Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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Brrrrr! Cold Chicken Toes

That's the only suitable title I could come up with for this post.  Sunday was fairly warm for January--in the upper 40's actually--then the wind blew and blew and the bottom fell out of the thermometer.  Monday and Tuesday night were both 8 degrees below zero and the high yesterday didn't get over 6---SIX!  That's not much.

Then, then.....the power went out about 3:15 yesterday.  I had a gut feeling about it so I put a pot of chili on the woodstove....



Oh, and the reason it looks so light in there is because of the camera flash.  It was really dark, but I had candles lit in my awesome scavenged wrought iron chandelier that couldn't be used electrically anymore......



It is hanging over the table in the "wining room" (the room where all of my wine is in various stages of fermentation) formerly known as the dining room.   It's actually part of the "great room" so the candles worked great.  Who actually uses a dining room that much anyway....

After staring at the fire, chunking wood, reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" with my tiny flashlight, and eating a bowl of pretty darn good chili,  the power came on--just about 5 hours after it went off.  I've lived off the grid before and really, I like a little electricity.  I don't use my clothes dryer, don't have tv, I heat with wood, am stingy with hot water.....but I do like electric lights...oh, and the computer :-)

Today I had to get outside.  The temp had gotten up to 30 so it was time for an excursion to the high tunnels to see how the veggies had held up to the brutal temps.  Lettuce, chard, spinach and kale all did well.  The broccoli raab and arugula succumbed to the bitter cold--BUT they were sort of on their way out anyway so it's not a big deal.

When I went to the empire of the Happy Hens yesterday to water and feed, I saw blood in the snow around the water and feed pans.  Oh no!  Not blood.....not now!  I looked at chicken toes until I found the problem.  One of the hens had broken a toenail into the quick and it was bleeding pretty profusely.    I gathered her up under my arm and headed to the house to the first aid kit.   I told her to not tell the others that she had actually been in "the house".  I grabbed some gauze and peroxide but couldn't find any adhesive tape, so here we go to the shop.  She behaved fairly well and didn't try to attack me or anything.   I was able to clip off the damaged part, pour peroxide over it a couple of times, then bandage it with a gauze pad and------electrical tape.  Maybe it will stay on long enough to heal a little.  Even  a small problem seems amplified in bitterly cold weather.

This morning when I went to water and feed and collect the frozen eggs I saw no blood and I didn't see a bandage on any chicken toes, so maybe all is well.   Their feet do look awfully cold in this weather though.

A lot of the country is experiencing this brutal cold front called, what, "Ion" or something like that?  Stay warm and pore over the seed catalogs.....spring will be here before we know it!



Twas the Week Before Christmas

And all around the farm, the creatures were stirring....







Really looking for something to harm......did you think I was going through that whole poem?  Really........

Today was one of those wintertime treats!  Sunny....mid 40's at some point during the day.  It's funny how 50, cloudy and breezy is intolerable but 33 and sunny calm is great!

One of the projects on my "to do" list for the winter is to mulch around the blackberries and blueberries and I got started on that yesterday......



I know, I know, the black leaf holders are kind of ugly, but they do keep the leaves from blowing around until they are put in their place.  I'm using layers of newspaper around the bushes then lots of leaves to keep the weeds down.  I do have lots of leaves....



I LOVE my leaves!



Each season, John, Dear (that would be my tractor) and I spread a thick layer of leaves over every inch of garden space, in the chicken pens, and wherever I want new garden ground.  I did get the orchard completely mulched last week as well---yay!



One thing I'm experimenting with this year is planting seedlings in the high tunnel throughout the winter season.  Most of the crops in high tunnels are planted in late September/early October but in the hurry of getting another high tunnel built this year and all the other chores I have around the farm, the big high tunnel wasn't completely planted before cold weather set in.  I'm experimenting to see if everything doesn't need to be planted at the same time.  So far I've planted endive, yellow and scarlet mustard, braising mix, assorted varieties of lettuce, sorrel, and kale.  The first test plot was planted about 3 weeks ago and I've harvested a few greens from them.  Today I planted another 5 flats of seedlings and we'll see how they do.   True, things do grow slower this time of year, but they do still grow!  I say hopefully next year I'll have time to get everything in earlier :-)

Okay, now scroll back up to the first pictures.  The kittens follow me into the high tunnels and catch and eat grasshoppers!  I don't know how to reward a cat, but I make a big deal when they catch one.

