, so I know the bird wasn’t accidentally trapped – it chose to roost there for the night. I don’t know what kind it was; it was small and round, like a sparrow; dark and striped; and it had a long, pointy beak. It was little. When it saw me it was alarmed and upset and I couldn’t get a good look at it because it kept flying around, trying to get out of the coop. It went and hid under the ramp the chickens use to get in and out of the hen house. According to my bird book, it could be a winter wren. The photos on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website look a lot like the bird I saw. I don’t know if it got out of the coop okay, or if the chickens did something to it. They like to chase little animals, so who knows what happened. I will see if it’s in there tomorrow morning too.

Today the girls and I took a few minutes to head outside with our cameras. The theme was “Lines” and the photos are here.

Along that theme of finding lines, here is a set of fox prints along the side of the house. The snow is too deep right now for them to run freely through the yard. They hug the walls when they can.

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