Thursday, July 26, 2012

First Egg!

The onset of lay will vary greatly from chicken to chicken. In general, heavier, heritage breeds take longer to start laying (up to 26 weeks) while lighter breeds and special egg-laying hybrids tend to lay earlier (16-18 weeks). My chickens are 19 weeks old and they are all heritage breeds so I have been trying not to get too impatient.

Look at what Mini Me brought me this afternoon!

Our first egg!

I thought she was punking me when she rushed up to the house, saying she had an egg. Nope, it was the real deal!

A pullet's first eggs are smaller than the size she will ultimately lay. This one is indeed tiny.

Our egg in a carton with large grade eggs from a grocery store

It weighs 1.3 oz. which puts it in the "pee wee" category. I didn't know there was an official size of egg called peewee until I looked it up!

The shell is nice and hard and symmetric. Sometimes new layers can lay strangely-shaped or soft eggs.

I can't wait to crack it open and have a taste of my first farm fresh egg! I'll write a post about that another time; I just couldn't wait to share today's news. It's amazing how excited I am about something that just came out of an animal's rear end!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Learning Season

With the wildfires, persistent drought, and blazing heat over much of the country, this has been a hard summer for many. The farmers in my area are really suffering. Animals are dying and many folks' crops are a total loss.

Our garden and yard are feeling the effects of the heat as well. Thankfully, we do not have to depend on our garden for our living or our survival, but it is depressing to put so much time and energy into something and not reap the rewards.

A handful of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries from our garden. 

Even though our harvest has been minimal, it has been a season of learning for me. I've gleaned some wisdom from our challenges that I'd like to share with you. Feel free to chime in with what this season may be teaching you.

  • Don't have all your eggs in one basket. Diversify the crops you plant because you never know what will thrive in the unique weather and pest conditions of each year. 

Garlic did very, very well for us this year

It's too bad you can't survive on garlic alone, because we did very well with that crop this year. We have plenty to eat fresh, dehydrate, and save to use as seed garlic for next year's crop. We also got an excellent cabbage crop (I made and froze lots and lots of bierocks). Our onions and blackberries did pretty well. We haven't harvested our potatoes yet, but they look to have done well. Everything else has struggled.

Hubby Dear and I are making a list of nutritious plants that have proven to do well in adverse conditions and are going to make sure they are part of our gardening plans. Cabbage, black oil sunflowers (to press for oil or use as poultry food), and potatoes are on the list so far. 

  • Diversify your preps. Don't just stock up on a year's worth of food for your family and think you're set. Learn how to produce your own food now because, as you can see from our example, there's no guarantee of success even after years of experience. 

  • If you can, diversify even further and get some livestock

These are dummy eggs I put in the nest boxes to encourage my girls to
lay there. They should start laying soon. 

If you've never done it before, you'd be surprised how easy it is to keep chickens. If you maintain them properly, they don't have to be smelly or noisy and they truly are less work than a dog!  I can't say the same for turkeys and ducks, but they aren't too bad. If it's legal in your area, start with chickens, the "gateway poultry". 

Ducks grow fast. Our ducklings are two weeks old and will be nearly full grown in a
few short weeks. Ours are pets, but Ancona ducks are excellent
layers and table birds and are capable of subsisting primarily on forage.
Three of our 10 week old turkeys.

  • Speaking of livestock, despite your best efforts, every now and then one of your animals will get killed. One day one of our chickens (the Easter Egger named Lita Ford) just disappeared. There was no sign of a struggle (feathers, blood, etc.) or a hole under the fence. She was just gone. The next day we saw four of our other chickens fly out of their run, so we now think that Lita probably flew out and was snagged by a coyote or dog. We're working on upgrading our run yet again so this won't happen. More trouble, more money. 