(2nd pic) Hattie the Catahoula dug in that bed for hours--then she came up with a mouse!  I was so proud--that's one I won't have to deal with :-)  Notice one of the Happy Hens had made her way up to the bed.....see next pic....

The chickens were in their pen and I was in the back garden spreading leaves.  This garden is really close to their pen, and they were following me up and down the fence.  I got to thinking--hmmm what is there to keep them in the pen?  Just a fence--no gardens to scratch up and destroy, so I let them loose.  They had a ball!  I think I'll let them out again tomorrow...it's supposed to be pretty here again (yay).

Until next time.....


Preparing for Winter

The weather prognosticators are calling for really cold weather tomorrow night--first really "hard freeze" of the year, although my thermometer read 24 degrees last night.  So that means removing the irrigation pump from the pond and subsequently draining the lines that feed all the different garden areas and the drip irrigation spiderweb that is in place in the gardens.  Done!

Next is to install all the wire hoops over the beds in the high tunnels to protect the winter crops inside the high tunnels.   The second layer of protection inside the tunnels really makes a difference..

rowcoversinhightunnel11.13This is a shot inside the larger high tunnel which is 20x96.  This tunnel has lettuce, kale, braising mix, spinach, broccoli raab, endive, mustard, radiccio, and a few other greens. The newer tunnel is 12x80 and is protecting spinach, swiss chard, arugula and broccoli raab.  Oh, and both tunnels have a row of strawberries on each of the outer walls.  Strawberries outside in this area (on this farm, anyway) are "iffy" during late frosts and freezes in the spring so I'm trying them inside each tunnel.  So far I've been able to eat strawberries with my yogurt about 3 days a week.  We'll see how they do on a production scale next spring.

On Saturday I opened the bee hive and on top of the frames of the top box I placed 2 layers of newspaper, cut a hole in the middle, then poured about 3-1/2 pounds of white sugar on the paper.  The sugar was then spritzed with water to "crust" over.  Several of my beekeeping buddies have said they are going to put a solid bottom board in over the winter because they are thinking that we will have a colder-than-normal winter--so, I decided to do the same.  I cut a piece of 1/4" insulation and covered the bottom board just after I put the sugar on, then I went about my chores.

It was a beautiful Saturday, low 60's and sunshine.  About 30 minutes after tending to the bees I noticed A LOT of bees around the entrance and a few of them on the front starting to "beard"--okay, maybe it was too warm to install the bottom board on Saturday.  I moved it back about halfway and a few minutes later all was back to normal.  It's okay to deal with one or a few hives in this manner but you sure couldn't do this with more than a few!  I've got a lot to learn about beekeeping :-)

Wintertime around here also means doing indoor things and that includes soap making.  I LOVE patchouli scent and bought a couple of patchouli plants this past summer.  They are in pots in the house and doing well.  I've been collecting leaves from them to make an oil infusion and finally gathered enough to actually get it done.  I used sunflower oil as the base oil (it's cheap and effective for this purpose).  I stuffed a pint jar full of dried patchouli leaves then filled it with sunflower oil.  Heat a pan of water to boiling, remove from the heat and set the jar of oil and leaves into the pot of water and let it cool.  Put a lid on the mixture and shake it up every time you walk by it for a few months.



This is my first time doing this, so I'll report back as the experiment progresses.

Another project on the farm is that the chimney for the woodstove is in progress--YAY!  Hopefully it will be ready to use by Christmas--I'm excited!



I plan on stuccoing the block since it's on the back of the house and not visible unless you walk all the way around to the back of the house.  Building the scaffold is just about as tedious as the block work.

Another winter project around here is winterizing the gardens.  The front bluff garden was in pretty good shape but there were 3 beds of overgrown lettuce, pepper plants, and a few ugly cabbages in addition to a few weeds.

