Just a day on this farm…

Day 13 of 21

Today was so full, but it was a good kind of full: I went for a walk with a dear friend; I washed about 80 eggs (I still have a little more to go); I taped and painted the doors on our house (this has been on my list for 4 years–4 years!); and I candled Ruby’s eggs for the last time. From now on, I leave them alone–unless Ruby steals more eggs.

When I candled her eggs, I went ahead and checked the new eggs from Juliet as well. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Juliet had been laying eggs in Ruby’s crate, and Ruby was just like, “I’ll take that.” She was supposed to be on 3 eggs. She had 7! I was very curious to see if any of Juliet’s eggs were fertile. Not a single one of them was. I don’t think Juliet lets either of the roosters mate with her very often, maybe never. Isn’t that interesting?

Oh, in other interesting news, I noticed that Bianca and Rooster hang out together a lot. This makes me wonder about Bianca’s egg that is developing. I wonder if Rooster might be the daddy. It would be cool if he was. I’ll try to write in a few days about what I know about the genetics in each of the three eggs we have developing under Ruby. Thankfully, they all seem to be developing well. Hopefully, we will get all 3 babies. Surely, we will get 2 babies. Cross your fingers for us–both me and Ruby.

The day has been long. I was out in the garden picking lettuce for dinner (our first night of salads for dinner!) while Ron and our son were moving really, really big rocks from a garden expansion to make room for more corn. And it was getting dark–it gets dark pretty late now.

We are getting so close to the Solstice. This will be the first Summer Solstice in 4 years that I will be able to celebrate and instead of working on the Solstice release of the journal. Of course, writing these words makes me a little sad. I loved those issues. I realize I want the Farmer-ish journal to live so much. I just don’t have the capacity anymore. Maybe one day, I can figure it out and get some help.

For now, I am really, really, really looking forward to a magical Solstice.

A loss…

Day 12 of 21

TW: Below, I write about the death of one our chickens.

I missed Day 11. I was having the best evening. Our son had a cello performance, and it was wonderful. Last night was one of those nights where you just want it burned into your memory forever. It was so lovely.

Sadly, tonight was a really bad night. We lost Schubert. I am heartbroken.

I went to the coop late this evening to collect the eggs, and I looked over to find Schubert on the roost for the night, just gasping terribly for air. I thought she was choking. I scooped her up to take her into some light, so I could try to help, when she flew out of my arms and landed on the ground with a thud. This never happens. First, they rarely fly out of my arms. Second, when they do, they fly down.

I was shocked. I got down to pick her back up. I was checking her legs to make sure she could walk when she started convulsing. It took me a bit to realize what was happening, but thankfully, once I realized it, I just held her through the death throws and did my best to speak calmly and pet her head and tell her goodbye.

What a terrible sadness.

I think she was having a heart attack when I came upon her in the coop, and I didn’t realize it and got myself involved. I surely made things worse for her, and I feel terrible. But at least she knew me as a friend throughout her life and knew I was sad for her in the end.

I cried so hard when she passed that Ron came outside to see what had happened. When I looked up to explain what had happened, that’s when I saw Rooster. He was off of his roost and watching me from the coop. He was very, very upset too, making all kinds of stress noises. I don’t know how much he saw, but I was worried he might think I was to blame for her death.

He didn’t seem to though. When I went to see him to make sure we were cool, he let me touch him and didn’t act upset. I am grateful for him to know I am a friend.

I wanted to wrap up tonight’s post by sharing a little bit about who Schubert was, in her honor. She was an Easter Egger who I drove across the state to get. She was the special, sweet gray chick that was held out for me by the breeder because she was her favorite of the hatch, couldn’t keep her, and wanted her to go to a great home. The breeder knew I would do well by her baby chick. I picked another chicken randomly to go with Schubert that day–Schumann. I’m worried how Schumann is going to be without her. They were not as close as they used to be in recent years, but last summer, one night, I went to close up the coop when I heard sweet, snuggly noises coming from the chickens. I looked up to find Schumann and Schubert snuggling and talking. They stayed together every night for a long time, but, eventually, they drifted apart again.

Schubert was five years old and is genetically the mama of Juliet and Bianca and is the grandma to Ruby and Arwen. I bred a whole line from her because she was so smart and sweet and laid such a beautiful blue-green egg. She was a part of the original “composers group” that we raised by hand–Bach, Saint-Saens, Schumann, Schubert, Beethoven, and Vivaldi.

Ron buried her for me in the side yard while I had to finish checking the eggs and moving all of the broody hens out of the nests. We now have four broody hens, and Ruby stole some eggs, which means she has extra.

