A Boudica Story

Yesterday, early in the evening, we had either a hawk or owl attempt to get one of the ducks. I didn’t see enough of the incident to see what happened. I just heard the epic quick (I have learned what some of the quacks mean, and you just know the epic one) and dropped what I was doing and headed outside.

I was slow, but Boudica was already on the case, as she was outside working. I couldn’t tell if it was a hawk or an owl, but I saw the ducks make way for the shrubs and the porch as fast as they could. Interestingly, Anna Maria spent the rest of the evening under the elderberry bushes. She never came back out until I got her at bedtime. I wonder if she had been the target.

Anyway, Boudica chased the hawk or owl into the trees, barking all the way, and then just kept looking into the trees for a good bit. As soon as I counted all seven ducks, I made a big fuss over Boudica. I am so grateful to that dog, and I told her all about it. How magnificent is she?

But here’s the most interesting part of the story: When Ron came outside and I told him what had happened, Ron was like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” I asked him why, and he said that Boudica had been trying really hard to get him to come outside for the last 15 or 20 minutes. He just thought she wanted him to come outside to play, so he told her he was busy.

He said she did that exact same thing the last time there was a hawk attack on the ducks. I guess she knew it was there both times, before the attack, and was trying to alert Ron. I don’t know if all dogs have senses that seem supernatural to me, but Boudica sure does. She has a senses like Superman.

How magnificent is she?

My baby chick is still alive!

I wrote yesterday about hatching an egg, so there was no way I couldn’t write tonight with at least a quick update. It’s been a busy day with both work and chickens, but I had to let you know that my baby chick is still alive! I am surprised, though I had a little hope when I saw the strength of that baby trying to help me hatch her. Still, the odds aren’t great, but I am a little bit hopeful.

This is the strong, pretty baby. She runs circles around everyone else and is just the perfect little gray chick. She’s pretty black on her back, though you can’t tell very well in this photo.

The thing that makes me hopeful is that my baby chick keeps improving. She’s still behind the strongest chick, but I think it might be a little ahead–at least even–with Hector’s other egg that hatched perfectly fine. She’s so cute too. So yellow. Okay, so I have to be sure to not get too attached through, right?

Oh, and I have to tell you something that is going to sound mean, but I mean it in the dearest way. The second Hector baby chick is the ugliest little chick I think I’ve seen. I mean, she’s still cute, but I thought something was wrong with her at first. Then, I realized she just has coloration that makes it kind of look like she has an oddly wide mouth. Kind of like a baby bird, I think.

I think. I only saw her for a few seconds. She hatched last and is running a little behind. She won’t leave Ruby’s feathers very much. I’ll try really hard to get pictures tomorrow.

Poor Ruby, she’s a saint. I watched her for a long time today, and those baby chicks crawl all over her, under her feathers. I can see little waves in Ruby’s feathers as they crawl around on her.

Today, I hatched an egg…

Day 21 of 21

Ruby made it to the end, though she looks a little worse for wear. Right now, she has three babies, but I have only had a good look at two. It’s very chilly outside, even in the garage, so all of the babies are tight under mama.

Both of Hector’s eggs hatched, and Bianca’s baby chick just couldn’t hatch all of the way. So after promising myself last night that I would only help a little and let nature take its course, when I saw the egg this morning, I thought it was worth a try to help. It looked like it may have been just stuck in the egg because the egg cracked and the membrane stuck to the chick (though I am not sure if there wasn’t some earlier issue). Still, that seemed fixable–maybe.

I had read some years ago about how to carefully hatch a baby chick from an egg, but I was pretty nervous about it. Baby chicks have skin so thin and fine. It’s very easy to hurt them. Plus, there is the sad reality that most chicks you have to hatch will not make it.

But in this baby’s case, I could see some strength. I thought, since it pipped and Friday and still had some strength on Sunday, maybe there was hope. So, this morning, while Ron did all of the morning chores, I sat in the bathroom light and, with tweezers, hatched a baby chick.

It was both terrifying and magnificent. When I had first eye free and it saw me, it definitely gave extra wiggles. Truly, it helped the whole time though, which makes me a tiny bit hopeful in a fairly hopeless situation. That baby wiggled and wiggled while I carefully peeled back shell and egg membrane one tiny piece at a time with a warm, wet paper towel helping when the membrane was dried and stuck. I hurried as fast as I could, but since I had to be so careful, I am worried about how cool it got–I mean on top of everything else.