The day we noticed our chicken gone, there were lots of raptors in the skies above our homestead
and these big birds (I didn't think they were turkeys - buzzards, maybe?) in the pasture next door.
I didn't investigate further. :(

  • Be prepared for a multiple years of hardship. Our hot and dry weather started last July. Since then, we have had unrelenting heat and drought. That's kind of nice when January feels like March, but it has real consequences. You need to have a plan to overcome it. I'm starting to think that one year of food storage isn't really enough for our family. I don't know where I'll come up with the storage space for all the food I intend to store, but I'll just have to figure it out. 

  • Buy more seeds than you think you'll need. Especially when the weather is wonky, you'll need extra seed. We had to replant many of our crops and regret not buying more seed during our big seed purchase last winter. Seeds are cheap, so stock up ahead of time! 
Oh, and those cans of survival seeds? They aren't enough. Yes, I have one that is supposed to grow a huge garden of heirloom vegetables. I don't regret that purchase, but you can bet I'll be getting some backups in place. What if you had to replant your survival garden and didn't have the seeds to do it?  

  • Be able to identify common garden pests and have remedies on hand ahead of time.  Plants are especially susceptible to pests when they are under stress from heat and lack of water. We have had our first encounters with squash vine borers and aphids and, thankfully, we had items stored that could treat them. I like the book Good Bug Bad Bug because it has photos of common garden insects and suggests organic treatments for each kind of pest.

  • Spend time in your garden. Observe your plants carefully and act early if you notice a problem.

  • You can never have enough water stored. Our rural water district is getting way too much of Hubby Dear's paycheck because we are irrigating non-stop. If we had invested in rain barrels, we could be using stored water. Even the little bits of rain we've been getting add up to a surprisingly large amount when you collect everything that falls on your roof. 

What have you learned during this season? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are you prepared to handle Mount Washmore?

My week and a half without a functioning washing machine ended Monday afternoon. Let me tell ya, you really learn appreciate the conveniences of modern life when you have to do laundry for six people by hand! I'm glad that I faced this little challenge when I still had hot water flowing from from the tap and power to run the dryer.

This caused me to put some thought to the essentials you need to do your family's laundry in an emergency scenario. Clean laundry might not be your first concern during TEOTWAWKI, but I guarantee that you will be thankful to have a plan in place.

Breathing Hand Washer
Image from
Basic List of Laundry Supplies:
  1. Water - Do you have enough water stored to do laundry in an emergency? I know that I don't, but I hope to remedy this problem in the next few months. I do, however, have some natural bodies of water nearby. If I collected water from these sources, ran it through a rudimentary filter to catch sediment, and then boiled it, I could use it for my laundry. Sounds like a hassle, doesn't it?  
  2. A large pot or kettle - You need to be able to heat the large amounts of water it takes to clean your clothes. I plan on using my water bath canner.
  3. A way to heat water - I hope you've already thought about how you will cook your family's food during an emergency. Woodstove, outdoor grill, butane stove, whatever - the same thing can do double duty and heat water for your laundry. Just make sure you have enough fuel on hand to do the job. Of course if you are relying on some tiny little camping stove, it might not be capable of heating huge kettles of water.  
  4. A three month supply of laundry detergent - Track the amount of detergent you use over the course of three months, then make sure you have that amount on hand at all times. Don't forget to rotate your stored detergent since it does technically expire. A quick Internet search revealed that it lasts 9 months to a year if it is unopened. 
  5. A "washing machine" - When I washed all my family's laundry by hand, it was literally with my hands in hot soapy water. It got the job done, but I was left with tired, waterlogged hands at the end of it. A minimal investment in a plunger-type hand washer would have made my life so much easier. I washed my clothes in my laundry sink. You might set aside a couple of clean five gallon buckets for this purpose if you do not have a dedicated laundry sink. 
  6. A wringer - This is a more pricey investment, but key to a more enjoyable laundry experience. Otherwise you will have to use your hands to wring out excess moisture from your wet laundry and I can assure you from experience that you will not find wringing multiple pairs of jeans or a mound of towels to be fun. Lehman's sells two wringers ("good" and "best")and you can attach them to a 5 gallon bucket, chair, or other hard surface. 
  7. Somewhere to hang clothes to dry - An outdoor clothesline or indoor drying racks. Check out all the options that Lehman's has. No, this post was not sponsored by Lehman's! I just really like them. :)

For extra credit: 

You'll note that I haven't addressed ironing. That's because I don't iron if I can possibly help it! If ironed clothing is important to you, Lehman's does has a selection of irons you can use off the grid.

