Another Random Recap

Once again, the only thing I have to share is the random collection of photos that have collected on my phone. 2016-06-24 19.25.10As you can see, Dora, Lemmy and Iris have become horribly spoiled. Technically, there’s a no chickens on the table rule, however, somehow, it’s suddenly not being enforced. I really need to rectify that situation. This photo was taken last week, when they were 12 weeks old, and you can see they are looking quite grown up. Their voices are changing- no more peeping and squeaking. Instead, there’s lots of croaking while they hone their grown up cluck.

I’m still enjoying the front yard totem: 2016-07-06 10.04.11This time of year, breakfast and lunch are usually enjoyed on the cool, north-facing, front porch, and the popularity of the totem ensures there’s lots of mealtime entertainment. And finally, it’s truly summer. The first small tomatoes started ripening last week.2016-06-24 18.17.04As is typical for the Less is More garden, the pretty pink Nichols Heirloom tomatoes have been the first to ripen, with the Amy’s Apricot and Punta Banda following close behind.

Rough Week

Unfortunately, rather than getting better, Miss Kitty took a turn for the worse over the weekend. Since her symptoms were similar to Bandit’s, in case I had misjudged the situation, I decided I should get a professional assessment. I definitely did not want something infectious to spread through the flock. I brought her in to the clinic this morning, and the vet determined my original guess was the probable cause of the illness. Given the mass in her lower abdomen, she was likely suffering from the effects of internal laying. Since Miss Kitty was pretty bad off – super skinny from not eating and clearly miserable, I decided to have the vet euthanize her. It was expensive, but worth it. Our household was not really up to that particular task so soon after last week’s adventures. It was difficult handing her over this morning. Miss Kitty was a fun hen to have around. 10930928_975537292464183_7734422620743125639_nIn the summer, she would stay up late with us every evening, hanging out on the patio well past dusk. I think she was nervous the hawks would get the humans if she didn’t stand guard.Anyway, everyone is a little melancholy around here. Well, everyone except for Ezzie, who is looking fairly pleased with herself. Who ever would have guessed that Ezzie would end up being the Grand Dame of the flock?

The Most Difficult Part

Ok, I know last week I said I like when things are difficult, but… there’s always a “but”, right? The most difficult part of the backyard Less is More setup is figuring out the right course of action when you have a sick hen. One evening, earlier this week, I realized I hadn’t seen Bandit in a few hours. I found her hiding behind some shrubbery as if she’s was trying to lay an egg, with a stream of white fluid coming from her vent. Definitely not a good sign.  The next morning, she was hanging back and a bit sad looking, so I gave her the standard round of Tx – warm Epsom salt bath and some probiotic treats, etc. I also did a manual inspection of her vent, in case she was egg bound. She was spongy feeling around her bottom, but I couldn’t feel any obvious masses. However, more gross white liquid was ejected during the inspection. Given her long history of soft shell eggs, I was pretty sure I was dealing with an infection due to internal laying, for which there’s no good outcome. However, at-home diagnostics for poultry illnesses is usually guesswork. So, I put her back in the coop and made sure she had water and food nearby. Yesterday morning, she was clearly no better, but not obviously worse, either – hens are so stoic in their suffering. She would eat and drink a bit, but was not pooping on her own. I repeated the previous days treatment and exam with the same, but even grosser, results. I then informed the other member of the household that I felt Bandit was probably terminally ill. We debated on and off during the day, how ill was she and should we euthanize her sooner or later – and could we euthanize her? There was a strong lobby for giving it a bit more time, continuing with what little treatment I could offer. She made it through the night and seemed the about the same this morning, but during her morning exam, when I massaged her abdomen she started to regurgitate liquid very similar to what was coming out the other end, and it was clear she was very, very ill and we needed to end her suffering. As I carried her outsides to get help from my chicken care partner, she started to gasp and, despite my best intentions to do the right thing, I freaked out and handed her off. Fortunately the less-freaking-out-person was able to dispatch her very quickly with a firm pull and twist – really the most humane method to euthanize a suffering hen if you have your wits about you.

