Posts tagged rural

The Torture Chamber

For the second time in her short life, Tweedle Dum has gone broody on us.

Within a month of laying her first egg, she got a wild case of Baby Fever and went on to hatch two chicks – Benedict and Florentine. After a certain amount of time, she became aggressive towards her babies and got back into the business of being a regular chicken and laying eggs. And now, only a few months later, she won’t get out of the nesting box again. This time, she has no fertilized eggs beneath her. In fact, she sits on no eggs at all and doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Her mood has changed. She sits in a trance-like state all day. She growls and barks instead of clucking and chirping. She gets up once every 4 or 5 days to drink, eat, poop and cause havoc in the hen-house and then she returns to her non-existent clutch of eggs for another long stint. She is losing weight. And, most importantly, she has stopped laying eggs.

After about 18 days of this behaviour, I discussed it with a chicken-farming friend. She reminded me that heritage breeds tend to be more broody than other chicken varieties. It is probably caused by long-term in-breeding. Not only does her broodiness stop her from laying eggs, but it also causes her to stop preening, dust-bathing and caring for herself which can lead to mites, infection, malnutrition and other nastiness. Tweedle Dum needs to either successfully hatch a brood or she needs an intervention to break her.

With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures still dropping, we decided that it is not the right time of year to bring chicks into the Queendom. We could easily acquire fertilized eggs from a number of friends and colleagues, but we don’t have the facilities to keep Tweedle Dum and potential chicks both separate from the flock and warm in these late-winter nights. So an intervention it is.

What more could a girl need?

What more could a girl need?

I pulled the old brooding box out of storage and lined the bottom with thick cardboard. On top of that, I placed a wire mesh false floor which sits about 2 cm above the cardboard.  I filled up the old waterer, the chick feeder, a small dish of scratch and a lid of oyster shells, small gravel and egg shells. The point of a broody pen is to make the hen realize that this is not a good place to raise young. We left the light on 24 hours a day to prevent her from getting cozy. The mesh floor and the lack of bedding cause her to change her mind. She cannot get into a comfortable nesting position. The wire mesh is uncomfortable to stand on but it is more uncomfortable to lie down on. She is away from the other hens so that she cannot hear them and become defensive about her young. Although there is no water-boarding, it is truly a torture chamber.  On the upside, she is tempted to eat and drink. She has room to stretch and preen.

This Betty Ford Clinic is housed in our computer room. It was easy to grab Tweedle Dum out of her nesting box and place her in her temporary housing. I was told that a hen can be ‘broken’ in a day or two if you separate her as soon as she shows signs of broodiness. But Tweedle Dum had been broody for almost three weeks – so we were anticipating having her cooped up for about a week.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol' one eye stare.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol’ one eye stare.

For the first day, there was no change at all. She continued to growl at us and tried to assume her nesting stance in the darkest corner of the box. But the next day, she was standing more, eating more and occasionally chatted with us as we used the computer. By day 3, she had come completely out of her broody trance and was far more alert. She would watch us and chat away in an accusing tone, letting us know how displeased she was with us.

In the afternoon of the third day, with guilt weighing heavily on me, I decided to try re-integrating her with the other hens. There was enough daylight left for her to re-acquaint herself with the girls outdoors and, if she went directly back to the nesting box, I could separate her  again. With no issue at all, she joined the flock, began re-establishing the pecking order and chattering away in her typical bossy way.

Welcome back, Tweedle Dum.  You owe us about a dozen eggs, so get busy! Hopefully you’ll be broody again in April because I think a flock of 8 or 9 would be ideal!

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A Teeny Egg

What a joy to come home and find a teeny egg in one of the nesting boxes today.

The teeny egg on the right is from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip's.

The teeny egg on the right is the first egg from one of our chicks. The long brown egg on the left is Chip’s.

Florentine and Benedict hatched in mid-October which makes them four and a half months old now. Since then, we have been watching them for signs of typical hen or rooster behaviour. Until now they have kept their cards close to their feathered chests and kept us guessing and betting.

And although we got proof today that one of them is a hen, we still don’t know who is which!

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the right, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

They are hard to tell apart. Ben, on the left, is bigger and whiter. Flo, on the right, has a tall tail and is far more curious.

