Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ducklings, Chicks, and Poults... Oh my!

As the days warm, the "Drakes of Summer" return to this part of the world. Our normally stand-offish hens take one look at the boys that have been pestering them all winter long and are only too eager to fly away with some fresh looking young drake. A sadder lack of morals you don't want to see! One of our errant Mallard hens returned a couple weeks ago with a brood of ducklings trailing behind, as is often the result of such tomfoolery. I don't mind the new babies. In the wake of bird flu warnings in other states, I do wish our ladies would stay to home. Maine is not one of the states currently fighting this epidemic, but with the return of wild birds from other parts, it could all too easily happen here. I hate to pen our birds up, but we are considering it- for their safety until this passes.

As with the goat kids, we usually leave chicks, ducklings, keets, and other babies born on the farm to the care of their respective Mothers. It means less work for us; changing brooder pen litter, extra time feeding separately, etc. And, we feel that it makes for more naturally cared for creatures. We are not trying to tame our chickens or goats into behaving like domestic dogs, after all. So long as the Mommas are providing for their young, we leave them to it.

For the past couple weeks, we left the ducklings to the care of their Momma. They all looked healthy and in fine form. We could easily spot them in the morning learning what they should eat or washing up in an extra deep puddle in our drive way. By afternoon, Momma and the ducklings meander to the back yard to nibble on this and that on their way to the shallow stream bed. Sean and I bandied about the idea of capturing them and moving them into the barn, but hadn't made any real attempt to. After all, she managed to set on her nest for a month and hatched a good clutch of young, without our interference.

In the wake of several days of cold rain, we had a bit of a scare. Sean found Momma duck wandering around, but she only had 4 ducklings with her! Sean backtracked and searched in the direction she came from and heard a very faint "peep, peep, peep" from one very cold and miserable duckling, tucked into an island of tall grass beside the stream. This baby was in danger. Sean brought it inside to me to warm up while he collected the other ducklings and Momma Mallard and searched for the two still missing ducklings.

Inside the house, this little one needed to get warm and dry as fast as possible. I started by partially filling the sink with tepid water. Then, slowly added hot water until the bath was toasty warm. I thought this would be the quickest way to bring up the duckling's body temperature. Within a couple minutes, the duckling was peeping and alert. The next order of business was to get it dried off. I wrapped it in a warmed towel, grabbed the heating blanket and made a cave of warmth. Meaghan watched over it while I went to see if I could help Sean locate its two missing siblings.

Sean met me in the back yard with them. Momma Mallard was NOT interested in joining her babies, though. We tried to lure her out by bringing the basket of ducklings to where she was hiding from us. We hoped that she would hear their calls for her and come out. Ducks are smarter than chickens. Instead of coming out or revealing exactly where she was hiding, Momma Mallard called to her ducklings to come in to her! And, they were listening! They made a mad scramble up the side of the basket in an effort to get to their Momma hiding somewhere in the thicket. But, with the thought of finding cold, dead ducklings after the storm, we decided to intervene and bring the babies inside with us. Momma Mallard would weather the rain storm just fine, those babies maybe not.

We settled the ducklings into the brooder with the three month-old chickens living there for the night. Not a perfect solution since the ducklings like nothing better than to slosh about in the water container making a grand mess in the pen, but it would do until morning when we could move them into the barn. The duckling in danger perked up in no time and was able to rejoin its siblings.

The next morning, Momma Mallard was spotted calling for her young in the yard. Being apart from them overnight made her much easier to catch. She wanted to get to those babies! Sean lured her into a corner and gently swept her up. Three slightly older ducklings (from our hatch) were already living in the barn. We hoped Momma Mallard would not mind the addition of three more babies to tend. She didn't. We watched in case she tried to bite or shove them away. Because the other three were several weeks older, we also had to be sure that they wouldn't be too rough on the new ducklings. All was just fine.
Look at the size difference between full grown, one month, and one day. 

In a few weeks, all the ducks will be reintroduced to our flock. I love happy endings.

I also love surprise beginnings...

