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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Could I Interest You in Some Free Poultry?

Larry and Kathy, my neighbors to the west of us who raised New Hampshire Reds before retiring to West Linn, came over to give my birds a look see....they can't tell the sex from looking at them, either. So they gave an old friend a call on my behalf; this old friend used to judge chickens at the fair.  What did she say about crowing pullets?

"Hens never crow," was the reported response.

I know that some of you are interested to see me do the homesteading thing and slaughter these guys for lunch but I have a sticky problem with that.

The problem is simply that they are still way too small to get a meal out of but way too noisy to keep in my sleepy little burg.  I call it my sleepy little burg because it's really a bedroom community, and a little more chi chi than I had bargained for.  Actually, had I known ahead of time that it's as chi chi as it is, or at least pretending to be, I probably wouldn't have settled here.  But anyway, the important thing to know is, I can't raise the boys to proper slaughter weight here because they are too noisy for the neighborhood.

So I needed to get rid of them as quickly as I could.  Fortunately, my friend Rae was able to take them, so this afternoon Steve and I had a pleasant ride down several country roads, and now the boys can make all the noise they want to on Rae's forty acres.  We watched them for a little while; the pecking order was quickly re-established, although all three of my birds didn't allow themselves to be bullied too far; a couple of combs got bloodied, but there was no out and out mayhem. Now they have much more room in which to roam, and now there are others of their ilk, should they get bored with each other's company. Rae's Buff Orpingtons are mighty pretty girls, and were I not so gun shy, I'd try again, but I'm determined that the next batch of pullets are going to be pullets (darn it!) and the only way to guarantee that is black or red sex links, so that's what's on the docket.

It was a lovely, sunny day on which to drive down to drop off the birds, and we stopped at a farm stand on the way back home.  I already had a carrot salad made from the carrots I harvested this morning, and a leftover pasta salad from last night, so we bought a couple ears of corn and some green tomatoes so that I could fry up some green tomatoes, which I love. We had them with a tarragon-bacon ranch dressing and they were as awesome as I needed them to be.

This weekend was spent harvesting what I could out of the garden and prepping beds for a fall and winter garden.  I read in this month's MEN that the way to get stuff to germinate in the hot summer weather is to shade the beds so that they're cooler.  I was thinking I might put the stuff that I'll start in six packs, like cabbages, lettuce and kale, under the asparagus, because it's nice and shady under there.  I'll have to rig something up for the root vegetables.  This weekend I got some weird little cabbages, which are worthy of a separate post, some carrots, and I took out all the peas, which were done.  The peas I picked will go for seed or soup. I also got a second batch of French batavian crisp head lettuces off the roots I left in that bed, and a big bunch of shallots harvested; the shallots are cooling their jets, or rather, I should say drying their jets in the garage.  The garlic is very close to being ready, but I didn't want to pick it this weekend.

The next post will be about our new metal roof, which should be done in a couple of days.

But tomorrow morning I get to sleep in a whole fifteen minutes later, since I don't have chicken chores.

We'll remedy that as soon as possible.

Friday, July 22, 2011

It Gets Worse

Now Ethel's crowing too.  I watched her with my own two eyes as they were all slowly making their way down the ramp this morning.

It sure explains a lot of their behavior.  But damn.

Three roosters?

I gotta get rid of these birds but quick.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It Just Gets Better

You know I've suspected for some time that Vivian is a cockerel, and not a pullet.  She's taller than the other two, and is sporting a distinctly rooster-like face.  Violet is colored just like her, but isn't as tall, however, Violet has the same tail as Vivian.  Ethel is colored differently- she's a much richer brown, and her tail is sassy.  It's very short and curls up- not much there at all.  But Vivian and Violet have much bigger tails.

Ethel in front, with her little tail, and a bro

This morning when I started my preparations for changing water and filling feeders, one of the girls started to crow.  So I decided to take a look through the big south window to see if I could catch her in the act and figure out who's the budding cockerel.  I peered through the window in the morning half light.  Yep, it was Vivian alright.  But wait a minute! Violet crowed next!  Then Vivian.  Then Violet.  They traded off crowing for at least a full minute.  Crap! One chick culled due to severe deformity, and two cockerels out of four original chicks means a seventy-five percent failure rate on my first attempt at laying hens.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but I have to get these crowing cockerels the hell out of dodge before the neighbors complain. Roosters are strictly verboten in my little burg.

Vivian and her roostery face

The funny thing is, Ethel, for all her having a much shorter tail, seems to have the same shaped comb and wattles as the boys do, but her tail is really distinctly smaller than theirs.

The boys and their longer tales

Something else nailing the lid on the boys' fate is the fact that they are both sporting spur buds, which Ethel does not have.

