Tag Archives: Rhode Island Red

if I had a million dollars

even samples couldn’t sell all our cucumbers today.

Today at the Windsor Market, we had the fine fortune of experiencing an accidental double-booking of musicians. So the market was forced to put one group where they always do, at the far opposite end of the market — and one group in an entirely new location, right next to us. It was one of the few times we’ve actually been able to hear the music, and I ended up dancing or tapping my foot a good deal of the time. (We liked them so much, we tipped them in tomatoes and chard.)

At one point, the band — a father-son shenanigan named “Generation Gap” — played “If I had a million dollars,” by the Barenaked Ladies. It seemed a fitting song, since the day’s sales were extremely s–l–o–w. In the end, we made less than 2/3 of what we did yesterday… and of course, we spent just as much time harvesting, preparing, and selling.

Anyhow, after the band finished playing that particular song, Emmett cracked a joke that I’d never heard before:

Q: What does the farmer, who’s just won a million dollars, do with the money?

A: Keep farming until it’s gone.

On a slow day like today, that joke seems fitting. But despite the slow sales I’m still in a good mood, because when I came home from the market and peeked in the rooster’s infirmary pen, lo and behold, the lame had risen to walk! He stands up and flaps his wings self-importantly; without the boots, his feet are straight, not curled; and he walks, albeit a bit nervously. He’s now in a shipping crate where he can see a light brahma and a silver laced wyandotte through breathing-holes, so he has some company. When I put his lady neighbors in his side of the pen for a visit, he only made one rude lunge, and then graciously permitted them to polish off the rest of his chick feed. (I think that, faced with two hungry females, he knew instinctively that he was toast if he tried to get between the girls and their lunch.)

Updates on our fall planting tomorrow.

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chicken update (again!)

the pudgy rooster, who — when he isn’t eating — is sleeping in his food.

I promise this will be my last consecutive post about chickens.  But the reason I haven’t posted lately is because, well, my life has been taken over by chickens…  so I need to throw at least one more post on the topic out there into cyberspace.

Update:  All seven older chicks have spent two days and nights out in the newly-reinforced coop.  The coop now has a solid, half-inch plywood floor, not to mention newly-reinforced doors and hardware cloth all over every single ventilation space.  There is no way a fox can dig its way into this coop — although Emmett and I have been camping out by the coop for the past couple of nights just in case.  The ladies are loving their new abode, and are especially enjoying the recently-added chick sauna:  a cardboard box (the half-box you get when you buy a dozen Mason jars) full of dirt, perfect for dust-bathing.  This box has finally led to the naming of the lone White Leghorn of the bunch:  the leghorn likes it so much she sullies her pretty white feathers, so we’re calling her “chiminey” after the Mary Poppins chimney sweeps.

Sadly, Eileen/Cassidy/Su/Gimpy passed away.  We think there was something wrong with her besides her leg:  she hadn’t grown a bit, and by the time she passed at a week old, the other chicks were twice her size.  Her wing-feathers kept growing, though, so she looked rather like an angel:  a tiny little body with long, graceful wings.  One day, she simply stopped eating and drinking, and despite our attempts to force-feed her (at that point, the only fight she showed was irritation when we dipped her beak in the water), she was dead the following morning… her little wings extended, like an angel in the pine-shaving snow.  It was sad, but we know we did our best, and sometimes fragile little things just don’t make it.

Speaking of not-so-fragile little things — now it’s on to our story of the evening:  the itty-bitty, roly-poly, meanie-weenie rooster.

A day or so after the little broken-leg one passed away, I went over to the brooder and noticed that another chick had issues.  Not a runt, mind you, but rather the biggest, fattest chick of all — one who was so fat, in fact, that we’d tentatively named him Santa.  But when I saw him, he wasn’t ho-ho-ho-ing:  rather, the rooster was flopping/hobbling in the center of the brooder — and on closer inspection, I realized he was essentially walking on his knuckles, instead of the pads of his feet.  His little claws were all curled up, which pitched him forward (and provided little grip), so he couldn’t properly walk.  Fortunately, I already had a mini-hospital-brooder set up, so I grabbed him and plopped him down in it.

According to folks at BYC, curled toes are a fairly common occurrence in chicks — sometimes resulting from a thiamin deficiency, sometimes from genetics, sometimes from growing too fast and becoming too top-heavy.  Suggested treatment:  give chick vitamins containing thiamin (in water or drops) and access to yogurt (which contains thiamin, along with extra calories).  Oh, and put boots on it.