Although this egg is teeny, as the hen develops and gets used to the process, she will lay more normal-sized eggs. Perhaps her eggs will eventually be as big as Chip’s – since Chip is the bio-mother to one of them. But the pale pink colour is typical of a Chantecler, which would come from her father, Roo.

Although this egg is teeny, as she develops and gets used to the process, this hen will lay more normal sized eggs.

It gets lost in the egg carton!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

Teeny eggs like this give new meaning to a 3 egg omelette!

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Snow Day!

As the day winds down, the snow just keeps falling steadily. It has been snowing heavily for a couple of days now and the accumulations are shutting everything down. And, although the local forecasters keep claiming that the storm is over, we have proof that we are still in the thick of it. No end in sight, says me! We are sitting at 28 cm at our place so far. I’d like to break 30 cm, at least.

A thick white blanket covered everything!

A thick white blanket covered everything!

As the day wound down, FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest.

FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest. But it continues snowing!

The Queendom came to a stand still today:

No work – A district-wide snow day closed all the schools in the valley. FM decided not to risk a challenging drive in and attempted to work from home (between outages!)

No power – Truthfully we have had power some of the time but it was out for a chunk of the morning, out again for a few hours in the afternoon and then just as we were thinking about cooking dinner. Out here, no power means that our well water pump doesn’t work so our water supply is limited to what is left in the pressurized tank. It also means that our septic pump cannot pump UP to the field so you better limit your grey water and flushing. The good news is that the power outage was not due to one of our fallen trees. The other good news is that FM dusted off the generator in order to brew up a second espresso this morning!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful! We sipped tea and read in between walk-abouts.

No heat for the chickens. The two read heat lamps in the coop are out so it cools down pretty fast in there. These birds are hardy but Tweedle Dee is in a full moult right now and has lost most of her feathers. With sparse feathering on her wings and about half of her usual down, she is practically trembling. It baffles me that this would happen to her in the winter. I’m thinking of sneaking her inside beside our wood stove. (Don’t tell FM)

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see her bald patches and chicken skin showing.  Brrrr.

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see Tweedle Dee’s bald patches and chicken skin showing. Brrrr.

No light in the coop and this makes the birds CRAZY! A few months ago, the power went out so I headed out to check the chicks. There was mad flapping and crashing and begawking going on as they flew around in a panic. Ever since, I have left a battery-powered night-light inside which gives them a little glow.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

And on the fun side:

Snowshoeing instead of shoveling! Our driveway is LONG and there is no way we’d consider shoveling it but tramping the snow down with snowshoes was pretty fun. We managed to drive one car out to the end of the drive for easier escape tomorrow. The car acted like a snowplow and left a smooth center between the tire ruts.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

There is no way to shovel this on. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

There is no way to shovel this one. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

Hot Tubbing – Aren’t we glad we opted for the wood-fired variety! We spent hours in the tub over this snowy weekend.

It's hard to read but that thermometer reads 106!

It’s hard to read but that thermometer reads 104° F (40° C)!

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Creative Cooking – We had to pre-thaw a tub of homemade chili in the hot tub and then transfer it to a pot on the wood stove. We warmed up some of B’s Foccacia loaf and had a candle lit dinner for two.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub jsut long enough for it to loosen.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub just long enough for it to loosen.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides. FM is sipping a scotch while waiting for his rustic dinner.

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Who Needs A Rooster?

Let’s get something straight. I don’t have a rooster to give away. I am simply asking a rhetorical question:

Who needs a rooster as part of their flock?

“We do” is the quietly whispered answer.

After the crazy shenanigans of our Roo, FM and I have been pretty content to no longer have a rooster around. Our tiny flock of four hens and two unsexed chicks seem to miss him almost as much as we do (which is to say – Not At All). The hens no longer have to escape his unwanted attention. There is no more mad flapping to throw him off their backs. There is no more trickery as he deceitfully led them to non-existent food with a mind to take them by surprise. Everyone seems to have taken a deep breath and relaxed. The Queendom is home to happy hens who have not a care in the world.

But then, we lost Peeps.

Even when she was just a chick, Peeps Baby has got back!

Even when she was just a chick, Baby’s Got Back!

Dust Bath with BFF

BFF Peeps and Tweedle Dum enjoying a tandem dust bath on a hot summer’s day.

