Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Making Chicks

This past weekend, our first ever attempt at hatching chicks using an incubator was SUCCESSFUL! Of the nine fertile eggs remaining, after two candlings, all eggs hatched and we have nine beautiful chicks- six Ameraucana- two white and four standard, two Orpington/Maran cross in dark and lavender colors, and one dark (possibly blue/black) Orpington. 

It all began with a pip on Friday night

First chick drying off on Saturday morning

Second chick just out of the egg at 9:45, Saturday morning

First and second chicks snuggling together

First chick, fluffy and hanging out in the brooder by early Saturday afternoon

Fifth Ameraucana chick just about to hatch

It's throwing out a wing...

...then a foot...

...a final rush of energy to burst forth from the shell...

...Welcome little chick!

By 7:30 Sunday morning all the eggs had hatched and the chicks were ready to move from the (st)incubator to the brooder to dry off and snuggle with their fellow "siblings". 

Newly hatched Maran/Orpington cross

Orpington chick

Lavender Orpington/Maran cross

Freshly hatched chick in Jared's hand

Maran/Orpington egg, post hatch

One of the Maran/Orpington eggs wiggled around in the incubator for a day and a half with not so much as a pip but was hatched out and ready to go on Sunday morning. The other Maran/Orpington was in a partially pipped egg for about that same amount of time however they probably hatched within minutes of each other.

On Sunday evening, they were all vaccinated for Marek's, along with some of our older chickens who hatched on our farm and had yet to be vaccinated.  

It just so happens that our Blue Orpington, Pencil, decided she was really and truly broody so Sunday evening she was relocated to a brooder in the south yard to prepare for chicks. We let her have one egg to keep her sitting and occupied overnight. Monday afternoon, Jared and I gave all nine chicks to her for raising. She was clucking instantly, lifting up her breast for them to crawl under and be snuggly warm. Once they were all under her, the peeping ceased and it was completely silent. We checked on everyone yesterday afternoon and all seems to be well. The oldest chick keeps poking it's head out under Pencil's breast taking in the scenery, while the others pop out to eat and then head back under for sleeping. Pencil has yet to leave the nest, so I'm guessing she's waiting for the weather to stop being so windy and rainy before she leaves the chicks to grab a bite to eat.

Eggs in the Brinsea Incubator

In just about a week our second batch of 25 incubated eggs is due to hatch. Jared and I candled them on Sunday evening and chose not to discard any eggs, though there were some whose development looked questionable. We'll candle again this Saturday evening and remove any eggs that aren't obviously fertile.

Despite what feels like unending rain -and wind- chicks are always a definite sign of Spring on our farm.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Signs of Spring

Plum Blossoms
Garlic, planted last Fall
More garlic, planted last Fall
Greek Oregano
Ornamental Plum Blossoms
Forget Me Nots
Guess who turns 16 tomorrow? 
Guess who turns 16 tomorrow? 

Seed Starting

We got a late start on starting seeds but as of Sunday they are mostly in trays and ready to grow! 

Lots of Seeds!

 Hard working farmer hands

Corn, Summer Squash, and Pumpkins

 Topping off with starter mix

Beans and Peas

 Plant markers awaiting use

 Next stop, seeds! 

 Tomatoes started and ready to grow!

Seed starting mix on the dining room table

Potatoes are still on their way as are blueberry bushes. We have strawberry starts on the porch wrapped in napkins and a plastic bag over the roots to keep the moisture in until we can get them into the ground. 

Next on the "To Do" list, finish garden beds and fill them with compost, sand, and soil. Seed carrots and some lettuce, then watch and wait...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Talking Chicken...

Sophie has recently joined the "Cooped Up in Seattle" 4-H club. Their focus is chickens, ducks, and rabbits. While Sophie really wants to be in a 4-H club where the focus is sheep, we're going to start with poultry and see how it goes. 

This past weekend was the Cascade Poultry Show in Monroe, WA, which brought in poultry fanciers from all around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There were so many beautiful chickens, I love the Standard Cochins, Salmon Faverolles, the D'anvers and D'uccle bantams. Jared, Sophie, and I attended in part so Sophie could get an idea of how the 4-H portion of these events work. She didn't participate in the Fit 'N Show portion but she did do some judging and oral reasons.
Sophie works on her "Chicken Chart" nomenclature
Know your chicken anatomy

We also procured 28 hatching eggs for our new Brinsea incubator. The list goes a little something like this: 
6 Buff Orpington, 6 Blue/Black/Splash Orpington, 6 Ameraucana, 4 Wheaton/Blue Wheaton Ameraucana, 2 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, and 4 Black Copper Maran eggs. 
A rainbow of eggs
A very full incubator sitting on our bedroom dresser

Not all the eggs fit into the incubator, we still have 3 Ameraucana eggs that are in need of a broody hen to hatch them. Speaking of broody hens...
Pencil, acting a "little" broody.