 Sean discovered a very broody Wyandotte sitting in a bucket full of eggs! 10 eggs in all. We spirited one away to candle it and discovered that they were very nearly ready to hatch. So, we let her be to do her thing. And, just a few days later brought us a bucket full of peeping chicks. Had she nested in a bucket downstairs in the barn, we would have left them alone. She didn't. She laid her eggs in a bucket upstairs with no real safe way for them to get down for food or water other than navigating a flight of stairs. This thought gave me visions of peril and terror. We decided to move Momma, bucket of chicks and all, to a safer location- an unused coop from last year.

All nestled in are Momma Wyandotte, six Wyandotte chicks, and one very distinctive Rhode Island Red chick. Apparently, another hen discovered her nest and laid an egg before Mrs. W got broody. She hasn't noticed or minded that one looks quite different. :) Chickens are good like that.

You can just see the lone chick with the chipmunk stripes tucked snugly under his Momma's feathers in this image.

Now that the duckings are sorted and the bucket of chicks is settled into its home, perhaps hatching will begin to run  on our schedule....

Or, in light of our broody Red-breasted Bronze Priscilla's unauthorized nest up in the rafters of the barn, we have a ways to go yet... Stay tuned! ♥

Thanks for visiting today, friends. We hope you have a good one- wherever you may be.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ducking Hatching: First of 2015

With the kidding season behind us, it is time to turn our attention to hatching birds. We need to hatch some chicks, ducks, guineas, geese, and turkeys this year. We won't have many chicks for sale this season. We have so many requests for eggs from new Customers that we are increasing our flock. We will have ducklings for sale; these being Mallard, Black Swedish, or an occasional cross between the two. I have orders for 16 guinea keets to fill, and when those are completed, I would like to add a couple of each of the chocolate hens, violet hens, and pearl hens to our group here. With only two geese (and only one of them capable of laying) it would be lovely to add another couple of hens. And, I would like to have an additional couple of hens for both our slate blue and red-breasted bronze turkeys. Once we have cared for our needs, anything more than that will be available for purchase. That is a lot of hatching- especially when we don't own an incubator!

Like everything else on the homestead, we try to raise our birds as naturally as possible. This means working *with* our broody hens. At present, we have a Wyandotte sitting on a clutch of chicken eggs upstairs in the barn- those should hatch by the end of June. We have an Australorpe sitting on a nest of 20 Guinea eggs. Those should hatch in another 3 weeks. Two broody ducks are sitting on nests of duck eggs. And, our gosling is sitting on an assorted nest of duck and geese eggs- her choice. She kept stealing duck eggs and we let her keep them. We'll see what comes of that!

Over the past couple days, our first clutches have begun hatching. Our first nest of eggs only produced two chicks for us. Harley duck had been dutifully sitting on a nest of 5 eggs. One duckling hatched, but did not survive the night. A second hatched the following day, but Harley flew the coop, taking with her two eggs. (I spotted her in the goat's field. I suspect she was moving her eggs to a safer location, in her mind.) Sean found a second duckling wandering around in the coop unattended and brought it inside to keep company with the first. Harley has been spotted, but she was once more missing-in-action and a third little duckling was wandering around inside the main coop. We are three for five with this clutch of ducklings. We are hopeful that tomorrow, Momma Harley comes home with the last duckling in tow. If that is the case, we'll offer her these back and let her raise and care for them until they go to their new home. If she is disinclined, they will stay in the house for a bit and then get introduced to the main coop a bit later. It is never boring!

Tomorrow, we are going to be at the Belfast Art Market in Belfast with the Farmer's Market at Waterfall Arts on High St. from 9am-1pm. I am so excited for our first market... and a little nervous. But, I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and making some new ones this season. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by to say, "Hi." to Sean and I.

