Sunday, December 28, 2008

And the Winner is...

This week I offered my Lucky Horseshoe I have hanging over the door to my chicken coop. I found it on a shelf in the barn basement and hung it up to keep all the luck for my chickens and my barn. In the spirit of the season, I wanted to pass this along.

I had a "random selector" narrow the 31 entrants down to 3 and the winner is...

Congratulations on your amazing, world-class prize!

I want to thank all of you who come and visit me. It always makes my day to interact with you.

Thank you...

Happy New Year to each of you!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Season For Giving

Let It Snow!

School teachers and children both love snow days. Friday (Dec. 19) was our first snow day of the school year. When there is a chance for a snow day, the students at my school wear their pj's inside out and backwards and eat their dessert first at dinner the night before the wished for event. Success all-around!

10 inches of snow

A View of the Corn Crib

Deer Tracks Across The Path

Peter's Car Stuck in the Driveway.
Welcome to the Farm.
Peter has been working in the Caribbean
since August, and is heading back in January.
If you have read this far, you deserve a chance to win this wonderful prize. Can you see the Horseshoe hanging over the door to the chicken coop? Well, everyone who leaves a comment this week will get put into the drawing to win this real horseshoe, which I found in the Green Barn.
Doesn't this sound like a great prize? I can tell you are excited.

The Prize.

Good Luck!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Keeping Busy in the Cold Barn

(I gave Ruth the week off from photos, and stole her camera. She edited them.)

As you can see from the thermometer in my coop, it is about 30° F. In spite of the cold weather, my hens have been laying more eggs than ever! On Wednesday, they laid 17 and the next day laid 19! I already have 14 today and it's only around noon. Up until this barrage, the girls have been averaging 10-12 eggs per day for the past couple of months. I think it must be a combination of the light I am leaving on from 6:30AM until 8:00PM and the maturing of the Polish Crested hens. I am getting a lot of white eggs now since white layers are the majority of the flock.

How did the thermometer get dirty? The same way as the light bulb, I guess.

Free Ranging in the barn basement

Since they can't/won't go outside due to the 8 inches of snow on the ground, I have been letting the chickens out of the coop and into the rest of the barn. The basement is my next project. It has a lot of dirt piled up in it. Why it's in there, I don't know, but it has got to go. For the time being, however, the chickens have been loving their dustbaths.

Look at the two white crested polish hens standing tail to tail. They both just finished wallowing in the dirt.

What do you think of her really bad haircut?

What are you looking at?

Go away, I'm taking a bath.

Nesting Boxes

There are over 20 nice nesting boxes on the walls of the coop, full of clean, dry, cozy straw. However, half of the hens prefer unconventional housing for their eggs. "Monkey see, monkey do" seems to be their mantra. If one of them lays an egg somewhere interesting, others follow suit.

Corner lot, nice views available.

While I was taking the photo, the black crested polish hen, (who follows me around all the time), came over to investigate and began setting on the eggs.

Well, nosey Floozey saw that and came over to see what all the excitement was about and proceeded to kick the black one out.

Now that she was alone with the eggs, she began to adjust them so she could do her mothering thing. She stayed there for about two minutes and then was off to see what I was going to do next. Floozey is the nosiest hen in the coop.

Next, I went to the the overturned feed bucket and there was Floozey, checking out the eggs. She actually stayed there for the rest of the time I was in the coop.

Floozey is a Buttercup hen. Doesn't she have the most interesting comb? It will get twice this size as she matures. She was hatched on April 4, 2008. (my birthday!)

Now here is a fancy place to lay some eggs. Notice that round one? it's a Dunlop.

Newly Named

I leave you this week with the Little Dudes. Gomer and Goober, squaring off.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I'm for the birds

This majestic elm has marked the gateway to the path for a long time. You can tell it's been in this stage of life for quite a while. It may be my favorite tree.