There's been a lot of nonsense this season about whether or not to go broody and stay broody. So far, we've had two supposedly broody hens, only to have them flake out and decide they'd rather scratch around with their hen friends than hatch some babies for us. Pencil will sit on eggs most of the day, until late afternoon when she gets the uncontrollable urge to be free and race around the yard with her chicken friends, Joyce and Blackcomb. We've left several non-fertile eggs under her with the hope it will encourage her to sit. Maybe today's the day... We just need one broody hen to hatch three lonely eggs.

Blackcomb, in her nest
Blackcomb has made herself a nest in an evergreen tree. We refer to it as the "Christmas Tree". Now that she's got this nest in place, she refuses to lay her eggs anywhere else. An egg or two has fallen out of the tree so Jared was kind enough to layer the nesting area with some orchard grass to protect them from any future mishaps. 

Just a few days left until our first incubator of nine hopefully viable eggs -down from 20- will begin to hatch. Tomorrow is the last day for turning and then we wait...

In the meantime, I've begun chick preparations. Organic chick starter purchased, brooder- really, a large, plastic container- to be washed, dried, and filled with clean litter, feeder and waterer to be washed, ready for placement, and check for proper brooder light operation. I've also got the Marek's vaccine in the fridge, ready to be mixed up and administered. I had to buy a jar of baby food the other day just for the jar, so I'd have an optimal way to mix up the vaccine and it's dilutant.

Stay tuned for more signs of Spring! 


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thinking Spring

I know that there are five more days until Spring actually begins, but I wanted to share this photo anyhow...

Ornamental Plum Blossoms

In Western Washington, this is a sign of Spring not to be missed, even if it is raining outside and has been since forever. Soon the skies will be the bluest blue, the breeze will be clean and full of energy. Patience...


Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the chicken front...

... it's been a tough Winter. We've lost several chickens to Chronic Respiratory Disease and Marek's. The chickens who contracted Marek's were hatched in our yard and as such never vaccinated. I've learned my lesson! Any chicks hatched on our farm in the future will be vaccinated for Marek's, no exceptions! 

As we approach the three year mark of chicken keeping, I've realized it's time to make some decisions about removing some of the older, non-productive members of our flock to make room for newer ones. Just as I was pondering this, Jared's beloved chicken, Anne Dumplings, was acting broody. So I drove to Buckley (30 miles one way) a week ago Friday to get some green Ameraucauna hatching eggs, along with a couple of other breeds. I arrived home only to find that Anne was no longer broody and here I was with 13 hatching eggs all ready for incubation. 

I had to swallow my- completely unwarranted- disdain for the incubator and borrow one from the Seattle Farm Co-op. It's a little tricky with the temperature, as we have it out on our unheated porch,  but  after 24 hours we'd mostly figured it out.

 Of course, I've decided we need our own incubator; one that's held together with more than Styrofoam and the power of Jesus.  This past Thursday, I placed an order for the Brinsea Octagon 20 ECO and egg turner accessory,   It's beautiful!.  No more waiting for broody hens to hatch flighty and unmanageable chicks. We can choose the eggs we want when we want them. It's a fine price and has received rave reviews from "chicken hatchers" far and wide, both farmers and researchers.

We candled the currently incubating eggs last night and 50% of them weren't fertile. So, we'll start again with some new hatching eggs this weekend once the new incubator arrives Friday. Sophie is planning her science project around hatching eggs using the incubator and if we'd relied on the current set-up it may have been a disaster.  Here's to a better set up the second time around! 


Our first shearing attempt

As Spring inches a little closer each day, our farm is ramping up. Icelandic fleeces are starting to break. So, a week ago today with the girls in tow, we  blade (hand) sheared our ram lamb, Ithaqua. It took almost an hour, even with a broken fleece, but it's all off and he seems so much happier. He was patient and after the shearing was all done, he just sat on the plywood like he didn't know what to do with himself. He now resembles a goat but I know that's only temporary as his new fleece is already growing in. Despite Jared's determination, we will have a shearer come out and shear the rest of the sheep as soon as the sun is making a more regular appearance and every sheep has a chance to dry out. I would prefer a shearer who is able to hand/blade shear but if the fleeces aren't in the right shape for that, machine shearing will have to do. Jared heads off to WSU Shearing School on April 3rd, so he'll be in a fine place to shear this Fall. I've also found someone who can teach Jared to blade shear, which I believe he is happy about. I know he's expressed on numerous occasions how he would prefer to blade shear. I'd prefer that too.

Ithaqua, before

Ithaqua, after

Ithaqua and his former coat

Jared holding Ithaqua's fleece

I've registered for a beginning spinning class on March 23rd and 30th at Weaving Works in the University District. My hope is that after shearing time we'll have enough good fleeces for spinning that I can start making a few scarves and hats for winter. The next big question will be... what wheel to choose? Weaving Works allows students to take wheels "for a spin", with a $100 deposit, until they find the one that works best for them. I cannot wait to get in there and start making yarn!