Have you ever had to wash clothes by hand for an extended period of time? What are your must-haves to do laundry in an emergency situation? 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ancona Ducklings!!

After 28+ days of waiting, we have nine gorgeous Ancona ducklings! They were due on July 5th. There were lots of pips that day, but none of the eggs seemed to be moving closer to hatching. Nevertheless, I slept on the couch so that if any of the babies hatched in the night, I could hear them.

4:30 AM on July 6th, I was in the middle of strange, poultry-related dream that included Terry Golson (from Hencam) and I going antique shopping.  Some persistent peeping penetrated my slumber and I ran to the kitchen. This is what I saw:

An egg is unzipping!

One of the eggs was unzipping, which means that the duck was turning around in the egg and poking holes in the shell. Boy, was it loud! 

Pushing out

Welcome to the world, little duck! 

This little duck was full of energy. Not long after he hatched, he was running around the incubator, using the other eggs for soccer balls.

Duck #1 loving on Duck #2

When more started hatching, Duck #1 started harassing the occupants of the other eggs. He kept poking his bill in the zipped portion of the eggshell and making the other duck squawk. It is recommended that you keep newly hatched ducklings in the incubator for up to 24 hours before you transfer them to a brooder. This allows them to stabilize and dry off. We had to remove Duck #1 after just a couple of hours or he could have potentially hurt the next couple of ducklings. He was quite a bit more frisky than they were and could have ruptured some incompletely absorbed yolk sacs.

Hubby Dear performing surgery on a struggling duckling's egg

A few of the ducklings showed signs that they were struggling. There are a couple of schools of thought about helping ducks and chicks to hatch. Some say you should just let nature take its course, survival of the fittest, as it were. Others say that it is OK to gently assist ducklings, especially if the humidity might have been wonky and the chick or duck could have dried out a bit and got stuck to the membrane of the egg.

We decided to help out those ducks that were clearly in trouble. We set up the brooder lamp and warmed a towel to rest the egg on. Hubby Dear took a pair of dull tweezers and gently chipped away at the shell while I swabbed warm water on the membrane with a Q-tip. You can read about the technique we used here.

We opened the shell ever so slightly. Then we put it back in the incubator for an hour or two. 

We moved very slowly, trying to give the duckling time to do most of the work. A couple of the ducks needed a lot of help, some required just a bit, but most hatched out entirely on their own.

See the tiny toenails and the bit of bill?

The first three ducklings in the brooder. Two of the three ducks don't have enough patterning to make them ideal
examples of the Ancona breed. The duck on the right is more desirably marked. The pink thing
in the right of the picture is an old stuffed animal we gave them to cuddle.

After a month of waiting, we were soon deluged with adorable ducklings.

A little girl fresh out of the incubator. 

Another little girl

A boy 

Another boy

Another boy

One last little boy

If you were keeping track, you'll see that we ended up with three girls and six boys. So we think, anyway. We watched this video on determining gender in waterfowl and used what we learned to vent sex our ducklings.

Although it's hard to acknowledge when surrounded by their extreme cuteness, we can't keep all our ducks. That kind of boy to girl ratio would make our girl ducks extremely unhappy when they get to breeding age! Ideally, we would have gotten five girls and kept one boy but of course it doesn't always work out the way you want. We are going to keep all three girls and two boys. We have found homes for the extra four boys.  These cuties are not hard to sell. :)

Cute, but certainly messy!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday Morning Miscellany

  • I broke my washer last Friday.