Our friend Heather told her father how much we loved bluebirds, so he built this one for Ruth, and I just had to put it on this tree. The birdhouse overlooks a large field where there are many tasty morsels for a bluebird. They love to perch on the remaining branch and then swoop down on the unsuspecting bug, and then back up to the branch. The only variation on this theme is when they fly straight to the birdhouse and feed the little bluebirds growing inside.

On the last day of school, we have an assembly to say our tearful good-byes. The fifth graders have a tradition of "willing" parting gifts to teachers, other students, etc. One of my former students gave this birdhouse to me and I have had bluebirds in it every year. That student has kept in touch with me and she is now a junior in high school and thinking about her future. We have had many back and forth emails and I have a lot of fun giving her advice.

I built this one out of scrap pieces and it houses another bluebird family. You can tell it's well-insulated, the snow isn't melting on the roof... ;)

We cleaned out my parents' garage last summer and my mom was going to toss this, so I tossed it right into my truck. A House Wren built a nest in this one. They are non-stop warblers!

The same wren built a nest in this one and raised a brood in here. Baby wrens are too cute!

I am a trash picker from way back. I found these on trash day about a mile up the road from us. One is a bluebird house, the other is some sort of feeder which I will convert into a birdhouse of some kind. They are made out of cedar, so they will last a long time.

This is a birdhouse gourd and has different species each year. Right now the remnant of a Song Sparrow is peeking out.

I never get tired of birds.

We have some with the loudest call, and of course, they do it in the summer starting at daybreak. I just scared off (not on purpose) twelve mourning doves who were feeding on the ground under the bird feeder. Sometimes we have over thirty goldfinches queuing up at the thistle feeders.

The biggest "prize" bird I spotted this past summer was a pileated woodpecker. I surprised him near our woodland pond and he took off and glided across the water, about a foot from the surface, landed on the side of a tree, squawked at me and took off. That was the only time I saw him.

Among my favorite birds is the Indigo Bunting. We saw one on Thanksgiving day in 2003, and I saw another one a couple of years ago, but they are rare indeed!

My goal right now is to see a Scarlet Tanager.

Which bird do you think is the coolest? I like the name Merganser, but for now, I'll stick with the Scarlet Tanager.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Green Barn

The green barn was built in 1901. It may have been a Sears Bank Barn kit that cost $600.00 at the time. The write-up in the catalogue states: "it will cost you more for labor than the price of this barn." The sears barns were shipped via railroad and customers had to pick them up at the station. I can imagine a few farmers gathering together with their wagons to help out. The nearest rail station was probably in Jackson, or maybe Lansing.

We have a photo taken 50+ years ago that shows the green barn painted white. I can also see traces of red as well.

The green barn used to have a silo. You can see its old concrete foundation in the photo below. Over the years, it fell down, or was torn down. In this photo, you can see where the right side of the concrete chute, which allowed the farmer to send grain into the barn basement, has broken free, and slid through the rock wall. Someone started to rebuild the wall, and I continued it. Next summer, I plan on having this completely closed in and patched up. I will also have to put gutters on the eaves to keep the water from pouring onto the foundation. (I want to capture that water into a cistern system, but that's another post!).

Barn Photos

Pitchfork looking for work

Big fella 14" pillar and 12" beam

Every barn has dirty light bulbs (how did it get dirty?)

Nice curves

Gate looking for work

Gate chewed artistically by horses

Ladder to nowhere (except up)
Chicken Photos

Khan, glowing in the midday sun

Honey following Bishop the Barncat

This Thanksgiving weekend has made me realize how thankful I am for all the good things in my life. I know that is a cliché, but it rings true for me today.
Life is good

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Planning Ahead

This is my first winter with chickens here at the Green Barn. With each passing and progressively colder day and night, I am more and more impressed with the builder of this barn. I am glad I followed in the footsteps of a previous poultry farmer in using the barn chicken coop. (There are two other possible coops).