Thanks for popping in tonight, friends.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Peanut Butter Bars

Since Sean has been spending two-three days each week sub-contracting for a couple different local companies, his dietary needs have changed. He has always worked hard; breaking a sweat is nothing new for him. But, there is definitely a difference between painting out an apartment or deep cleaning it and carrying two tons of concrete forms from point A to point B or removing a brick chimney and carrying the bricks down three flights of stairs. There just is. Busy in this new work, Sean had started to really lose some weight... fast. Sean has nice muscles, but there wasn't a whole lot of weight for him to lose. I suggested that he could lose some of my extra pounds, but so far, that is a "no-go".

Anyway, I started to make Sean a more hearty breakfast and lunch on the days he is expending more energy and needs those extra calories. I did not want to pad his lunch with empty calories; heavy manual labor requires calories packed with protein, fiber, and natural sugars. On a typical day, Sean will get a breakfast sandwich with 2 eggs, cheese, bacon or sausage on fresh home-made bread and a piece of fruit. I pack him granola, nuts and dried fruit (an assortment of dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, banana chips, pineapple or kiwi, etc.) in a pint mason jar for a snack. For lunch, I make him a protein-packed sandwich; tuna, chicken, or egg salad with sliced onion, tomato and lettuce on homemade bread with homemade mayo and a piece of fruit. I pack him two half gallons of freshly made lemonade in glass mason jars. And, if he is really going to expend some energy, a healthy piece of homemade peanut butter bars. There is nothing diet or low-calorie about these bars, but they make up for that in pure delicious tasty-goodness! These are not for every day snacking, unless you work concrete, farm, are a lumberjack or exert yourself vigorously in some other manner. But, as a sometimes sweet treat, they can't be beat. I promise.

What You Need: 
12 Oz. Jar of Creamy Peanut Butter
2 Sticks of Real Butter (unsalted is fine)
12 Graham Crackers (smashed into medium fine crumbs)
2 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
12 Oz Bag of Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
9x9 (8x8 for extra thick bars) Glass Baking Pan with Deep Sides

What To Do:
In a microwave safe bowl, completely melt the butter. While it is melting, in another large bowl, use a pestle or the bottom of a glass and crush the graham crackers into fine to medium fine crumbs. (If you like a crunchy texture, leave them larger. If you want a smooth texture, make the crumbs more fine.) When the graham crackers are to your desired consistency, add the melted butter, one cup of peanut butter, and 2 cups of confectioner's sugar. Stir with a spatula to thoroughly combine. Turn this mix into your 9x9 glass pan. (There is no need to line or grease the bottom.) Use the spatula to press the peanut butter mixture unto the pan evenly. Microwave 3/4 of the bag of semi sweet chocolate morsels until they are melted. Be careful not to over cook them or burn them! Add the rest of the peanut butter in the jar to the chocolate and mix thoroughly. Spread the warm chocolate-peanut butter mixture over the top of the peanut butter-graham mixture. Refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting.

If the girls and I are enjoying them, I slice them into 25 very-satisfying pieces. If I am making a batch for Sean and the men he works with, I slice them into 16 bars. I have no idea what the calorie count is in these magnificent treats, but they are worth every one of them. True Story.

For our friends who cannot tolerate gluten, just substitute a gluten free variety of graham or regular crackers. I would avoid herbed or garlic flavor varieties, but anything like a saltine works just fine. We made these gluten free for a visiting friend and used Glutino brand crackers. She loved them. And, my teens couldn't tell the difference. :)

Thanks for visiting on this rainy day.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

Monday, May 25, 2015

CSA Garden Share

I have been meaning to write this post for weeks. In anticipation for it, I've been diligently capturing photos to share with you. Unfortunately, every time I settle to write, something else needs my attention and it gets put off for another day. I keep joking that I need a secretary to follow me around armed with a cattle prod. No more putting it off or delaying. I am proud of the hard work Sean and I have put in and excited to share it with all of you. I think it will have special interest to those who have signed up for this year's CSA shares. :)

Last year we entrusted Cameron DePaola to start some early seedlings for us. He did a fantastic job and we are thrilled to have his assistance again this year. Cameron started some of our non-GMO, certified organic seeds attached to his aquaponic system several weeks ago. Aquaponics is the growing of plants or crops without the use of soil, using fish waste and water instead. Plants float in net cups with their roots submerged inside the tanks. Cameron's system uses a 100 gallon reservoir. The system is symbiotic; the plants feed on the fish waste and in return clean the water, making it a safe environment for the fish. Cameron feeds his fish a mixture of meal worms, super worms, and vegetable scraps. We'll pick up hundreds of tomato seedlings, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers and watermelons in just a couple of weeks. We are very excited to see how this method compares to traditional seed starting in terms of our yield.