Because I still wasn’t totally sure what had happened inside of Miss Bandit, I had full intentions of conducting a necropsy. I laid her out on the workbench and got a good start on prepping to open the abdominal cavity to have a look. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something for which I had prepared, and I was having difficulty following the instructions I was using. In addition, the ancient poultry shears I found in the garage were not nearly sharp enough to do the job. So, I abandoned the task before I completely mucked it up, but I think it is something I think I should learn to do.

Anyway, despite Bandit’s difficult personality (she desperately wanted to be part of the popular crowd, and as a result, could be quite vicious towards other hens, or even wild birds), she will certainly be missed. Four Day Old Silver Laced Wyandotte ChicksimageMeanwhile, I’m still concerned about Miss Kitty’s  health. Her internal issues haven’t cleared up yet, and of course, now she’s also a bit lonely. I will start chaperoning some meet and greets with the young ones, so hopefully she can make some new friends while we work on clearing up whatever is ailing her.

Odds and Ends

I’ve been meaning to post on various topics for the past 10 days, but things are so hectic here I haven’t had a chance to pull out the camera to snap any decent shots. So, instead, here’s an update based on whatever photos I can find on my phone.2016-05-15 10.00.07
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The new coop is finally done enough (I still need to  build the storm hatches and nest boxes) that we could relocate the six-week-old pullets yesterday.  I’ve moved Ezzie in with them and she seems pleased to have the company, although there was a bit of growling and gentle pecking at first. The little ones have no sense of personal space, of course,  and it took her a while to teach them that pecking food debris out of her mutton chops is definitely not allowed. Meanwhile, the two Wyandottes are all out of sorts about the addition. They kvetched non-stop all day yesterday, to the point that someone (not me, of course) may have threatened them with the stew pot.2016-05-15 13.08.56

The garden is very full and starting to produce small bits of new interesting things. The cool weather greens are starting to wilt in the mid-afternoon heat, despite the shade cloth, so it’s time to start pulling the turnips and mustard greens, whether they’re ready or not. Yesterday I pinched off a handful of shallot scapes (I think this is the first time the French Red shallots have sent up bloom stalks) which, along with a bundle of herbs and a handful of fresh fava beans, made a great pesto. I’ve been snagging an occasional snap pea snack, with the shelling peas only about a week away from the first harvest. Also, I took advantage of the grape vines needing a bit of a trim, and used the nice big tender leaves I scavenged for a small batch of dolmas (the veggie version, typically served chilled). I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and they were, hands down, the best dolmas I’ve eaten, due in part, I think, to the fresh grape leaves.2016-05-15 16.14.05

Finally, here’s a progress shot of the “giant asparagus” from 2 days ago: 2016-05-14 08.54.39Makes the Jack and the Beanstalk story seem totally viable, no?

The Bees are Back

Way back in March, when the weather turned springlike, I set up the new hive I built last year, relocated the two old, also empty, hives, and redistributed the top bars. I set up each hive with a mix of old comb and empty bars, with a follower board about 2/3 back, so each hive would (hopefully) be a desirable new home for a colony ISO. In the meantime, the yard has been thick with foraging honeybees. I wasn’t sure where they were living, but I was hoping they were outgrowing their existing house. So, while I’ve been volunteering on the Swarm Call Hotline to increase my chances of being called to capture a swarm (no luck yet), I also set out to lure some bees to me. I set out a bowl of honeycomb that still contained some crystallized honey, and crossed my fingers. Low and behold, it worked. I started noticing some bee activity around the hives at the end of last week, and by yesterday, there was a steady stream of bees coming and going from the middle hive (H002-1).

This morning I opened up the hive to check, and yes, a colony has moved in. They’ve already built a few partial combs. I wasn’t set up to do a full inspection, so I closed everything up right away, before spotting the queen. But yay! Free bees!PKS_3411 As a side note, with three empty hives in a row, I wonder what was more desirable about the middle hive. It was a used hive, with a lot of propolis, which I believe is more desirable. But I wonder why the middle orange hive was selected over the, also previously used, end green hive. I wonder if color or position has any bearing on the selection, or if the green hive has some lingering undesirable chemical or pest.