I will have to candle the eggs again in a day or two. Life will go on, as it does, but I am going to miss Schubert a lot.


Day 10 of 21

I took this picture today of Ron’s seedlings. He has planted all of the cold-hardy plants in the garden already. It’s been too chilly for the tomatoes and peppers and melons, but look at them here! Aren’t they so beautiful and full of hope?

These little plants are so meaningful because they are the plants that will feed our family in the coming year. I love this so much. I also love Ron’s plan for hardening off the seedlings. He put them in the back of his pickup. Every morning, he pulls the pickup out of the garage, and his seedlings get the sunshine and raise. Every evening, he pulls the pickup back into the garage, so the seedlings are warmer at night.

Next weekend, I am going to be able to plant my own tiny garden. I have a tiny space of my own, and I’m going to try something different. I will write about it soon. I hope it works.

Ruby is doing well, except that I had meant to pull her off of her eggs for some exercise time, but I got too busy. I will be sure to do it in the morning. We how have three other broody hens: Pumpkin still, Vivaldi still, and Penelope is back at it. And she’s very mean about the whole thing.

Rhubarb, Climate, and Fertility

Day 9 of 21

I can’t believe Ruby is already on day 9. I had better get to the feed store and get some chick starter feed for her babies. They will be here before we know it. Of course, we only have three eggs developing, so I hope we have babies soon. Ruby is definitely devoted, so we should have at least a couple of babies hatch.

Ruby is doing well, though getting thinner. I did figure out that I can get her to eat cut-up grapes, which helps with her hydration. She’s so cute sitting in her dog crate, so focused. I’m excited for her to have babies.

I also cut up rhubarb for the first time today and made muffins. It’s so great to have rhubarb again. It’s been slower this year than in years past. I think because it’s been cooler. Everything is growing more slowly than in the past five years or so for sure, but I am very thankful for the cooler weather.

Last year, at the end of that miserable summer with all that heat and no rain, I told Ron it would sure be nice if we could get a break from all of this climate change and have just a summer every now and then that was more normal. I am hoping the universe said, “wish granted.” I mean, I hope so.

And I’ve been thinking all day about the poor fertility with our hatching eggs. It’s a bit of a surprise to me because I see Rooster and Dvorak being pretty busy out there. But I looked closely today to try to see if I could discern a little more about what is going on.

This is what I learned: Rooster is polite and old. Dvorak is fairly polite, which is fantastic for a young rooster. He’s really a great rooster overall and won’t bother the ladies too much if they tell him know. Every now and then, he gets determined, but overall, he doesn’t harass the hens. I am so grateful for him.

I also learned a bit more about the Salmon Faverolles. They are very quirky chickens. They are sweet but also aloof, like very unusually so for a chicken. In fact, I have never seen an aloof chicken (at least not to this level, as chickens are usually fairly high strung), but all four of the Faverolles are this way. I need to write more about them, as I have some stories. But the main thing I learned from candling these eggs and studying the flock today is that the Faverolles are not allowing Rooster or Dvorak to mate with them. That’s very interesting. It’s not usual at all.

The Candling: Part 1

Day 8 of 21

I candled the eggs today! I made a video, but it’s terrible, which means I simply cannot share it. I make videos all of the time for my teaching, so I know how to talk the camera. Things started strong, but then, I actually started candling the eggs. I got so engrossed with my candling that I was literally flashing the light into the camera and mumbling to myself about the Salmon Faverolles being unusual chickens. So no video, but here are the results of the candling:

Salmon Faverolle egg #1 = dud
Salmon Faverolle egg #2 = dud
Hector egg #1 = fertile
Hector egg #2 = fertile
Bianca egg = fertile (Yay!)
Cora egg = uncertain but I lean toward dud (It will be interesting to see if I am right)
Juliet egg = dud

I will have to think on this and share some analysis of these results tomorrow, as these fertility rates are not that great. I figured, with two roosters and one being so young, that our rates would be higher. I think these results are related to a combination of generally polite roosters and some interesting hens. Three is perfect for us, but I would never be able to sell hatching eggs, even though the babies who hatched would be super smart–like so smart they can’t live with the rest of the flock and boss you around and won’t let you leave the house without giving them a treat. .

Yeah, I can never sell hatching eggs.

Broody Hens

Day 7 of 21

Every year, as we approach summer, we begin the battle with broodiness. The hens starting having the urge to be mamas and will sit in nest boxes all day. They won’t lay eggs when they are broody; plus, it’s not great for them. They need to be walking around, eating and drinking–and enjoying the beautiful weather.

