Saturday, March 29, 2008

Q-Day: The Invasion Has Begun

In February, my school had its annual science fair. A fifth grade girl was hatching Coturnix quail as her science project. She kept meticulous records and sadly, out of 24 eggs, only one quail survived. His name is Piggy. She asked me if I would take Piggy to my farm and I, of course, said yes. Hmm, what to do with ONE quail, and it was a raucous male to boot. I called the poultry department at Michigan State University and talked with Angelo, who is an amazing man. I ended up ordering 18 Coturnix quail eggs that would hatch on March 26. I arranged to pick up the eggs on March 24 and promptly placed them in an incubator in my third grade classroom. I got to school a little early on the 26th, and could hear their peeping before I opened the door! 14 of them had already hatched and were spazzing around in the incubator. I got out my video camera and started filming them. I got three or four of them escaping their eggs on film, with students watching along with me. How fun is that?! I am going to try to get some of that footage on here.

The picture below shows the empty eggs. Whew, that was a lot of work for the little guys.

Here they are, just 7 hours old. They sleep for two minutes and then run around frantically for two minutes and then it's back to sleep. They are so tiny!

I love this photo my wife shot of this chick. The marbles were in my classroom, and did a nice job of keeping the drowning fatalities low. The blue marbles are called "Blue Dolphins." I did lose two to drowning. One of them drowned in less than an eighth of an inch of water!

Did i tell you they are tiny? Well, it is hard to believe that those little eggs can produce a little chick and that it can survive! I am amazed at these little marvels.

Don't you want to to reach into that pile O' chicks and cuddle? The one with the red on its head isn't injured, that's Quincy. I used permanent marker, it's the only way I could think of to mark them so the students could name them! Other names I can remember are Louie, Cheep-Cheep, Pidgie, and Courtney.

I am going to build them a nice quail run complete with outside run. We're looking forward to serving our little nieces and nephews a fun mini egg breakfast, and also we are salivating over pickled quail eggs. If you have a good recipe, please let me know!

April 7, I have 30 layers plus a mystery chick coming in the mail from McMurray. The invasion has begun!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Doors

Since moving to the farm in 2003, I have been collecting doors. I made an interesting discovery. When I started thinking about old doors, they started appearing everywhere. I found one lying in a ditch out in the middle of nowhere, another three were sitting in the trash with a "free" sign on them. Some were left in the green barn. Each of them is a treasure.

These doors are going to end up as part of a fun building I am going to build back in the pines.

This is the inspiration for the "fun" building destined for the pines.

This door has an unusual story. It used to be the back door of our farmhouse. Back in the heyday of this farm, the room we now use as a family room was the "meat locker." There actually was a rail where the farmer hung butchered cows, etc., and this door was all that was between the house and the weather!

This door was sitting just about where it is now when we bought the place. I am going to resurrect it somewhere in the green barn. Maybe I'll turn it into a Dutch door.

All of these doors used to have a home, all of them are used. One of our biggest goals on this farm is to recycle as much as possible. Recycling these doors connects me to their past and gives them a future that is not buried in a landfill.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Greening of America

Moss doing its part to "green up" the farm

I am officially ready for spring and warm weather. I usually enjoy each season to its fullest and try to live in each moment. However, this year, I have had my fill of cold and snow. Let's get that "greening of America" line moving north! J.P. McCarthy of WJR Detroit fame in the 1960's through the 90's used to monitior that. Who has spring right now? Where is that line?

Baseball's spring training is under way, (Go Tigers), March Madness is taking hold, (Go Spartans), a very large rooster pheasant has been running around our farmyard, great horned owlets are hatching out, kids at school are starting to take their coats off while at recess, bloggers are showing off their garden plot plans. All of these things should tell Old Man Winter to head north and take a nice, long nap under a glacier somewhere north of Nome.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I Google chicks on the Internet

Someone in my family recently challenged all of us online to write a 6 word story. There were many good ones and then there was mine: I Google chicks on the Internet. I am completely obsessed with chickens these days. I have placed an order with McMurray Hatchery in Iowa for 25 ornamental hens and they are due to arrive the first week of April.

I have converted a big shelf unit (which housed the kiln materials at my school since the 1960's, kiln post coming) into a brooder. This is sitting on the floor of my workroom, upstairs in the barn. I put it in there because I can close the door and I don't think any predators can get in. For extra safety, I built a lid that allows ventilation and viewing. I have heat lamps to keep the chicks warm while living in here. I hope they keep them warm enough. I DON'T want chicks in the house!! The chicks will live in here until they are feathered out. At that time, they will make the big move downstairs to the chicken coop.

The photos show how much work I need to do before the chicks can move into the coop! I need to rebuild the corner to enclose the coop and solidify the barn. I also need to add three Dutch doors.

Dutch door

I will build a wall and a door inside the barn to enclose the coop.

I am going to add a wall here so I can store feed, etc away from the chickens. This is where I will build several small enclosures for brooding hens, etc.

This picture shows how I need to add flooring/ceiling to the coop.

Lesley, my daughter, is going to help me redesign and relocate the nest boxes. I think they are too high and the openings too small for some of the birds I have coming.

I have twelve 4' x 8' sheets of insulation that I am going to put on this wall to insulate the coop from drafts, winter cold and summer heat.

This very old apple tree fell this winter and my wife had the idea of dragging it over into the chicken yard so they can play on it. I really like having excuses to get my Farmall B out and working. There is nothing like hooking chains onto something big and dragging it around with an old but powerful tractor!

Lesley's rendition of the FarmAll

I'm not an accomplished carpenter by any means, but I do know how to do all of the things I have to do to get the coop ready for the chickens. The nice part is that this is an old barn and in need of TLC and just about anything I do will be an improvement. I am surprised that the barn floor is actually level after over 100 years of use and abuse.

I have a lot of willing and able family members who will come and lend a hand. I'll bribe them with sloppy joes, cold drinks and good fun.

Wanna join us?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Life on the Farm

We have a beautiful little five acre farm located in mid-Michigan. We are surrounded by hundreds of acres of wild woods and fields that are carefully tended by a Christmas tree grower for the preservation of wild animals of Michigan. Twelve apple trees of various types, a grape arbor with four varieties of grapes, a few acres of wild blackberries and raspberries and sunflowers that have become self-seeding make up our farm. We have a drive-through corn crib, where I store my 1941 Farmall B tractor, a 11' x 20' chicken coop which I have converted into a studio for my creative wife, a storage shed where I would like to store a 1950's pickup some day, a green hay barn, a pig sty and a little chicken coop that needs some love. We add and improve each year and absolutely love the country life.

I have made a huge commitment by ordering 25 of the Ornamental Layer Collection from McMurray Hatchery. The chicks are due the first week of April. We have a medium sized, 100 year old barn, complete with a 24' x 18' chicken coop in the basement where these layers will spend the night. I intend for them to be as free-range as possible. I ordered a 164' poultry electric fence which will keep them safe during the day from roving coyotes and neighborhood dogs. I will lock them up each night in the coop.

I also am hatching 18 Coturnix Quail in my third grade classroom and the quail will have a cute new home as soon as they are ready to leave the brooder.

My 79 year old father wants me to raise 20 broilers for his freezer, so I will get those from the Family Farm store in the next few weeks. I understand they are ready to butcher in 6-7 weeks. He says he'll "help" me do that. More about him on another post.