Bath Time

Today was a big day for the three week old chicks! I expanded the brooder enclosure out the garage door, and Ezzie and I babysat the chicks during their first exposure to the big scary outside world. It took about 10 minutes for the bravest chick (Dora) to set foot into the expanded universe, but once the first chick crossed the threshold, everyone turned brave and there was lots of running back and forth. Lemmy took advantage of the patch of gravel to enjoy her first real dust bath:

The chicks will probably remain in the garage brooder for another week or two, with more excursions into the driveway. Having a nice big brooder box means I can delay moving them outside. In the past, when I had much less brooder space, I felt like I had to rush the chicks outside before it was ideal. Of course, moving them into the outside coop is contingent on me actually finishing the construction of the new coop. The process has dragged on for a lot longer than I anticipated due to lots of cool, rainy, windy weather and lots of other demands on my time. Spring is always so hectic. I did manage to get the tomato plants in the ground last week: PKS_3346But I was a few days late getting the garden beds covered with bird netting. Once again, my peas were trimmed significantly:

PKS_3350Fortunately nothing other than aphids seem to find fava foliage tasty:PKS_3347
I’ve been managing my fruit crop by thinning the crop of newly formed peaches and pinching off the extra shoots on the grape vines. I pruned the fruit trees and vines back in February – I’m still not super confident in my fruit management techniques, but thanks to the wealth of Extension publications, I feel like I’m slowly learning. I still need to make a second pass at thinning. It’s easier for me to thin twice. It’s hard to have the discipline to remove enough of the fruit the first time around.PKS_3359
Given all the work required to get the edible plants sorted out this time of year, I’m happy that the front yard can cruise along on its own, without much interference from me. Lots of stuff has started to bloom and we’re only a couple of weeks from the full-on riot of spring color:PKS_3357PKS_3354PKS_3351PKS_3348

Growing Up Quickly

PKS_3332These guys are definitely ready to go in the ground.

Oh, wait a minute, you thought I meant these guys are growing up quickly:

Yup, them too. Soon I’ll need to add a lid to the brooder as clearly they’re already practicing for liftoff (sorry about the out of focus phone vid).

Meanwhile, in the land of big chickens, I’m a bit concerned about Miss Kitty. She stopped laying a couple of weeks after she started, and she’s developed a case of messy butt, to put it politely. Of course, these two things could be an indicator for any number of troubles. I’ve been giving her yogurt and apple cider vinegar regularly in case she has a bacterial or yeast imbalance; I’ve dusted the food and coop with diatomaceous earth in case there’s a parasite issue; and I’ve switched to grower rations, instead of layer, so the extra unneeded calcium won’t strain her kidneys (Bandit has access to oyster shell to boost her calcium). Miss Kitty is still eating well, and she seems to be feeling ok, but my fear is that she has started internal laying due to any one of the many issues that can develop in an older hen’s reproductive system, or has developed fatty liver disease (I now remove all chicken scratch and sunflower seed treats from the feed bin when I go out of town because our well meaning chicken sitters tend to get very carried away with the treats) – neither of which I can really do anything about. So, for now, it’s wait and see. Meanwhile, Ezzie is still holding her own, big feet and all. She likes this time of year when she gets to hang out with the humans on the patio a lot more. And Bandit, well, she’s still a bandit. She defends her territory fiercely (you should see her chase the roadrunners out of the yard) and consistently fails to deposit a shell around about 1/3 of the eggs she lays no matter how much calcium she gets. Ok, yeah, we’re pretty much an all-around special needs flock these days.

What We’ve All Been Waiting For!

Yesterday was “Chick Day”! I picked up three three-day-old chicks from the feed store in the afternoon and have them comfortably ensconced in a re-purposed coldframe-turned-brooder in the garage. For me, there’s no better way to tune out the rest of the angry world than settling in on a stool for some baby chick watching.

The brown chick in the front is a Welsummer, and the two grays in the back are Easter Eggers. The light gray super fluffy one has been having some problems with pasting, but other than that, they seem to be doing well. It’s hard to see in this video, but I’ve attached two horizontal nipple waterers to the yogurt container – I’d like to get away from using open fonts and bowls for water in the coop. The chicks have figured out the system, but they’re still a bit small to depress the spring loaded rod to dispense the water, so I have a stick on hand to provide some human assistance with that part.

A Mad Dash

2016-02-25 11.59.24I’m going to try and use my extra day to catch up around here.