I moved the electric poultry fence around this garden since it's adjacent to the chicken pen anyway.  The girls went nuts!



Now that they've gotten that garden cleared out they'll be moved to the pond garden next--I appreciate all the help I can get :-)



Mirror, mirror


Mirror, mirror, in the pen

Tell me who's the prettiest hen?


How does a Happy Hen get happier?

At the Farmer's Market and with the CSA members, everyone loves Fresh Eggs from the Happy Hens.  The girls were pretty happy with their two coops, large fenced in area, fresh veggies and lots of different grains.  I wanted more......

More space--free range?  Nope, not on my porch railings, in the gardens, on the vehicles, and I sure don't want to start hunting eggs every day.

Enter electric poultry netting with handy dandy step in posts.  I settled on a 160' length and I already had a fence charger, so a couple of weeks ago I set up a new patch of ground for the girls, adjacent to their existing pen.  They loved it so much I didn't have to mow.  Now to get the fence in another position, further away, so they still have access to their nest boxes, water, and feed.  Voila!  The chicken tunnel was born......



I jokingly named it the "chunnel" but after looking that term up on line, other people besides myself think the English language is lacking in creative words here and there.  The chunnel is made from concrete reinforcing "ladders" that are bent into a hoop shape and pushed into the ground.  The chicken wire is then draped over top and attached at ground level with wire staples.  It leads from a small opening in their pen to the electric fencing that you see in this picture.

I wondered how long it would take them to enter the tunnel, and I timed it--12 seconds exactly!  Chickens are very curious creatures.  The netting is 42" high which must have been researched because a few times one of the girls has attempted the flight out, but came in contact with the fence and decided against trying again.

The farm dog Hattie (aka Battie Hattie, the Kooky Catahoula) decided to sniff the fence.  Evidently she had never felt electric shock before because she screamed and ran into the woods and up the hill behind the house, screaming the whole way.  She doesn't go near the fence any more.

Once they wear out this patch of ground I'll move the entire compound to new territory.


It's getting kind of "chicken-ey" around here

Today I was returning from an early morning trip to town and I realized I hadn't opened the high tunnel up before I left, and it was a very sunny day--that means HOT in the tunnel.   While walking to the ht I spied a hawk flying out of the chicken pen.  My heart sank.  I ran over to the pen and saw the pile of feathers, remains of one of the newest chickens, and no chickens in sight.  They always run to their coop when danger threatens.  What I want to know is how does the hawk know not to eat the young, aggravating roosters that are just waiting to be butchered, OR the old hens that are at the end of their useful laying period.  The hawk ALWAYS goes for the young pullets that are just nearing laying age.....grrrrrrrr!

I had grandios plans today of straightening a few lumber stacks and covering them better, but when you work with Mother Nature plans are apt to change at any given moment.  I have committed to raising hens for eggs, so the majority of the afternoon was spent stringing the remains of a 3400 yard spool of 12 pound test line over the top of the pen and then tying hundreds of survey marking tape flags on the line.  Great leg workout.......

It may not look like much in the photo, but it took almost a whole roll of survey tape, and about 3 hours of back-breaking work listening to chickens who were upset over the hawk, and also upset over being integrated together (babies and older chickens) just 2 days ago.  Not a good day in "chicken-ville".  I was about ready to kill a couple of the young roosters by the time I was finished!   The term "pecking order" is just exactly what it means--chickens arguing and pecking, squawking, and growling to rank higher in the group I guess.

As I was finishing up the project the wind was blowing at a pretty good clip and the flags were all waving--The chicken empire  is now festively decorated for the holidays!  Hopefully it will "Trick the hawk with o-range rib-b0ns.....fa la la la la, la la la la".   Sorry, couldn't help myself :)


Farm Fresh Eggs

Although it is hard to admit when one does things worthy of being the punch line in a joke, once in a while I like to make other people feel smart by sharing these "blond" moments.