A week before Christmas, we found Peeps dead in a mound of her own feathers with her back side ripped open. Tweedle Dum fared better, having managed to squirm into a tiny space under the garden shed and escape the attack. Dum lost quite a few of her tail feathers during her escape and she was quite traumatized, having been less than a foot away from the demise of her BFF. Although we are unsure what animal killed Peeps, we have placed the blame on a neighbourhood dog who must have chased her and shaken her to death. It could have been a raccoon, despite the facts that it happened at noon in broad daylight, she still had her head (raccoons are known as the brain-eating zombies of the chicken world) and we rarely see raccoons here. I’m sticking with dog mauling.

There is a point in bringing up these gruesome memories. Would Peeps still be alive if we had had a rooster in our flock? Since their main role is to procreate, roosters are masters at keeping their ladies at hand. They don’t let hens wander away alone, but instead lure them back by enticing them with found food. Roo could often be seen, sprinting around the yard, calling each of his girls back home. If they wandered away in search of grubs and fresh greens, he would accompany them and keep one eye toward the sky, on the look-out for eagles. He rarely ate outside the coop. Instead, he would spend his time searching for food for them, watching for dangers, announcing his territory (every 10 seconds!) and attacking FM.

The only time I miss Roo is when I think of Peeps and her untimely death. She was a beautiful Welsummer hen with the fluffiest backside that you ever saw. She was made for sitting on a nest and raising chicks, although she didn’t live long enough to do this. She had a gravelly cluck that reminded me of an old waitress in a diner who just got back from her smoke break. She was the Den Mum of our coop, insisting on regular bedtimes and keeping the peace when tempers rose. When it came time to roost, she preferred the spot at the top left and, if anyone took her spot, she was able to unseat them by putting her neck under their wings and sending them off balance.

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Peeps had the flappiest wattles in the flock!

Even a s young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

Even as young pullet, Peeps lacked the bold colouring of her Welsummer sister, Chip. She seemed more Rhode Island Red than Welsummer.

So, the question remains. Do we need a rooster? My gut feeling is that we already have a new rooster in one of our baby chicks. Any day now, Benedict will reveal if he is the new man about town. I continue to wait (and hope).

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A Winter Wonderland

The snow-less, cold snap finally snapped this week and we joyfully received a refreshing dump of snow. About 15 cm of dusty, dry powder now covers everything around the Queendom. Following on the snowfall’s heels was a clear, bluebird day with temperatures plummeting to -11° C. I took a gentle trudge around the place and am almost speechless at its unbelievable beauty. That white blanket of snow blissfully covers up the bare, mucky, unkempt land that we call home. I, for one, would love snow cover year-round.

The gentlest of breezes would send snow puffs down from the trees. The pond is frozen solid, too!

The gentlest of breezes would send snow puffs down from the trees. The pond is frozen solid, too. Should I attempt skating?

This is our flock’s first experience with snow and they are not at all sure about it. When I opened up the coop, they all hustled outdoors in their usual way but, as soon as they reached the snow’s edge, they balked (or I should say they ‘bawked’). Although the new chicks were truly curious and unafraid, Tweedle Mum quickly called them back inside and everyone spent the morning on the roost under the heat lamps of the coop.

Tweedle Dee is completely unsure about the new white blanket.

Tweedle Dee is completely unsure about the new white blanket, despite the cleared pathway across the drive.

My loyal followers know that I will do just about anything for my hens and this sort of challenge appeals to me – and I had no other pressing issues at hand. So I cleared a path from the coop to the porch of the house, where they often sit in the sun or hide underneath. I sprinkled scratch down the new pathway and sat back to see who would take the bait.

Did I shovel the driveway? NO! But I did shovel a path for my girls. Who wants to be cooped up anyway?

Did I shovel the driveway? NO! But I did shovel a path for my girls. Who wants to be cooped up anyway?

Tweedle Dee stood for a long while at the gate, eyeing the snow and the path, but didn’t dare venture out. So much for the Chantecler breed being a frost-hardy Canadian heritage breed!

Of course, it was Chip who first dared the pathway and spent a leisurely day puffed up in a sunbeam on the porch.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow.