Boots?  Yes, boots.  So now, not only have I wiped chicks’ bottoms, I’ve also fitted a chick for fashionable, functional footwear:  a cardboard-cut out sole, with tape placed over it so that the chicks’ toes are splayed out and stuck onto the cardboard — which allows them to reform to the “normal” chicken-foot position after a few days of continuous wear.

Note:  aforementioned fashionable footwear is prone to falling off when chick walks through water dish and/or yogurt, and thus the fashion (yellow Cheerios box, plain brown cardboard, blue scrap cardboard left over from something-or-other) changes multiple times a day as we’re forced to make new boots to replace the soaked ones.  Unfortunately, aforementioned rooster does not particularly like aforementioned footwear, and so he seems to seek out the water dish out of pure spite.

This little rooster is really something else.  While most week-old chicks are frightened by the presence of a fly, he snaps at it.  He’s unfazed by loud noises:  shut car doors, trucks driving by, people entering or exiting a room — he doesn’t seem to care, he just kind of fixes the offending object with a steely glare, don’t try that one again, buddy.  When we put a lady visitor in his little infirmary and she tried to peck at a piece of food stuck in his backfeathers, he pecked right back at her — not so much to clean her, mind you, but in a “watch it!” kind of way.

And when he wants attention, he screams for it.  He woke Emmett up in the middle of the night with his ear-piercing cheep (never mind that he’s about three inches tall and behind a shut door).  The way this little guy cries, you’d think he was dying — and sometimes he cheeps if he gets his boot awkwardly stuck behind him, which is understandable — but most of the time, I think, he just wants company.  And, since he’s so prone to getting his booted feet tangled together, he spent most of yesterday in the car while we harvested, weeded, and watered at the farm.  That way, we could check on him and untangle him as needed.  Under the sun, with windows cracked, the station wagon was just about the perfect temperature for a chick.

What to make of this little firecracker?  More importantly, what to name him?  Since, sadly, our last joint naming attempt passed away, maybe you can help me out with suggestions on this one.  My current thoughts are:  Santa (we tentatively began calling him this before he got hurt, since he was always the fat, jolly chick… but he seems to feisty for this one now), Johnny Walker Red (since he’s a Rhode Island Red, and needs a walker, and has some kick), John Wayne (because he’s fat and feisty), Boots (for obvious reasons).  Currently, we just call him Rooster, which has echoes of John Wayne (as in Cogburn), but it seems too obvious.

Enough obsessing over chickens.  My next post is going to be about produce.  I swear

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the challenge of chickens

Emmett’s hands, and the new babies.

It has been a challenging week with the chickens. Quick update on the survivors: Hope’s doing really well. She’s now sufficiently recovered so as to utterly hate spending time in her “infirmary,” a little cardboard box with food, a hot pad, and medicated water (i.e., water with antibiotics dissolved into it.) She spent the first twenty-four hours in there, but after that had perked up enough to spend nights with her sisters — which helped keep her warm, and also kept her spirits up. Now I only keep her in the infirmary (to drink a little antibiotics, to prevent infection) in the mornings. She’s clearly ready to be done with the hospital: As soon as I walk into the room, she starts cheeping to get out, and the moment I open the roof she flies out of the little box.

The other survivor, a Rhode Island Red, hasn’t missed a beat. She scrabbles and fights for her share of the treats — current favorites are wormy sweet corn and melon rinds — with the rest of the flock. At the moment, she, Hope, and the rest of the older ladies are outside on the lawn in a makeshift run — a dresser that has been partially taken apart and placed on its side with a screen on top. (We got the dresser for $5 at the dump, to make farmer’s market display boxes out of the drawers — so our $5 has really gone a long way.) The chicks are within my eyesight, and they’ll come in before dark. They really enjoy scratching in the grass and sunning themselves, and I really enjoy the fact that they’re pooping in the grass (and not the litter that I have to constantly change.)
And now, the new chicks. Apparently we got lucky the first time around — absolutely zero problems with any of the chicks (until, of course, the final catastrophe). This time, after the very first night, I found one fluffy little yellow Leghorn dead in the morning. We have NO idea why — I had woken up in the middle of the night, and checked on them: everybody seemed fine, not too huddled together, some sleeping and some eating, as usual.