With all those seedlings coming, we needed to expand the garden space... a lot. In the spirit of using what we have readily to hand, Sean and I have been working overtime cutting down large Alders to weave into garden beds. By that I mean, Sean has been cutting down the Alders with his ax and chain saw while Kristen, Meaghan and I drag them where we need them. I lop off the unwanted branches and use them to weave in and out of the Alder stakes Sean set deep into the ground. Krissy and Meg move the unused twigs to the burn pile. It is a fine system and our garden beds are coming along very well. With continued effort, we should have them ready for the seedlings just in time for them to arrive.
The beds in the front garden have been planted with lettuces, kale, spinach, three types of onions, carrots, beets, radishes, broccoli, peas, and summer squash. How are they doing? Take a peek:

Our wintered-over and perennial herbs are making a fine showing this season. From last year we have; chives, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, winter green mint, sage, basil, dill, oregano, and lemon balm growing brilliantly. New this year we have added; chamomile, apple mint, bergamot, nettle, anise, and stevia. We are looking forward to experimenting with these in our kitchen to season our food or make into teas.

Another new development was creating a brand new field for corn, pumpkin, and beans. A very good friend of ours helped prepare the virgin ground for our initial crop with his rototiller. Normally, we let the chickens and ducks help us prepare beds for planting, but we
were in a time crunch and the field was large. The birds still helped, but they had a supporting role in this project. I especially enjoyed watching the ducks follow along with Keith as he tilled the ground, snapping up any goodies turned over in the soil. Once he finished the initial ground breaking, Sean and I spread some 3 year old chicken compost and some 2 year old horse compost on top. We are ready to get the corn into the ground immediately. Before we do, we have to figure out a way to keep those helpful birds out of the garden. Eating parasites and weeds is very helpful, pulling out corn seeds, not so much. They can have it again this fall to their heart's content, but for now, the garden is off limits.

That goes for the goats, too. As soon as the garden is completely planted, the goats will be unwelcome in the back yard, too. The next project on our list, after the gardens, is to expand the goat's field once again to give them even more room. Every year, we expand their pasture deeper into the woods for them to browse. Eventually, they will have all of the wooded land to where our property borders the stream. This will give them several acres to roam at will. I can just see our family grilling on the back deck or hanging out at dinner with a nice view of our animals grazing under the trees. Close enough to see and enjoy without being so close as to be trouble.
Cassie is helping remove all that pesky, unwanted greenery from near the new garden beds. These beds have a long way to go, but it is a good start. Instead of tilling our garden beds, we cover them over with a good layer of cardboard. We soak the cardboard with a hose and then fill the beds to the top with compost and garden soil. Works great! 
We're going to try something new by way of fencing for the goats and as a separation between our yard and our closest neighbors- a variation of 5 foot tall wattle fencing. Basically, Sean will cut 7 foot sections of the thickest Alder trunks. These will be driven 2 feet into the ground every 3 feet, in an alternating, zig-zag pattern. We'll use slightly smaller Alder trunks to slip down between the posts, layering one row on top of the next the entire length, staggering the ends. Though, I reused baling twine to help secure the garden beds, I will reuse some heavy gauge wire to tie the beams together for the fencing. When it is all done, we will string electric fencing on the inside to teach the goats their new boundaries. We won't have the electricity on all the time, but it doesn't take long to teach them not to go near it. There are countless benefits of using the Alders growing here for our fencing needs. It opens up the area for fresh undergrowth to sprout up and gives us a clear view of the goats under the large pines, spruce, maple, and birch trees. Opening up the woodlands will make it more difficult for larger predators, like fox or coyote to breach our land without notice adding to our safety. Though it is labor intensive, it costs no money. And, Alders are a fast growing, renewable source of material. It will be fairly easy to make repairs and replace rotten materials as needed. This is the theory, anyway. I'll be sure to take lots of pictures of the process once we begin. And, you know you'll hear about whether this is a brilliant idea or a dismal flop. I am hoping for brilliance. :)

Enjoy it now, goaties. Your time is short for back yard munching!