Anyone have any ideas for me?  I'm not ready to slaughter for eating, and I would guess they are either, but I'm not sure what to do next. But I do need to get rid of them quick, and I need to look into started pullets.

But only one pullet left out of four chicks.  Sheesh.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens

....always come to bad ends.

I'm not sure about the whistling girls (after all, I whistle, and I'm still here), but one of the 'girls' crowed again this morning.  My friend Rae thinks it's too early to tell, which is somewhat true, because so far the girls all still look pretty much alike, except for coloring. But their sizes and combs and all that are still all shaped the same. Only Vivian looks ever so slightly taller and her neck is slightly leaner and longer.  My money's on Vivian being a rooster, which for me is going to be a poultry disaster.  I'll be down to two chickens, and two eggs a day is not going to cut it for us, since we go through a dozen and a half to two dozen eggs every week.

I guess the only thing to do is to keep waiting to see how they're going to change so that I can tell which one is really doing the crowing.


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dichotomies of Technology

I read on one of Gene Logsdon's (The Contrary Farmer, Small Scale Grain Raising, etc.) posts recently that using a washing machine is a good way to get clean clothes clean, but that if you have dirty farming clothes, a washboard is better.  He even explained how to use one (not that he admitted that he has, but evidently he's witnessed the wife doing it often enough to be an armchair expert on the matter).  At any rate, it occurred to me that I've planned for laundry when things might go south, but having a good old fashioned washboard might be a big help.  And Gene says they do a really good job of getting clothes clean.  So I sprung for one.  Bought it off of Amazon (my favorite General Store these days - really) for around twenty-four dollars.

I thought it was an interesting statement of our times to see a URL painted on the top of a washboard.

On the one hand, I'm really curious to try this thing, but on the other hand, the only way that I could fit doing laundry this way into my schedule is if the ship really did hit the sand and I don't have a job again and we're living off our soon-to-be PV system's electricity which I need for the fridge and freezer so there's no using it for laundry or anything else so frivolous.  I really hope it never comes to that, but in case it does, I should have the laundry nicely covered, now that I have the washboard.

It goes with the half dozen bars of Fels Naptha soap I bought for a buck six apiece and threw into the back of the laundry cupboard. They don't take up much room and will keep forever.

The only problem I can foresee is that there won't be enough Scotch to get me through all that soap.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Homesteading Update, 17 July 2011

This weekend was about getting the dental checkup (they're no worse off than they were six months ago, but a couple new fillings are in my future, probably January), marathon shopping, and my favorite unglamorous job- cleaning the garage.

In addition to everything else going wrong with the planets these days, the idea that the US might default has gotten my jitters up again, so this weekend I hauled Steve around Happy Valley to load up on things I don't think we should run out of, like toilet paper, romano cheese, butter, and wheat, among other things (vanilla, black pepper).  The second batch of twenty-five pounds each of hard and soft white wheat are cooling their jets in the deep freeze for a month at five below zero, after which they'll get poured into five gallon buckets and sealed.  The grinding your own wheat thing has become a bit of a revelation for us, actually.  The pancakes I've been making with fresh ground soft wheat have really been pretty stellar, and Steve made a batch of pretzels recently with fresh ground hard white wheat that were pretty phenomenal.  He was worried that they were going to be hard to roll, but he found them to be quite the opposite, actually, and they were easily the best pretzels I've ever had.  They were really, really good.  Tonight we had pizza with the soft wheat as an experiment; I wasn't surprised that it was really too tender for  a good pizza crust.  We both agree that grinding before you need the flour is the way to go, so I made a special effort to remember to lag bolt the bench to which the mill is bolted to the wall.  The bench is much steadier now when we grind, so it should be a lot easier to accomplish by oneself going forward.

The one side of the garage was seriously straightened out today so that I can order two cords of wood to be delivered the week after next and still be able to have a reasonable hope of getting it all put away.  Starting tomorrow, the new roof is going up, so the wood can be delivered the week after.  Some Saturday in August we'll have a proper chimney sweep here to give the chimney a good looking after- he's even British! I just wish I were going to be home so that I could shake hands with him.  Once, many years ago when I worked for the hardware store, a chimney sweep went through my line, and I asked him if I could shake hands with him, and he obliged me.  I don't know if he changed my luck for the better, but I'm still here!

After the roof, and the firewood, and the chimney sweep, it will be time for the solar guys to show up.  Steve has instructions to capture all of this for you.

So much to do, so little time!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ramping Up For Bedtime

Well wouldn't you know it?  As soon as I report the girls are balking at bedtime they make a liar out of me.

Last night at nine-thirty, which is well past dusk and getting pretty dark by then, I strapped on my head lamp and grabbed a cup of yogurt and went out to the coop to herd chickens. There were none to be found.  The girls had taken themselves to bed, so I locked up.