Still, we wondered if maybe the temperature wasn’t 100% right — it was a month later than our last batch, after all, and the ambient air temperature had decreased twenty degrees in that time. Perhaps the lamp wasn’t warm enough to combat that additional cold? So we moved them inside, into their own little room, away from Jasper the cat and in a warm, draft-free spot.

I thought that would be enough chicken-trauma for one week. But then, two nights ago, one tiny little bird broke her leg. I’m not sure if it was a stampede that broke her leg, or if her leg was broken beforehand, and that weakened her, causing her to flip on her back — all I know is, all of the chicks were huddled on one end of the brooder (avoiding the scary poop-cleaning hand), and I noticed that one was on her back with her feet up in the air, jammed inbetween all the other chicks.

I shooed them away; the little ruddy Rhode Island Red chick got up and limped across the brooder towards me, breaking my heart a little with each pathetic step.

Now, in this group of birds, we have two obvious runts. Broke-leg is one; another, who seems to be doing fine, came to us with one side completely… well, pasted. As in, one side of her body was fluffy, and one side wasn’t — like her yolk sac had perhaps ruptured onto her, which would explain both her stuck-together feathers and her small size.

That was the one I was worried about. And then this one went and broke her leg. Which means there are two worrisome chicks, and I do not feel like losing anybody else this week!

Broke-leg (aka “Gimpy” — if you have a more PC/sweeter-sounding name for this little girl, do comment and let me know, because I feel sort of bad referring to her as Gimpy) is now in a tissue box. She has to be inside the brooder, because we only have one heat lamp — but she can’t be in contact with the rest of the chicks, because they’ll mow right over her. (Since she suffered her injury on day two, her growth seems to have slowed dramatically; she was small to begin with, and she remains about two-thirds the size of most of the chicks — and she’s not very mobile, either.)

And so it came to pass that we put her in a tissue box, inside the brooder, with bottlecaps for food and water. The water has to be refilled constantly, since the small liquid volume evaporates out fairly quickly beneath the heat lamp’s warm glow. Stumbling into the chick-room at 3 a.m. this morning to refill her water, I felt like the overseer of some strange dollhouse infirmary — how big my fingers seem, and how clumsy when I try to place the water in the bottom of the tissue box without spilling any.

The final miniaturized touch: this morning, after finally identifying the location of the break (we think), I held Gimpy upside down while Emmett put a splint on the hurt leg. First, he wrapped an infinitesimally tiny piece of gauze around the leg, so tape wouldn’t stick to it. Then, he placed half a toothpick on either side of the leg, and wrapped medical tape around the gauze/toothpick combo. Finally, we trimmed the toothpick a bit more so that it wouldn’t press into her toes. She can still hobble around with the splint on, but hopefully this will keep some of the pressure off the break so that it can heal more quickly.

To sum up: when it comes to chickens, it seems that anything can go wrong, at any time — and if you’re a softie like me, it means you’d better be prepared for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster…

Below: the “pasty” runt chick, who has gotten a bit better and less pasty-looking each day.

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a new start, a miracle, and a funeral

Above: red roses for the Reds, a white for the Leghorn, and an orange for my Buffy.

After listening to some advice that we get back in the chicken-keeping saddle, yesterday I made a call to Belt Hatchery to order more chicks. They happened to answer the phone when I called (which doesn’t usually happen). They happen to ship on Wednesdays, and they happened to have exactly the chicks I wanted right then and there. Would I like them shipped out this afternoon? Feeling a bit emotional (and hence impulsive), I said, Sure, why not?

And, like clockwork, a bit before 8 a.m. this morning the post office called.

It was decidedly surreal driving to the post office this morning to pick up new babies when the others weren’t even all buried — and when I was still ready to cry at any mention of my lost chicks. But it was also good, in a life keeps on sort of way, and also in a holy cow, did the other chicks really start out this small? sort of way. Looking at the six remaining older chicks, and then at the itsy-bitsy day-old babies, I was halfway convinced that perhaps the hatchery had made a mistake and sent us bantams (miniature chickens) instead.

Emmett assured me that the other chicks had, indeed, started out this small. And that’s a miracle in and of itself — how quickly creatures can go from tiny, helpless things, into fully-feathered, sassy, full-of-personality teenagers, from generic little imps into birds you know and care about.

But the true miracle of the day came when Emmett and I drove over to the coop to bury the chicks.

Now, yesterday, both Emmett and I had separately made several visits to the coop just to double-check… just in case one of the babies had managed to make it back home, and was huddling, lonely, in the empty structure. Each time, we walked up, hoping to hear a little cheep-cheep and see one of our little ladies fluffing her feathers, scratching in the hay, or wandering around in search of her lost sisters. But each time, the coop was empty.