Our flock is so prone to going broody. It’s not just one or two hens, we have about 15 hens who will go broody at some point during the summer. Obviously, we cannot let all of those hens raise babies, so we have to gently break them from being broody. Sometimes, it’s easy to break them. Sometimes, it’s an epic task.

For the last three days, we have had broody hens in the nest boxes in evenings when it’s time to collect eggs. First, it was Pumpkin and a Salmon Faverolle. I cannot tell them apart yet, but I am making progress. On the second night, it was Pumpkin and Penelope. Penelope is the worst because she always attacks me when she’s broody. Tonight, it was Pumpkin and Vivaldi. Pumpkin is so broody, and she’s such a sweet broody hen. When I pick her up, there is no fuss. She just stays broody wherever I put her. I’m going to have to use an ice pack with her next. There is a part of me that wants Pumpkin to get to be a mama again because she did so well the first time, but after the last time when she took off for a month, I’m afraid to let her. So I’ll have to keep working on her.

When we let a broody hen have a clutch of eggs, she will be devoted to those eggs while she incubates them. However, just how devoted will vary from hen to hen. Ruby is extremely devoted. She doesn’t take good care of herself, so I try to assist. Today, I had to pull her out for a little food and walking time. She didn’t stay away long. I’m worried because I can tell she’s already lost weight, so I am going to start feeding her more.

The only other hen I ever saw be more devoted than Ruby was Biscuit. I miss her. She was only a mama once because it was really, really hard on her. I didn’t let her have another clutch after the struggle she had. First, while she was broody, she would never leave the nest and when I would pull her out for a break, she wouldn’t even walk. I actually lifted her up and made her walk sometimes to get her going. She had something go wrong during hatch, and only one of her three babies lived. She was so devoted to that baby, and she and Lucy co-parented both of their babies together.

But when it was time for Biscuit’s baby to grow up, she refused. She followed Biscuit around and cried for months. Months. Biscuit would try to run and hide from her, but her baby would always find her. I didn’t even know what to do. It was wild.

Thankfully, finally, her baby let go, but poor Biscuit was worn out from it all.

Anyway, I have certainly seen some variability. I hope Ruby does a good job as a mama this year like she did last year. So far, she seems to be off to a good start. She’s devoted super devoted to those eggs. And I will candle them tomorrow!

The Sweetest Video

Day 6 of 21

One more day until I can candle Ruby’s eggs! She is doing well. She had a lot of scrambled eggs today, so that was great for her. I accidentally sat a carton of eggs I had just packed up down on a low table and ran to help my kiddo who had a bloody nose. When I got back, Bairre had taken the carton of eggs off the table, dumped them, and was eating what he could. I managed to scoop up almost everything that was left and save those eggs for the chickens.

I don’t know if I will candle Ruby’s eggs tomorrow or Monday–maybe Monday. When I do, I will be sure to make a video.

And, speaking of videos, I accidentally took the sweetest little video ever. Ron was getting soil ready for planting potatoes, and the ducks were helping. In particular, our duck, Anna Sophia, was helping. She’s the duck who lived in our house for several months and fell in love with the cello. She’s been hanging out with us extra this spring, and it has been a joy.

I went outside to video her, and I am convinced I accidentally captured a tiny moment of the magic of this place on video. I hope this makes you smile.

In the Moment

Day 5 of 21

Since I have cut back on my work, I have had time to help more in the garden this year, and it has been wonderful to me. The garden is good for my soul. When I am out there with the sun over my head and the earth in my hands, I feel restored. I think I love the work so much because it feels so meaningful to me.

Today, I fertilized the raspberries and older blueberry bushes and watered the rows of carrots and kale Ron and I planted last week. I learned the hard way that carrots need a decent amount of water to sprout and get going. I also fixed one of my homemade hanging baskets and spent a little time making sure Ruby had eaten something. She never drank, but I assume she knows what she’s doing.

I got the rest of the chickens fresh water and then just sat with them for the longest time. It’s been awhile since I have done this for so long, and it was magnificent. The sky was so blue, and though the wind is bad for the garden, it’s great for keeping the black flies away. And everything is in bloom and so beautiful. My Maple trees, the pear tree flowers, the blueberry blossoms.

The chickens are beautiful too. We have some gorgeous birds, like Rooster and Faure, and little Bianca is such a treat to watch. I decided to call all of their names, at least the ones who were near me, to see who knew their names. None of the younger chickens know their names, but all of the older ones do. I suppose it takes a bit for them to learn their names around here.

My heart smiled so big thinking about Rooster still being here and looking pretty good for an old guy. He’s gorgeous in the sunlight. The black feathers shimmer green. His long tail feathers whip in the wind.

