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 ♥