And then, this morning, when we were only thinking of funerals, what should we hear when we pull up but a little cheep cheep cheep.

I admit to a moment of delusional denial: for a second I thought, maybe most of them are back, maybe this was all a bad dream, maybe the fox just took a few of them and the others had hidden in some tree and found their way back home. That’s how it would have happened if life were like The Incredible Journey, or Homeward Bound, after all.

It wasn’t exactly like when Shadow ran into the arms of his waiting boy — but still, when Emmett and I walked up to the coop, incredulous, one little Rhode Island Red ran up to the door to greet us.

Somehow, this little miracle chick not only survived a fox attack, she also survived two nights outside, and one full day, all by herself. We couldn’t believe it.

A new start, a miracle — and a funeral. Emmett and I buried the last of the chicks — two Rhode Island Reds, and the lone wing of my favorite little Buff Orpington, which was the hardest by far — later this morning. We promised to make the coop into a steely, impenetrable fortress, so that something like this would never happen again.  Many tears were shed. (In fact, I’m tearing up just thinking of Buffy right now… the way she would always fly out of the brooder as soon as the lid came off, just to get a better vantage point, and the way she’d come right out to the edge of the coop as soon as I opened the door, and step up onto my hand. The newest little Buff Orp has a lot to live up to.)

But it’s pretty hard not to smile, even through tears, when you find yourself watching day-old chicks, and one little Rhode Island Red picks up a piece of poop and starts running around with it the way chickens do when they’ve got a tasty morsel they don’t want stolen by anyone else. This particular little one was darting all around the brooder, pulling out all kinds of evasive maneuvers, all so nobody would rob her of… her poop.

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a day to preserve

Emmett and I reserved today as Pickling/Canning/General Preservation day — little did we know that we’d find ourselves pickling late into the night!  It’s 11 p.m., and the last jars of applesauce are finally filled and sealed — but still boiling away on the stove.

Today, we harvested apples (=applesauce) and blackberries (=jam).  We pickled market-leftover Armenian cucumbers, green beans and — new to us — jalapenos & cherry tomatoes.  (NB:  WEAR GLOVES when pickling jalapenos.  My fingers still burn.  And I had quite a nasty surprise when I dipped a finger into a blackberry crisp for a little taste, and instead got jalapeno blackberry crisp.  Blech.)

I’m intrigued, though, to find out how the cherry tomatoes will turn out.  The recipe called for basil, which will be, um, interesting paired with apple cider vinegar.  It could be really tasty, or it could be utterly horrendous.  Only time will tell.

In other bizarre pickling news, something strange happened to our Dilly Beans this time around:  they shriveled.  The skin looks wrinkly now, and every single bean jar ended up a “floater,” despite the fact that we packed them very tightly.  (One of the books suggested using sterilized pebbles to weight pickles down — maybe next time I’ll have to try that.)  I wonder if it’s because these beans weren’t fresh-picked  today; they were a few days old.  I’ll have to taste-test tomorrow, and see if they taste better than they look…  I also wonder how they’ll keep; they all sealed, but they’re definitely poking up into the ‘headspace’ (air part) of the jar.

In bizarre non-pickling news, our chicks have turned into little cannibals.  Well, kind of.  Maybe it was getting too crowded in the brooder:  they started pecking at one another.  This morning, I noticed one Rhode Island Red who’d been pecked — a small patch bare of feathers on her back, with some irritated-looking skin showing — so I put her in a separate cage with Runt (one of my favorite chicks) for company.  Emmett and I went out for a couple of hours to water and harvest, and when we came back, several more chicks had gotten the same treatment.  Two were actually bleeding; one had a rather nasty-looking open wound, and even Nurse Runt seemed to want to peck it.  Now the wounded one’s in solitary confinement with some Neosporin on her back.  Hopefully she’ll be okay.

We also separated out the chicks into four different boxes — hoping that this would alleviate the pecking problem.  (At the very least, if there’s just one cannibal in the flock, the damage will be limited to one box of four.)