At the present time there are about four different age groups of hens in the empire of the Happy Hens; there are old hens, pullets, almost-pullets, and chicks.  That means that egg production around here is somewhat cramped right now and the loyal fans of the Happy Hens are keeping us BUSY!  Yesterday the high tunnel season sort of officially began with the first delivery of greens, root veggies and fresh eggs.  There are always more orders for eggs than are available so the orders are processed in order of how they were received.  The folks who got eggs were thrilled and the others, well, really wanted eggs.

This morning I was taking inventory of all the ingredients I needed to make the dishes I volunteered for the Thanksgiving meal this year--that would be corn (out of the garden), a sweet potato casserole (from the garden), and deviled eggs (from the Happy Hens) oh crap, I sold all the eggs.

Can you believe that I had to go to the grocery store this morning and BUY eggs?  I was hoping no one I knew would see me, and it was really difficult to choose which eggs to buy.  I know cage-free means that there's a door open somewhere that the chickens could go out IF they knew the door was there and IF there were chickens to follow out that door, and natural means, well, uh, nothing actually.

Rather than stress myself out over natural, brown, white, cage free, listen-to-music-while-they-lay...blah, I just chose organic eggs.  If you've never seen store-bought eggs (organic, nonetheless) right next to a fresh farm egg, here's a picture I took of 2 store bought eggs and 1 egg from the Happy Hens (it was cracked a little)--guess which ones are which......

The only saving grace to this whole mixup is that fresh eggs are harder to peel than store bought eggs, so the deviled eggs won't look like I peeled them with a butcher knife this year....hopefully!

Enjoy your turkey day.


Everything likes chicken

Seems like a large part of a chicken-keeper's life is spent protecting them from everything out there.  "Tastes like chicken" isn't a cliche--it's the truth!  Everything loves chicken.

Back in August, 58 day old chicks arrived at the farm.  25 Red Star, 25 Black Star, 5 Ameracaunas, 1 "Exotic breed" and 2 extras.  I know I've lost 3 of them to who-knows-what and  2 of them to predatory hawks.  I thought I had overhead predators foiled with fence wire and surveying flags every 4-6 feet over top of the pen but I've seen hawks circling the pen on numerous occasions.  I've tried to count the baby chickens--it's really hard to cound 50+ chickens while they are milling about the pen.  The most I can count is 47 or so.  That means the hawks are winning.

So, I have to be smarter than the hawks.  I have a computer.  I found an article in an old Mother Earth News about someone who strung fishing line in a "cobweb" over the chicken coop.  A spool of 10 pound test, about 45 minutes and tripping over several curious chickens and Voila!  I hope the hawks can see fishing line.

Another recent note on the chicken predators--of the subterranean kind.  "Gopher" rats have invaded the Happy Hens complex and have undermined a lot of rock paving put in place around the coop.  Again, I inquired of the Internet how to deal with the problem and an "old time remedy" for dealing with these type of rats (without poison) is to use a mixture of cornmeal and plaster of paris.  I used 1/2 and 1/2 and poured the mix down into the holes that the rats had made.  It turns to "concrete" in their stomachs and kills them.

Religiously, every day for two weeks, I poured a handful of the cornmeal/plaster mixture into each hole the rats had made, and finally I smelled the stench of a dead rat--yay!  Since then I've smelled that smell a few times.  This is going to be an ongoing process as rats multiply continuously, AND a continuous process keeping an "eye on the sky".  Then there are the raccoons, muskrats, weasels ........


Sneaky snake

OK--so all isn't exactly as we expect on the farm.  This morning I set out on a mission to disassemble the chicken tractor and reassemble it into a chicken brooder.  Soooo, I'm working taking the tractor apart and thought I'd take a break and go in and say "hey" to the girls.  Wellllll, in one of the nest boxes was a great big loooooong snake all curled up---eeeew!  I took a stick and poked at it and it went behind the nest boxes.  Oh, yes, that's great...still in the house.  Sooo, I gathered the eggs that the girls had laid and went back to my destruction job.

A couple hours later I decided to check out the chicken house again and, oh yes, the snake was back.  I stepped outside, got a shovel, secured the snake behind its head and grabbed it with my hand.  It had an egg in it--I could see the outline of it in the snake's body---ewwwww!