There is a 3" slit in the gasket 

I had an underwire bra go amok and slash a huge hole in the door gasket. It's a freak accident that is going to cost me $250 and  a week and a half without a functioning washer. In the meantime, what am I going to do about our laundry? 

I decided to wash it all by hand. 

I'm spending lots of time here

I've got detergent, plenty of hot running water, and even a dryer. I thought that there was no reason why I shouldn't be able to take care of it. Well, several days in, it's apparent that washing laundry for six people by hand is very tedious. I need to invest in a few simple tools that will make the job easier should I have to wash laundry by hand in the future. Something to agitate the laundry would be nice, and something else that would wring out water is essential. My laundry remains so wet after I wash it that it takes forever to dry. I just keep telling myself that this is an excellent learning opportunity and I'm counting down the days until my washer is fixed. 

  • We finished our chicken moat expansion. 
The fencing now encompasses the new duck house area and connects all the poultry
together in a circuit around the garden

I'm glad to be done with construction for a while. We're taking a brief breather and catching up on backed up garden chores. In a couple of weeks we'll have to address our turkey housing issues. 

  • My Ancona duck eggs are due to hatch today. When I woke up this morning, two of my eggs had pips (little holes in the shell). Thirteen of the 15 eggs made it to the end of the incubation period. I hope that I get a wide variety of colors and patterning and that most of them are girls. That's not too much to ask for, right? I found homes for any extra birds that should hatch. I should admit that things are moving slow enough at this point that I hope I get any ducks to hatch. 

Come on and hatch, little ducklings!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

July 1 Garden in Pictures

The north half of the garden. Our corn is doing well. We're still harvesting strawberries,
swiss chard, and cabbages. The onions are getting visibly larger and may be harvested this month.

We added the trellis system for vining plants. The cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe and zucchini
are just now starting to take off.

The south half of the garden. These boxes were newly constructed this year. Potatoes on the left,
peppers and tomatoes on the right.

We're growing Peredovik black oil sunflowers in this empty space. Next year we'll add more
garden boxes and I'll have to find a new spot for our sunflowers. I have grand plans for them... 

Just opening

Full bloom

The Turkeys' Excellent Outdoor Adventure

We moved the turkeys outside the very day we finished the duck house. They were still living inside a brooder in my bathroom. When you see the pictures below, you will realize just how inappropriate that was!

They grew quickly from cute little fuzzballs

They were approximately 1 week old here

into loud, demanding escape artists.

Just about a month old here. They foul up their water like nobody's business.

And for the record, turkeys are messier than chickens. This will be the first and last time we raise turkeys unless we can figure out a way to get them out of the house sooner. I don't mind baby poultry indoors for the first two weeks, but after that it becomes pretty miserable. The whole "turkeys are so delicate they can't possibly touch dirt until they are 10 weeks old or they'll die" thing is hard to deal with. 

The duck house is a temporary solution to our turkey housing problem. We knew we would have a few weeks between the time we finished the duck house and when we would  need it for ducklings, so we decided to move the turkeys out there to acclimate them to the outdoors and their chicken neighbors.

How would you like to have this crew living your bathroom? 

We were in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave with no end in sight, but it couldn't be helped. The turkeys had to go. We moved them out in the cool of the evening (well, as cool as it gets when the high is 108 for back-to-back days) and placed a tarp over one end of the run to give them some shade.

And they loved it. No signs of them croaking yet despite the fact that they've been out there a week and they are only seven weeks old. Shhhh! Don't tell them they are supposed to be weaklings or they might start getting ideas. No way was I going to keep these behemoths inside for another month. 

The turkeys want the chickens to come and play

The turkeys seem to be pretty curious about the chickens. They peep loudly to get their attention but for the most part the chickens ignore them. 

We've already installed the gate for the addition to the moat 

We hope to get the area around the duck house fenced in this week. Our ducks are due to hatch this week, too, so once again I'll set up the brooder in the bathroom. Who needs a clean bathroom anyway? ;)