I’m racing to keep up with our unseasonable weather. For the past three weeks or so, we’ve been having full-on Spring, 65-70 degree days and nights above freezing. While I love basking in the warm sunshine, it’s not necessarily a good thing for the garden to be 3 weeks ahead of schedule. My peach tree will probably bloom in a day or two, which means there’s a good chance of frost damage if the weather returns to normal. I also worry that all the early winter bonus precipitation will soon be evaporated and gone, and I’ll be tending a parched yard again. I actually took down my coldframes over the weekend, because it looks like my mustard greens and pac choi were staying too warm – I think they’re going to bolt before making a large leaves. However, on a bright note, almost all those seeds I planted two weeks ago have emerged. The only hold outs are the carrots.2016-02-28 13.49.49Meanwhile, in a sad turn of events, there are currently no honeybees alive at Less is More. I lost one hive in November, over a weekend when I was out of town. I returned to find dead bees littering the ground under the hive. The other hive perished more recently – about a month ago, I think. I noticed a lot of dead bees surrounding the hive, and when I opened it yesterday, there was a tiny dead cluster of bees surrounding the dead queen. Unfortunately I didn’t use my brain when the first hive died – I should have collected some of the dead bees to send off for testing. Both hives showed some signs of dysentery around the entrance, but not so much to lead me to think they were suffering from nosema. At this point my best guess is tracheal mites, but that is really just a guess. If I had suspected sooner, I would have tried to treat with a vegetable oil, powdered sugar grease patty. Anyway, I was able to scavenge about 6 partially full combs of honey from the recently deceased hive. The combs are currently smashed and draining, and I’ll be putting my name on the swarm call list for the spring – hopefully I’ll be able to repopulate.

Oh, and in regard to repopulating Less is More, I’ve also reserved a few baby chicks from one of the local feed stores. They will be arriving April 6th – I have some building to do between now and then. Because the Wyandottes are such terrible bullies, I don’t think I’ll even attempt to integrate the new pullets with the old hens.

And finally, because clearly I don’t have enough pets to nurture, I gave in to non-gardeners “encouragement” and have been developing a wild yeast bread starter. I’ve been following the mash based instructions from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, and so far it’s been developing really well, right on schedule.2016-02-29 08.48.00 I’m on Phase 4 of the seed culture and the jar of goo smells a lot like a Belgian sour beer – quite sour and just a bit wheat-y and yeasty. For the past two feeds, when the instructions call for removing half of the culture, I’ve been using the discarded bit as a base for whole wheat sourdough drop biscuits. For the first batch, I used the culture to ferment the batter at room temperature for about 6 or so hours, and did get a nice fluffy biscuit with no additional leavening. For the second batch, since I wanted instant gratification, I used the sourdough as flavoring only, and leavened the biscuits with baking powder. The first batch was more tangy, of course, but both were quite tasty and tender. Today’s breakfast: fried eggs with butter and honey on biscuits. The back yard continues to feed us well!

Everything in Its Time

2016-01-05 08.50.42Miss Bandit will be 4 years old in a few months, so I wasn’t expecting an early end to her molt. Yet, low and behold, there was an egg in the box on January 1st, and she’s laid 3 more eggs since then. I suspect she won’t sustain that impressive productivity throughout the year, given her age, but it’s been a nice treat to have fresh eggs again. Since keeping backyard hens, eggs have become a seasonal food for us. In November and December, there are no big platters of huevos rancheros for breakfast. I do freeze two dozen eggs in the summer that I pull out when I’m doing the holiday baking, but other than that, our egg consumption is dictated by our hens’ schedules.

The big debate right now is: more chicks or not? Last year, I collected 127 eggs from Miss Kitty, 161 eggs from Bandit (although about 10% percent of those had very thin shells and not all made it to the kitchen), and the one infamous egg from Ezzie. That’s about 20% less than 2014, and I expect to see at least a 30% reduction this year. If we want to maintain a supply of eggs for the next few years we should raise chicks this spring, however, I anticipate I’ll be out of town quite a bit this year, and I fear my friends may be tiring of being on chicken watch when I’m gone. Ideally, I’m hoping to find a neighbor willing to share the chores with me for a generous egg share. Although, frankly, I don’t know if I’ll really give up backyard chicken keeping even if I don’t set up a cooperative. I love having the chatty companionship when I’m working around the yard, and then there’s all that good compost. Maybe I should go online and start looking at the hatching schedules . . . .