We will see what happens. It did manage to fluff out, which is a good sign. However, it is not moving around like the other baby chicks. I am pretty sure it will not make it.

Ron asked me today what I thought its chances were.

“Maybe 50-50,” I said but then thought better. “Maybe just like 70-30.”

I didn’t have to tell Ron which side was 70. He knows. That little golden chick is an underdog for sure, and I always love the underdogs. I’m trying not to let myself love this one though. I am realistic about what will likely happen.

But I am happy overall that Ruby has her babies. She has had a tough broody period. I am glad for her to finally be a mama. This morning, she started eating the baby food and just ate for a bit. Thank goodness!

Ruby is better…and other stuff

Day 18 of 21

I think Ruby is better. Well, at least her eyes look good. I really, really hope those babies hatch soon, but I took extra good care of her today. It was very hot today, like 94 degrees, so I fed her grapes and other treats throughout the day. I fed her grapes five times today. She ate them all every time–and ate some bread and eggs as well.

We had baby chicks arrive at the post office today, but they are Freedom Rangers, for food. This is hard for me, but my family eats chicken and my dogs eat chicken. And because I know how chicken are treated if I buy chicken at the store, I commit to being the best meat chicken caregiver I can be, though my heart will be broken in the end. These chickens will be treated so well every second of their lives, until they have one bad moment, and Ron and I researched and researched (talking to both a vet and a neuroscientist) about the most humane way to cull a chicken.

That’s a hard thing to write about. It’s a hard thing for most people to think about. In fact, I think most people don’t think about it at all, but I think it’s important.

Ron and I have talked about going completely vegetarian when our son is grown, but we will always have at least one Great Pyrenees–and they need meat one way or another.

Also, today, on my way to get baby chick food, I saw something on the side of our road. When I got closer, I could see it was a baby raccoon! When I got closer, I could see it holding its little hand out toward nothing, like just this reaching out for anything.

I pulled over and could see the little baby raccoon was in really bad shape. Just as I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, my neighbor, a farmer and a Forest Ranger, pulled up and hopped out of his truck. He had gloves and a box. His wife had seen the baby on her way to work and called him to come get the baby. I was so relieved. He said, “”Something must have happened to the mama.” Then, he added, “Don’t worry. I know what to do. I’m a farmer.” That’s really what he said! I just smiled and nodded.

Anyway, he said he knew of a rescue in Portland, and he would make sure the baby got there. He said we should look to see if there were others–and there was one more! This one was hiding in the tall grass about five or six feet away. When my neighbor picked up this baby, I could tell this one was in much better shape.

I had just a little hope for the poor first baby when I saw the sibling snuggle up. The first little raccoon really did perk up a bit. You could see relief come over his or her little body. I sure hope that baby makes it. It’s a worry though because it was in pretty poor shape.

When I got back into the car and drove to get the baby chick food for the new chickens, I cried–the hard kind of cry.

A Ruby Worry

Day 17 of 21

Last night, I heard Ruby talking to her eggs. I love this part. I love the way the mamas and babies communicate with each other before the hatch. It’s fantastic to witness. When we used to incubate eggs, I would sing to the babies in the last couple of days. Poor babies though. They probably hatched and thought, “well, this is the worst mom ever, but we’ll have to made do.”

But I am very worried about Ruby. I fed her eggs this morning and feed her some kind of breakfast every day, but she’s not eating or drinking enough still. She’s a thinner bird anyway, but she’s very thin right now. Then, this evening, when I went to check on her, one of her eyes was stuck shut.

I scooped her up, found two new Juliet eggs underneath her (Juliet is a little cowbird), but the fertile eggs were fine. I carried Ruby around forever, trying to find Ron for help holding her, as Ruby is not a good patient. When I couldn’t find him, I checked her eye as well as I could, and I pried it open. Once I did that, it seemed fine. I am not sure, but think she is so dry and crinkly that her poor eyelids stuck together. Poor Ruby! I have to feed her more each day. She’s a little picky though. I just have to keep making scrambled eggs, I guess. Sometimes, with work and everything else going on, it’s hard to make Ruby a separate breakfast every day, but I had better figure it out. Poor Ruby has me worried.

I am worn from the worry about her and Anna Maria and Antonio and now Schumann’s bumble foot is back, which means I didn’t get it taken care of well enough the last time, and we have so many broody hens. So many. So many. Sigh.

I gave Ruby a duck egg for dinner, and I left cut-up grapes in her crate. I also made her walk around and get some movement. Hopefully, things will be better tomorrow. Cross your fingers those babies come early!

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.