Lured by scratch and a chance to sit on my lap, Chip was the first to brave the snow. From her first days with us, she has always proven the most adventurous, fearless and willing.

The others waited for her all-clear call and then joined her. As far as I’ve seen, none has dared to step into the pantaloon-deep snow banks on either side of the pathway. It looks like we’re raising some chicken chickens!

Chip, Peeps and Tweedle Dee eventually braved the new experience. Tweedle Mum and the chicks soon followed. If you can get one chicken to do something, the rest will copy and follow along.

Chip, Peeps and Tweedle Dee eventually braved the new experience. Tweedle Mum and the chicks soon followed. If you can get one chicken to do something, the rest will copy and follow along.

Here they are, running back to the coop at the end of the day.

Here they are, running back to the coop at the end of the day. (They were moving fast!)

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Dreams DO Come True

A hot tub.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a nightly soak in a hot tub, in my backyard, under the stars with my FM. I have dropped hints, both subtle and flamboyant, but a hot tub never seemed to be high on the priority list. This desire began long before the Queendom was a twinkle in our eyes. In fact, my first suggestion of a hot tub came over 10 years ago when we first bought our home in Delta. Having chosen a house with no hot tub, I thought that the addition of one would be a fantastic 10th Wedding Anniversary gift to ourselves. But our nuptials that year were celebrated in high style with a running adventure across Peru and no funds were left for a backyard  tub.

It has become a bit of an inside joke between FM and me. We allude to it as we do our ‘five year plan’ or other future improbabilities (like raising goats, acquiring a back-hoe or taking a hot-air balloon ride). But when we moved to the Queendom, suddenly a hot tub became a real possibility. Our home has a lovely wrap-around deck, under the eaves of the roof, where we can chicken-watch, barbeque and admire the pond, but it cries out for a more expansive deck where we could dine and lounge in our spare time (haha!). But more than anything, it NEEDS a hot tub.

Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, FM directed my attention to a hot tub website. Alumi-Tubs are wood-fired hot tubs. The tubs are made of aluminium and have a deep firebox which is set in the water with heat-exchanger tubes, a safety fence and a chimney. It has cedar panelling around the exterior, giving it the look of a cedar tub but with none of the maintenance. It requires no electricity and, best of all, it is made in Sechelt, BC – only about 90 minutes drive and two ferry rides away from us.

This is not our place but it is the type of tub we just acquired!

By the end of the day, it was decided. We would pick up our new tub two weeks later, during our weekend adventure in that area, and bring it home with us on our flat-bed trailer. Eric and Wendy, the owners and manufacturers of the tubs, greeted us at their home and gave us a quick tutorial on setting up and using the tub. Together we rolled it onto the trailer and were on our way.

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A perfect fit! Homeward Bound!

When we got home, we simply rolled it off the trailer onto our driveway and filled it up with water. About halfway full, our water shut off and we realized that we had completely emptied our well (oops!). Giving barely a second thought to the repercussions of that problem, we soldiered on with the task at hand. We managed to fill the rest of the tub with water from our pond. (And now we know that our well holds approximately 250 gallons of water) By the end of the day, we were soaking in its luxurious warmth! (we only managed to raise the water temperature to about 97F so it wasn’t really very warm!)

Right now, it is sitting where we first placed it, in our driveway, since we have not quite built the fabulous deck I spoke of earlier in this post. We also have not put on the cedar-panelling or made a proper, insulated cover. These things will take time and our design ideas are numerous. Perhaps next summer?? Luckily it is quite portable and we can simply empty it and roll it anywhere we fancy. We purchased a submersible pump and water filter so that we can easily use our pond water to fill it, rather than our precious drinking water from our now replete well.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

With a hand-crafted log step and a garden obelisk towel hanger, we are ready to soak.

We are willing to push the 'trailer trash' look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We are willing to push the ‘trailer trash’ look a bit in order to make use of our tub now. Besides, it is away from the deck project area so that construction can take place any time.

We have used the hot tub every day since we got it, save one day of terribly inclement weather. We have almost mastered getting the water to reach 104F in the late evening after lighting the fire upon coming home from work. We have even had a few nights where it was too hot! FM has expressed his surprise at how much he enjoys our evening star-gazing sessions. It took twenty years to convince him but now the fun begins!

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