I pulled the snake out of the nest and realized that I didn't have a bucket with a lid or a sack at the chicken house so I had to carry the snake all the way to the shop--seemed like a 1/2 mile but it's only about 80 steps.  While on the way to the shop, the snake regurgitated the egg into the yard (unbroken, I might add), and I realized that snakes are really strong!  It was all I could do to keep a hold of it behind the head AND it wrapped its body around my arm on the way to the shop---not cool I would say--ewwwww!

I found a sack inside a box that I had carefully closed the lid on--really hard to open a box with one hand and a snake in the other!  ewwwwww!  Got it in the sack and immediately it found a hole and poked its head out and started to escape--but I was able to keep it in the sack, get in the truck, drive about a mile up the road, and released the snake.  I sure hope they don't come back from that far away.

Sorry I didn't get a photo, but my hands were full!  Such is life on the farm.

I did get the chicken tractor disassembled and the baby chick "brooder" rebuilt.  It was a must do since I've ordered 56 chicks to be delivered August 14!


Good morning, my little chickadees

A friend loaned me an incubator to hatch a few chicken eggs, almost three weeks ago.  The eggs have been kept at a steady 101 temperature and he had told me that on July 8 I should take the eggs out of the egg turner to let the babies hatch out without getting their feet and legs tangled up in the egg container.  Well, Sunday morning I cut the tops of several egg cartons to put them in the incubator and voila!  There were two baby chicks in there :-)

When I saw that the chicken-hatching had already started I needed to go down to the chicken coop and get the utility light with the 100 watt bulb that I use for a "brood box" heater.  I went to the chicken coop, retrieved said light and headed back to the house.  I was walking along, thinking about the chickens and other happy thoughts and Hattie (the battie Catahoula) ran in front of me.  The next thing I knew I was laying on the ground, not even really sure how I got there until I saw Angus (the boxer) looking at me like I'd done something to him.  I'd rather not type the words that came out of my little mouth at this point, but Angus understood and got under the truck.  I didn't say anything else to him but I sure gave him dirty looks.

After I moved everything to make sure nothing was broken I stood up and realized that I had squashed the light and it fell apart.  After straightening the fixture out, screwing it all back together and finding a new non-CFL light bulb, I found clean shavings and a big tub to put the babies in.

Today is Tuesday and there are 12 hatchlings with one struggling to get out of its shell.  It's great fun watching them hatch and grow.  I may get my own incubator.



I have a new friend

A friend of mine incubated some of the fresh eggs from the Happy Hens and I wound up with 13 baby chicks.  One of them couldn't walk and it just kind of stumbled around the box--couldn't eat or drink.  I couldn't stand it.  Rather than letting Mother Nature take her course and allow the others to peck it to death I quarantined the baby to its own box, complete with heat lamp, and forced it to drink every couple of hours.  I don't know how to make a chicken eat, though, so the chick had to do that on its own.  After a few days of being babied, taken on road trips, and coddled, the baby started eating on its own and then started walking.  She also acquired the name "Lucky".    I put it back in with the others and everyone did fine.

Now the chicks are about 8 weeks old and I've got a new friend--her name is now Lucille and she flies into my arms (kind of scary when I'm not expecting it) when I go into the coop to feed them.  She will also fly up on my back when I'm bending over to fill their feeder (hmmmm I'm waiting to be fertilized on the back).  Here's a pic----


The rooster is a Red Star and I'm guessing her momma is a Buff Orpington.  Anyway, she's on her way to being one of the Happy Hens at Wild Things Farm!


Mr. Rooster, Sir

The Happy Hens at Wild Things Farm get a lot of attention.  One of the key players in the lives of the Happy Hens is Mr. Rooster Sir. 

Mr. Rooster Sir has been with the Happy Hens ever since the beginning.  He did have a partner to watch over the chickie chicks but his partner was mean to the girls so he went bye-bye. 

I've noticed that Mr. Rooster Sir watches over the girls constantly.  While they are busy pecking and scratching, he's watching out, looking, ready to sound an alarm if there's danger.