First off, it is in the basement of the barn. As you can see in the photo below, the entire western wall of the coop is underground and made of stone. My flock won't have any cold wind blowing through the coop, or blowing on a wall. The only exposed wall is the southern wall, and if the wind is from the south, it is usually warmer. This will keep the coop warmer! I can't help but think the designer did this on purpose to help keep his livestock warmer during the cold months. The window is sealed shut, waiting for spring.

This is the southern exposure of the coop. There are two windows on this wall that allows some nice sunshine in. Note that there is only about three feet of wall exposed to the elements and it is a foot and a half thick.

The other two walls are inside the barn. I insulated the northern wall with one inch foam insulation, and the eastern wall is insulated by a four foot hallway. I have the ceiling of the coop covered with a tarp to keep the heat in and water out, (the barn roof leaks).

I hung a red heat lamp over the roosting area to keep the edge off the cold and use it only at night. It was in the teens last night and this morning, it was 36 degrees F in the coop when I turned their lights on.

Four of my hens are really getting torn up by the roosters, so today I did the deed: three fat roosters are in the deep freeze. I watched all three of them raping and pillaging today and decided that it was time. Khan, the Cuckoo Maran pictured below, is a gentle giant, so he lives on. He does a great job of looking out for the flock and is always the last one in at night.

I love this picture Ruth took of our bottom porch step.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Snow Birds

You may know what I am talking about when I mention snow birds. Snow birds are people who are fortunate enough to have the option of spending the warmer months in Michigan and the colder months someplace warm. They either have second homes in Florida or the Carolinas, or they have an RV and they drive until they can take off their jackets.

Mother Nature gave all of the local deer hunters a big present today: 2" of nice, packy, perfect-for-making-a-snowman, snow. My chickens came flooding outside today, like they usually do, only to discover that the ground was covered with a mysterious white substance that wasn't all that tasty. Today, they weren't much in the mood to play in the snow. I think they were talking about joining the snow birds.

Cuckoo Maran keeping her toes dry.

Cool and the gang hanging out, reminiscing about the good old days of foraging. (Yes, the gold one in front is one of my Buff Orpington roosters)

Japanese Bantams: A study in white

This was a challenge for Ruth to get a clear photo with so much white to get washed out. She tried several different settings and settled on this one, which shut down the aperture and allowed the camera to decide on the shutter speed. If you can click on the photo below, check out the amazing feathers on these chickens. They are less than half the size of my regular chickens! I think I need to find them a girlfriend. Maybe someone will trade me a bantam hen for one of these roosters?

You can see the electric poultry mesh behind the bantams. I have grown extremely fond of this method of keeping the chickens in and keeping predators out. I haven't lost a single chicken to a predator. It delivers a nice jolt, and keeps working away 24/7. I am thinking about dismantling it soon for the winter and making the chickens stay indoors except for the times when I am home.

So far, they seem to be plenty warm! I am planning to apply vaseline to all of their combs next weekend. Vaseline helps insulate their combs from the cold. Want to join me for that???!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Path

Which way shall we go? The path wanders around through our five acres and gives us a view of several different ecosystems.

If we go straight, we go into the woods. It is lovely, dark and deep.

If we go to the right, we walk through the field.

All paths lead to the bench. A nice place to watch bluebirds feed their babies, or catch praying mantises snatching unwary insects amid the goldenrod and queen anne's lace.

Buck Rub
This is a 3' high rub on a sapling where white-tailed bucks have rubbed the velvet off their antlers and also serve notice to other bucks in the neighborhood. The bucks also make "scrapes" which are bare spots where they and does deposit scents to let each other know of intimate intentions.
The rut is in full swing in Michigan. Does will give birth to twins (usually) in the spring.

Egg Side Note
I like the variety of eggs I get from my flock. Today, I made a little breakfast of poached eggs on toast.
The wood stove acting like a stove.

I like this. A lot. C'mon over and I'll make one for you.