Anyway, more updates on the chicks to come.  In the meantime, here are some more photos from our Day of Preservation:

mmmm… smushed blackberries…  we strained out some of the chunks to make the jam a little smoother, and used the leftover chunks for blackberry crisp.

cucumber pickles cooling, post-processing, in a chilled water bath — no room on the counter, so they went on the floor.  cooling them down more quickly allegedly keeps them more crisp.

also, think we picked enough apples?  I got a little carried away.  half a bag yielded one full soup-pot of sauce (about 4 quarts).

blackberry jam!  we just follow the recipe on the pectin box — easy as pie.  except really, pie’s harder.

dilly beans & armenian cukes & (ouch!!) jalapenos…

bizarre pickled cherry tomatoes…

the last batch of the day (errr, night)…  applesauce!

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life (& death?) on the farm

Farming is about to get a whole lot scarier.
Today, I ordered 27 day-old chicks from Belt Hatchery that will arrive on August 21. The group will include 11 Rhode Island Red pullets (females), 1 RIR cockerel (male), 10 Ameraucana pullets, and 4 Pearl White Leghorn pullets. (I wanted to order from McMurray — I was seduced by their great website — but they didn’t have the availability I wanted until September. Belt is in California, so the chicks won’t have to travel as far, which is better for them anyway.)
A bit of info about the breeds (gleaned from hours upon hours of online chicken research): RIRs are supposed to be hardy, friendly, prolific brown egg-layers. They’re sometimes referred to as a “dual purpose” breed, meaning that they lay eggs—and aren’t bad for eating, either. Unlike various brown-egg laying Sex Links, they’ll breed true. [Sex Links are hybrids, just like seeds labeled F-1, and the next generation won’t necessarily share the parents’ traits. Sex Links are particularly convenient for poultry suppliers because the males and females are different colors, allowing them to be sexed easily upon hatching. Sexing non-sex-linked chickens is a tricky business; you have to pay a very trained eye to do it, and apparently even with a good chicken sexer you still sometimes end up with surprise roosters. When Henrietta starts to crow, it’s probably time to shorten the name to Henry.] By contrast, RIRs are essentially an ‘heirloom’ variety—a breed that’s been refined and maintained by farmers over the years.

Next up: Ameraucanas, which are prized for their ability to lay green and blue eggs. Egg-sellers at the farmer’s market have told me that these eggs are extremely popular with customers, and although Ameraucanas are less prolific than some layers, the color may just be worth the effort. (Silly, isn’t it, how the aesthetic becomes so important — it’s not like the eggs have any difference when it comes to nutritional value.) They’re often confused with Araucanas, which also lay blue eggs, but are rumpless and have very dramatic ear tufts. We’ll see what I get from Belt Hatchery — although they say they’re selling Ameraucanas, I might end up with an “Easter Egger,” a layer of blue eggs that doesn’t quite fit either breed standard…

Last but not least, Leghorns: the type of chicken that are most commonly found in big-scale, confinement, battery-type operations. (As such, they’re mostly likely to have produced the eggs in the carton at your corner grocery store while enjoying a space the size of an 8.5 by 11″ piece of paper.) Leghorns are extremely prolific–300 eggs a year. They lay white eggs, and have a great feed-to-egg conversion ratio. In other words, they’re lightweight and produce a lot of eggs for a little feed: a good bang for your buck. Some owners say they’re skittish and people-shy, but others disagree and say that the breed doesn’t matter as much as handling the chicks at an early age. I plan on playing with these little guys a lot! (Note: If you’re interested in other breeds, check out this great chart, which has an awesomely condensed wealth of chicken information.)

So that’s the practical, calculated side of the equation. But then there’s the other side, the emotional side, the part where I admit: I’m simultaneously thrilled and utterly terrified to get these birds. They’re adding an important part to our little farm — a great way to compost kitchen scraps into unbeatable fertilizer, not to mention the opportunity to expand our operation to sell eggs at the farmer’s market. But they’re alive in a way that vegetables aren’t, and when it comes to that kind of alive, I get all mushy inside. The woman from Belt Hatchery on the phone today started talking about how, if one of the chicks dies in transit, I can call and get a refund. And I’m thinking, who cares about the refund? How am I going to deal with a tiny, dead day-old baby bird?! I freak out when I accidentally snap a runner off a bean plant while trying to hook it on the fence. The first time I did it, I seriously felt my heart sink to about knee-height. So right now, I’m just praying that all 27 of my little birds make it safely to the post office.

And that’s when the really scary part begins.

Breaking off the occasional bean runner didn’t slow down the plants too much. The same won’t hold true for chicks!

*Stay tuned for photos of the on-the-cheap brooder I built, and the coop built out of recycled doors that is currently a figment of my imagination…

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