One day a hawk perched in a tree way too close to the chicken universe and Mr. Rooster Sir sounded an alarm.  All the girls scurried into their safe haven (aka chicken house) except one.  I didn't actually see what happened, but I think the hawk actually almost made contact with her because she was hiding underneath a corner of the coop.  I gathered her up and put her back in the house with her companions.  They were upset for a day or two after that incident. 

The next day after that encounter, I took fence wire and went across the pen in a zig-zag manner so birds of prey wouldn't be able to "swoop" down and grab one of the girls.  So far it's worked really well keeping critters from swooping.  It does take my hat off occasionally when I stand up too tall in the pen.

A few months ago one of the CSA members shared a sourdough starter with me.  I've been keeping it fed and tried a few bread recipes but they've all turned out to look and feel like one of those discus thingees they throw in the Olympics.  The chickens love testing my mess-ups!

Another observation:  Mr. Rooster Sir will stand there and wait until all the girls have gotten their piece of bread before he will even attempt to get one for himself--a true gentleman.  So appropriately named.

Back to the successful breadmaking experience.  The recipe I used makes a "sponge" from warm water, yeast, and the starter, then let it set for 10 minutes then add flour, sugar and salt, mix together and let rise for 2 hours then knead.  This is where I was messing up.  I wasn't kneading the dough enough. Kneading sufficiently gets the gluten broken down enough to hold the dough in shape while it's baking.  So knead, and knead, and knead until it's really pliable and holds it's shape.  I "googled" sourdough bread not rising and figured that out.  The bread turned out perfect.

Don't tell the girls!


Breaking "boiled eggs" news!

Everyone knows (well maybe everyone) that fresh eggs don't peel really well when boiled.  Well, I just collected eggs from the Happy Hens, boiled a few of them for 10 minutes, then put them in water with ice cubes, and voila!  They peeled like a banana.  So there's your wisdom for today!


Gotta start somewhere......

This past January I introduced 15 eight-week old girls to the Happy Hens.  The introduction was kind of a smuggling operation though--during darkness.  The older hens are supposed to wake up and think "oh, you've always been here".  Well, seems that is what happened because I've not witnessed any adverse pecking or gang-related activities so all is well in the Happy Hen house.

Today, I went to freshen water, top off the feeder, throw in a few tidbits and munchies, then gather eggs.  Look what I found.......


The CUTEST teeny tiny little perfect egg!  Awwwww, my babies are growing up :)


Update on the Happy Hens at Wild Things Farm

One of the highlights of Wild Things Farm are the Happy Hens.  They scratch and jabber and do chickeny things all day, every day.  Last week there was a breech in security....aka the fence came loose from the chicken house....so about 9 chickens decided to go for it.  I've actually let all the hens out this time of year to scratch around and "fly the coop" so to speak, just to break the winter boredom.  Well, this day a hawk decided he would also check out the chickens.    I arrived at the pen just in time to persuade the hawk to fly back up into the tree where he came from, but the chickens were all spooked and one buff orpington was "hiding" somewhat under the edge of the coop, but I picked her up and put her back in the house. 

The next day was "wing clipping" day.  One of my jobs as a chicken momma is to keep them safe and you know, EVERYTHING likes chicken.  So, early in the morning, just at daybreak (brrrrr) each chicken was caught and one wing clipped then moved to the pen outside.  When all were done I left the door open and no one offered to come back in---imagine that!

Now, every time I get near the pen to feed, water, collect eggs, or just say "hi" they all run like haints to the other side of the pen.  Maybe they'll get over it soon.

On Monday another group of lucky girls was brought to the farm to be part of the Happy Hens at Wild Things Farm.  They are called Production Reds and they are 8 weeks old.  They spent the first night in a big cardboard box in the shop, the second night in their box in the henhouse, and last night they stayed in the chicken house with the big girls and Mr. Rooster sir.

The coop was originally constructed to house more birds than were occupying it, so now we're up to capacity----except a few more nest boxes need to be built--that's a project for a warmer day.

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