I couldn't end this post without an update on sweet Chloe and Momma Lilly. Both are doing great, though Lilly still needs to gain some weight. Chloe is up to drinking 16 oz of goat's milk 3-4x/day and browses with the rest of the herd in between. She is exhibiting all the normal, healthy goat kid behaviors. We are very, very pleased with her progress. :)

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends. It's nice to share some company.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Goat Kid Time

I have been fighting a little something for the past couple days which is not going away as quickly as I would like it to. After morning chores, I spent most of yesterday in bed, sleeping much of the day. I slept on into the night and straight through until morning. Sean offered to milk the goats on his own this morning before heading out to work with a friend, but knowing how much longer it would take him, I dragged myself out of bed and into the barn. My head is pounding and all the early signs of an enormous migraine are making themselves known. This will not do.

The sun is out today and I have the van available to me (which is a nice change) and plans to venture out to get some of the supplies I need. That, folks, is *not* going to happen. In fact, not much is going to happen. No posts about the goat kids today, nor an update on the CSA Shares, nor even just images captured around the homestead. This girl is crawling back into bed with some of our Garden Lemonade Massage Melt rubbed into the palms of my hand and soles of my feet to wait for this to pass.

I HATE feeling sick. Sean says I treat it like a personal failure. And, perhaps he is not wrong. With so much to do around the homestead, laying low is not an option in my mind. With garden beds to finish building and filling, special orders to finish up and mail out, feta to brine, homeschooling to oversee, meals to prepare.... the list goes on and on... As Miss Sweet Brown put it, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

And, yet... back to bed I go. At least for a bit. I am leaving you with a badly edited (complete with typos and grammatical errors) video I worked on yesterday morning. It is what it is.

Hope you all have a good day.
~Sonja ♥

Monday, April 20, 2015

Week-Old Goat Kids

I spent most of today catching up on some things that have gone neglected in my studio. I made fresh cinnamon buns for our family's breakfast and made a batch of Feta cheese. I had plans to do as much as I could and finish what I could not, tomorrow, but around 3:30 pm. my body declared it had other plans. The reasons for joy within a large congregation are innumerable, especially during assembly days, like last Saturday. The only down-side is that with the abundance of loving hugs from our friends, the sharing of germs sometimes leaves me under the weather with a touch of something. It will pass I am sure, but the long list of things still needing to be done is going to take a bit longer than I hoped. It is 6:30 pm and I am in bed for the night. The girls are eating dinner with their Dad tonight. Sean will fend for himself. As soon as I finish typing these words, this girl is going to close her eyes and succumb to sleep in the hopes that by tomorrow instead of feeling sick, I will be awesome instead.

This video montage is made up of some snippets I captured of these darling goat kids of ours. I shared an unedited video this morning to our FACEBOOK PAGE. This video is slightly longer and it focuses on Baby Ruthie, Jacob and Benjamin catching a snooze, and Chloe's progress.