As I watched the chickens doing all of their different things in the warmth of the beautiful afternoon–digging, eating (Arwen landed a giant worm was being chased by Saint Saens and Hector), sunbathing, drinking from the fresh water because fresh is always exciting–I thought, “This must be heaven.”

I asked the chickens if they knew this was heaven. They didn’t answer, but I think they know.

The pear trees made it!

Day 4 of 21

This morning, while I was doing morning chores, I was so happy when Ron called to me to tell me the pear trees looked fine. I was a bit worried because it was so cold last night. I have seen it snow on the greens and our garden in early May, but I have never seen it get that cold so late in the spring when the pear trees were in full bloom. Thankfully, they made it.

I have no words for how much I love those pear tress. I wish to have more than two trees, but I’ll definitely not bring that up to Ron right now. In the last two weeks, in between many cello performances for our kiddo, Ron managed to plant peach trees, blueberries (We got 9 new bushes!), and grapes. We also have a deal that if he will build one more raised bed, I’ll fill it Hugelkultur style and plant more strawberries. I always plant our strawberries, and even though I worry, they seem to thrive. I am excited to get more. You know how I feel about strawberries.

I told Ron, when we are old and have to sell our homestead, I mean, assuming no kiddo wants it, I want to interview who buys our house. I need to make sure they understand this place has magic. Sadly, I don’t think our children will want to live a homesteading lifestyle, but I could be wrong. Maybe they will change their minds. People do. When I was younger, I thought I wanted to live in a big city. And I still love the culture and arts you can get a in a big city, but I am a farm girl in my heart because it allows me to live close to animals–and I have always loved animals so deeply. I love this life and could never go back to a city to live–only visit.

Anyway, Ruby is on Day 4 of her little journey. This afternoon, I had to drag her out of her crate to get her to drink a little and walk around some. I am sure she doesn’t need me mothering her when she’s trying to be a mama, but I have seen hens get into some poor health if they don’t take little breaks while being broody. Mostly, they just take little breaks on their own. Most of our hens take a break every day on their own. But Ruby won’t get up. She does everything big, doesn’t she? So I got her up and checked on the eggs quickly. Thankfully, she walked around a little and played around in the pine needles. It has to be good for her to get out and scratch around.

The eggs seem great. None are broken, and Ruby was back on them within half an hour. I’ll get to candle on Day 7 or 8.

A Cold May Night in Maine

Day 3 of 21

It’s been cold here today. It sleeted or snowed or something for a little bit earlier. I had to wear a coat and hat on our walk with the dogs today. Thankfully, we just have our cold-hardy vegetables in the ground, but I’m worried about my flower pots. Maybe I should bring them in. I had better.

It was a lovely day overall though. I am in love with Maine in the late spring.

When I first moved to Maine, my officemate at the university told me, when I was complaining about Maine winters, to “just wait” that the springs and summers were so beautiful that it would make the long winters worth it. I told him I thought that was just because the winters were so terrible that, by comparison, everybody thinks the springs and summers are awesome.

And then May came, and I understood.

There are apple blossoms literally everywhere, in the trees, floating across country roads, on the cars in town. The greens are so vibrant. We have so many magnificent trees here in Maine that it feels a little wild, like Maine still keeps some of its wildness and just will not be tamed by humans.

It’s beautiful here.

On our walk today, I took pictures of some of the apple and pear blossoms, and when I got home, I got this picture of Rooster under one of our pear trees that is maybe my favorite picture of him. Isn’t he so regal? He has a regal personality, and the coolest thing is that, after all of these years, he trusts me. He is like me and trusts almost no one. I rarely “show my soul.” Rooster is the same.

He also worries like me. Today, Ron was trying to cut down an infested branch in our neighbor’s tree. He was up way too high on the ladder, and I was holding it but was very scared. It was not a wise thing to be doing, and Rooster was letting Ron know. He kept clucking at him the way he does when he’s trying to tell the flock to behave better, to be safer.

I told Ron that Rooster is my people. Ron laughed and agreed. I am so glad Rooster is still here. He’s so old, but he seems determined to hang in there. I am grateful to have him.

Ruby is doing well at Day 3 of her journey. Every day, I feed her some breakfast scraps because she’s so devoted to her eggs that she won’t get up to eat and drink much. I’ll have to write more about that tomorrow, but I made her eat a little, though was not able to get her to drink. I’ll try again in the morning. I did pull her out of her crate to get her to walk around a little because I haven’t seen her off the eggs for two days. She squawked about it and went right back to her eggs, but at least she moved around a little.

PS I just have to add one more sweet Rooster story. If he hears you sneeze, he makes this worried sound and checks on you. Every_single_time.