I guess they've figured out the ramp because they came down for breakfast, which is where I left them this morning.  But this evening when I came home and asked how the girls were, Steve said they were fine, he'd brought them more water and greens (and they were appreciative).  He also added that when he brought stuff out to the compost pile this morning while his breakfast was cooking around nine o'clock, he looked in the window and they were all in the coop.

Which means, of course, that after breakfast, they are going back to bed.

They really are teenagers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homesteading Update, 12 July 2011

July garden
Pea harvest
For awhile there, the old homestead was looking like a seed farmer lives here, the brassicas had gotten that out of hand.  After almost a full week of work paid employment, I finally got a chance to catch up on the stuff that took a back seat to the chicken coop.

While Steve graciously painted the coop (without being asked- he just took it upon himself, the prince), I ripped out all kinds of stuff on Saturday.  I harvested as much of the kale, broccoli rabe, and escarole that I could, and then tore them all out along with the arugula, which I managed to get rid of just in time.  Then Sunday I hilled up potatoes, and planted eggplants, bell peppers, and poblano and serrano chilies. Also onion sets.  I'm a little ashamed of using the store bought starts, but if I don't, I have no chance at a decent summer garden.  As it is, the weather is not exactly the essence of summer, so I may not get any of the aforementioned or tomatoes this season.  Why?

Well, today it rained.  Not so big a deal, you folks in the east and south are probably saying.  Except that instead of being ninety-six, with the same degree of relative humidity, it was sixty-seven today. In the middle of July.   This year's start to summer is even later than last year's start.  This morning I got a taste of what it's going to be like caring for the chickens this fall and winter.  Methinks I'd better get the feed hoppers put together.  I bought the materials for them last weekend but couldn't bring myself to make them when what the girls have is sufficing for now and the garden was screaming for attention.

In other homestead news, Steve has contracted with our regular contractor for a new metal roof, after weeding out all the competition.  I'm glad Jef won it because we can trust him; he's done a lot of work for us and he's a super nice guy.

We also know where he lives.

And then just yesterday, Steve announced to me the company to which he'll award the solar photovoltaic and solar hot water work. Mr. Sun Solar has been doing solar installations since 1980, and while they weren't the cheapest, they gave us the largest sense of comfort.  They generally did the best job selling us the system because they answered Steve's barrage of questions, and actually came out to the house again with their electrician to check out the electrical panel.  It needs an upgrade which will get rolled into the total cost of the installation, which will go into the state and federal tax credits as well as the rebate from the Energy Trust of Oregon. The other guys either said we didn't need it, or their electrician estimated it from a photograph of the panel.  The best reason for doing the panel upgrade now, aside from the aforementioned credits and rebate, is that it will be done already if we decide to buy an electric vehicle later on, and we'll have had a little help paying for it.

The girls are adjusting well to their new home, and the two of us are adjusting to separate chicken chores as well.  I handle letting them out in the morning and rustling up their breakfast, as well as taking care of their water needs, and Steve brings them greens and tops off their water in the afternoon.  Then I take care of getting them to bed, which proves to be an interesting challenge every evening.  One night we were watching a movie and forgot to get them to bed on time, and they were still down in the run, waiting for me to come put them to bed (read: bribe them up the ramp with yogurt).  With today's rain, they came down for breakfast, but Steve said they went back to bed afterwards.  He looked out and saw no chickens in the run, and the next time he looked out, there were two brown head sticking out of the pop hole.  Then early this evening they were up and down the ramp, but never really taking themselves to bed.  But every night it's the same thing: I bring out the yogurt, Ethel (Front and Center Ethel) rushes to be first, Vivian thinks about it a little bit and then follows, and Violet misses the whole thing because she's truly clueless.  I have to stand out there for awhile, coaxing the girls to come on up for Yogurt Time (which so reminds me of a line from Auntie Mame), and it's getting old.

But then again, they're teenage pullets.

Maybe I shouldn't expect them to go to bed at a decent hour.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Riders of Rohen

Another pun. Sorry, I couldn't resist it.  I may just lose readers over my unabashed love of puns.

Anyway, the girls are not taking to the ramp, so I will fix it just as soon as I can.  Tonight I had an easier time of luring them where I could grab them because I used their favorite treat: a ladle full of milk.  Vivian was the first to go, because she's the hardest to grab, and I pulled her tail (again) because she's just that fast but not quite fast enough.  Violet and Ethel basically allowed themselves to be caught (although they squawked indignantly), and although I held the ladle for them again through the pop hole, they were not as interested as before.  I think they're mad at me. Vivan especially.