The clip of Lilly nursing Chloe shows how diligently they have both tried to make this work. I wish with all my heart there was something we could do to make that a reality for them. Little Chloe is suckling for all she is worth and her little cries of frustration are heart-wrenching. I've written before how Lilly patiently stands for nursing. In this video, she lifts her leg to allow more access. Sweet Momma. On a positive note, Lilly is making progress each day. Eventually, she will not be in milk any more and so long as infection does not set in, this will be just a memory before long. Yesterday was the final day of her twice daily course of Penicillin injections. I know that feels better. We'll continue watching for signs of infection. Our main job now is to help her to gain back the weight she's lost. We have every reason to believe that she will make a full recovery and live a long, happy life.
Chloe turned a week old about 45 minutes ago. Can it be only a week? It feels like I have been worrying over her for so much longer than that. ♥ She is such a sweet girl. Despite doing everything we can to encourage her to be a normal goat kid, she is very attached to the people. And, why not? We bring the food. A few times this week, I have been asked this question, "Why not just bring Chloe into the house?" In case some of you are wondering, too... It is very important to me that Chloe be raised with her herd, like a normal goat kid. Watch the video and see the difference between Ruthie and Chloe. Ruthie is into EVERYTHING. Her feet springs have engaged. She nibbles on anything she comes across. She likes the people, but she is engaged in being a goat kid. Contrast that to Chloe's behavior~ who is only one day younger. Chloe climbs the tables and looks at the grain bowl and nudges the hay, she sees the chickens or ducks passing by, but her main focus is on me. She stands facing me much of the time and as soon as she climbs down, she runs to stand with me between my feet. She is not off exploring as she should be. And, her springers have not engaged yet. While Ruthie runs with the other kids (see facebook video), Chloe is content to just stand and watch. Some of that might be her personality. They each have their own. But, it is my job to help Chloe to be a goat kid- full of mischief and bouncing feet. She'll learn that from being with her herd. Bringing her inside would add to that which I am trying to avoid. My only wish for Chloe is that she grow to be a healthy goat within a healthy herd. ♥

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends.
~Sean & Sonja ♥

Friday, April 17, 2015

Goat Update and Garden Bed Building

Lilly is still in milk. I feel like it is taking  forever for it to go away and give her some relief. I can only imagine how she feels about it. She is still getting Penicillin injections morning and night to prevent infection from setting in. So far, so good on that front.

Lilly is very interested at meal times. She sniffs the bottle and keeps a close eye on what is happening. After cleaning Chloe's tail end, Lilly rests her head against my hands, knee, or shoulder until baby is done. Chloe is learning her name. We call it when we enter the pasture and she follows us.

Boaz and Anna took an afternoon siesta in their lunch. 

Our biggest job today was to work in the gardens. Cameron has started our seedlings for us in his aquaponic system. We needed to make some repairs on our front garden beds to get them ready for direct sowing. We'll be building five additional 4' x 16' beds to add to the front garden. We have to get them built and fill them with garden soil and the composted manure from last year within the next 4 weeks.  Today we direct sowed 80 white onions, 100 snow peas, 144 carrots, and 125 beets. On Sunday, we'll put in some radishes, yellow onions, lettuces, and kale.

We'll also finish the first part of our back garden beds. We began them last year using 2x6 pine boards and that worked fairly well, but in an effort to use as much as we can from what the land provides us, we decided to repurpose those boards into the front garden and make some raised tiered beds by weaving limbs of Alder branches.

The start to our bottom tier.

Sean cut thicker branches into 2 foot pieces with a point on one end. We pounded these into the ground with a foot remaining above ground. Then, we used longer branches to weave in and out of the posts. To secure them, we reused baling twine that we had from the hay we feed the animals. Total cost= $0 cash dollars. Total time= 4 hours today and more ahead. We'll not remove the sod from the top of each bed. Instead, we'll line them with cardboard to block the grass. Then, we will cover it with garden soil and top it all off with our composted manure from last year. The lower bed is about 10 inches deep and the upper bed is roughly 12 inches deep. They are both 3 feet wide and 20 feet long. We have more work to do to finish these beds, but when we are done, I am looking forward to seeing how the tomatoes grow this year in them.

One thing I have missed over the winter, how my body feels in Spring... I. Can't. Walk. I mean, seriously. If I have one, it hurts. From head to toe. It feels so good to just sit, but I am very concerned about how I am going to get to bed. I may just live here forever more. It is an option that is growing on me.

In case we run out of projects, we can always rely on the animals to create job security for us. This is an image of the side of our barn. That is a hole through the OSB and Typar.

Can you guess what happened here?


Does he look sorry to you? He doesn't to me. Not one bit.

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends. It is so nice to have your company.

~Sean & Sonja ♥