This new job appears to be a good one, but I'm going to be working hard. However, I'm sure I'll learn a ton.  What will be of the most interest to me is to see how well I'll continue to do this homesteading thing with a full time gig, like everybody else does.  Tonight after getting home about a quarter after six, I made dinner, grubbed up and cleaned the garage so Steve could put the car away, as promised. Then I hilled up a couple of the potato plants with the rest of the pine shavings I had on hand, and finally got around to planting the remaining tomato starts, which are a foot tall and sporting blossoms. They were pretty sorry looking by the time I got them planted, so we'll just see how they do.  Then I wrangled chickens, and by the time I was done, it was getting pretty dark.

But I have had a taste of a full day of work, and some homesteading work afterwards, and I think it'll be okay.

I just hope I'm not too busy to think up more puns.

*okay, for those of you not into Tolkien, Hensdeep is a pun on Helmsdeep, which was the fortress that the Riders of Rohan built for themselves, to which the ROR, the elves, and the hobbits repaired to fight off the Orcs, and the Wild Men.  The Riders of Rohen is a pun on The Riders of Rohan.  I should probably be ashamed of myself but I'm not.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Coop de Ville

So it is done.  After many weeks of framing, and several days of erecting, the coop. for all intents and purposes, is done.  I couldn't be more relieved, as I start my new job tomorrow.  Talk about your deadlines.

Here are the pictures I know you've all been waiting for:

Here's me, tamping down wire that runs under the coop and run.  We later filled it in with dirt.  Yes, dirt.  I don't have anything as nice as soil.  Well, maybe in the raised beds, but I digress.

Me again, raising the run.

The next trick was to get the west side of coop up, and then the south side.  That big hole sports a window, which I may have to shade somehow later in the summer.  But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, because I currently have no ideas.

Now the east and north sides of the coop are up.  That's me again in the opening for the nest box, to be constructed later.  I have until September to get it done, which means I start tomorrow.  Just kidding.  I have to work tomorrow.  I'll start it Saturday.

I built roof trusses, using my own rather unorthodox methodology, but I'm not concerned that it's not constructed like a normal roof because it doesn't have to hold as much weight as a regular roof.  I merely have to be concerned with it flying off in a good gale. Hopefully I have it screwed down well enough.

Here's Steve, getting the roofing panels on.  That boy performed yeoman service during the whole ordeal.  I could not have done it without his help.  He's doing the roof because I don't do ladders, generally speaking.

We managed to finish the coop well enough to be able to house the girls in it last night.  They had a day camp on Friday when I rather optimistically anticipated being done with the coop then. We didn't finish until Sunday, and even then, the sun had already gone down around nine-thirty and I was screwing the hinges onto the west end doors in the half light.  I didn't get my dinner and glass of wine until six minutes to ten last night.  But I got my chickens out of my house!

Here's Violet on the ramp.  She may be a shrinking violet, but she took to that ramp pretty quickly.  Probably because she remembered there was breakfast in the coop.  The ramp is steep, and while they can handle steep, they can't do slippery, which it is also, so I need to figure out how to rough it up.  I think I'm going to go look for stair tread tape.  Too bad I threw out all the asphalt shingles that were hanging out by the side of the house (thank you, previous owner). But back to Violet: isn't she a pretty girl?

This is the finished (relatively) coop and run.  The nest box hole has a temporary cover on it.  I still need to add some trim and paint it, but other than that, it's done. Oh, and one of the east end doors is sticking, so I have to fix that too.  But it's done.

Here's the south side, with its big picture window that will be a boon on cold, sunny winter days, but may be a bit of a problem on hot, sunny summer days.  We'll just have to see.  You can also see the east end doors, which is where I would clean out the coop. I coated the bottom and lower eight or so inches of the coop in vinyl sheet goods, which should protect the floor and make cleaning easier.

The west end of the run, with the people door.  If you look closely, you can see Violet in the pop hole.  She slowly and carefully made her way up the ramp to go have some breakfast in the coop.  I really need to fix that ramp today.  I also put it on hinges, but Steve thinks it needs to be permanently affixed to the coop and left down all the time, so I'll work on that, too.

Happy chickens, checking out their new digs.  They have forty square feet of run space, which should be enough for three chickens.  Maybe next year, they'll get two more sisters, but I'm not brooding them inside the house again.  I'm hanging on to the quarter inch ply I have left over from the dining nook, and I'll probably build a hover brooder out of it for under the coop.  But that's next year, and I still have to think about it.

The pun I promised?  Well, this coop was built to be a fortress against the raccoons we have in the neighborhood. We also have coyotes and various raptors, including bald eagles, but I'm less concerned with them.  No, it's the raccoons I worry about.  They are the Orcs of the natural world.

That's why I built my girls Hensdeep.