A New Family for the Ducklings

While observing our ducklings in their nests with our broody hens, we witnessed them encountering some dangerous situations.20180606_143439

They could easily fall from their nest or escape into neighboring nesting boxes, increasing their chance of meeting an inhospitable hen who may attack them.  I also noticed a gap between Millie’s nest box and the wall of our coop and could easily visualize her duckling falling into the gap and getting wedged.

So while we wanted to keep the mamas and babies together, we thought it would be safer for our new hatchlings to set them up with a baby-proofed environment in our brooder.20180606_150037

This allows our broody birds to remain incubating our duck eggs.  We expect to get another duckling soon, as one of our eggs is peeping.  (But we know better than to count our ducklings before they hatch!)

The hens did not seem too bothered by us taking the ducklings away.  They are content to stay on their eggs.  The ducklings, however, were looking for warmth and someone to follow, so they have quickly bonded with our family.20180607_14114220180607_141128

Wherever anyone walks, the ducklings are quick to follow.

They take any opportunity to cuddle up with one of the kids for a quick nap. 20180607_12411120180607_14392220180607_14270320180607_12413620180607_123151

Our girls are particularly taken with the ducklings and have been mothering them from the moment they left the hens.  The ducklings have been spending a lot of time with the girls, only going into the brooder at night and just a few times during the day while the girls are busy.

Our previous experiences with ducklings have only included those shipped from the hatchery.  By the time we open the box, about two days after they’ve hatched, they want nothing to do with people.  They adamantly avoid us, squirm when held, and greatly prefer the company of their own kind.  I was surprised to discover interacting with them only a day earlier would make such a difference in their comfort and attachment towards people.  20180607_12312220180607_14134320180607_113219

We are having much more fun with these snuggly and friendly duckies than we have with our previous hatchery birds.  20180607_11261620180607_11270420180607_142515

This experience of hatching out duck eggs using broody hens has been such a fun and successful journey, one the whole family has been involved in and learning from.  It sure has been a highlight of our spring on the farm.

Becca

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Newborn Duckling Photos

The kids and I checked up on our new mamas and hatchlings yesterday afternoon.  No other eggs have hatched yet, but the two ducklings have transformed into fuzzy, fluffy, and quite zippy little creatures.

I tried to capture some newborn photos of each mama and baby pair.  They make tricky subjects to photograph with all their movement, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

Here is Henrietta, our Dominique, with her new baby.20180606_143048

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Here are some pictures of Millie, our black Jersey Giant, who initiated this apparently contagious journey to motherhood, with her new baby. 20180606_143428

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This next photo of both mamas and babies shows all the activity taking place inside these little nesting boxes.   We threw some feed into each box to reward our ravenous mothers.  But while they ate, the ducklings are proving themselves ready to meet the world.  20180606_143940

Our experiment once again must adapt to the changing needs of this situation.  As one chapter closes, another opens.

Stay tuned!

Becca

Broody Hen Update

After my post, Drama in the Hen House,my broodies swapped nests once again.  I decided to just leave them alone as they seemed intent to have the other’s nest.  If you’re having trouble remembering which broody is on which nest, now Henrietta is on the nest that should be hatching very soon and Millie is on newer duck eggs and golf balls.

Yesterday I was out working in the yard, and noticed Henrietta off her nest getting some food and water, so I decided to check on the eggs.20180605_142507.jpg

A duckling was beginning to break open its shell!  We could see it breathing, moving and could hear peeping.  It seemed very healthy and strong.

Henrietta, all puffed up to warn everybody to leave her alone, re-entered her nest and sat down once again.  20180605_143001.jpg

All seemed well.  We checked a few minutes later, and now the egg was only partially covered.20180605_145529.jpg

I decided to keep a close eye on the situation as I thought the egg needed to be kept warm and humid while the duckling was hatching, which can take up to 48 hours. It is not advised to help the duckling by breaking it out of it’s shell, but to let nature take its course.

Sure enough, when I went back to check some time later, the hatching egg had been rolled away.20180605_155558.jpg

I stood to observe the situation for a while.   Was the hen rejecting this egg? The duckling looked very healthy, still moving and opening up its little beak and peeping loudly.  There appeared to be no reason to reject this egg.  Every time the duckling peeped, Millie, sitting on her nest next door, would stretch her neck out to look while making soft, low throaty clucks.   It seemed she was much more concerned about this duckling than Henrietta, and since she sat on these eggs much longer than Henrietta, I made the decision to put the hatching egg under Millie.  What if Millie also rejected this egg?  What if she pecked at it?  This duckling would be an orphan, and therefore my responsibility, to finish incubating and brooding it and we have no incubator!

I held my breath and placed the egg next to her and watched, ready to stop an attack on the helpless baby if she decided this was not her egg.

She did seem to make a very soft tap on it with her beak.  I raised my hand, ready for a rescue, but nothing happened after that.  I gently pushed the egg under her.  She rearranged her medley of eggs, golf balls and now hatching egg, then settled herself down.  I stood there to watch for quite some time.  Millie would groom herself, half stand every once in a while when the duckling peeped, roll the eggs a bit, but in general, looked rather sleepy and would doze off now and then.  I finally allowed my tensed muscles to relax.  I think she has accepted the egg!

We checked up on Millie and the egg a couple more times that evening. She was still sitting on it, and it was still emitting peeping sounds.  All seemed well.

This morning the kids and I ventured out to the coop.  Once again, I felt a tight ball in my chest.  I wasn’t sure what we would find.  A dead duckling?  Anything was possible.  Our plan was to lift both Millie and Henrietta off their nests, switch all the original eggs back under Millie, give Henrietta the newer duck eggs once again, and put the golf balls away.

But when we lifted off a very perturbed and combative Henrietta, we found quite a surprise!20180606_082326

Henrietta had hatched out another duckling sometime in the night.  It was looking great! No wonder Henrietta was extra feisty when we tried pulling her off her eggs.  We abandoned our plan to swap the eggs after this discovery.  She seemed to have accepted this new hatchling as her own and we will not disturb her further.

Now we needed to pull Millie off her nest to take away the golf balls and check on her hatching egg.  20180606_082801

Success!  Millie’s duckling has fully hatched and Millie seems to have accepted it as her long-awaited prize after her weeks of hard work.

We now have two healthy-looking hatchlings and two proud mamas.  We will keep checking under Henrietta for a day or two for more babies.

I’m so excited our trial of hatching eggs, as clumsy as it was, worked out to have a happy ending.   We’ll keep a close eye on both hens to make sure they are mothering their babies properly.

The experiment continues!

Becca

 

Growing Broilers and Turkeys

Five weeks have passed since we received our broiler chicks and turkey poults. I am happy to report both turkey poults have made it through the fragile brooding period and are quite healthy and hardy at this point.

Unexpectedly and contrary to our previous experiences, we lost two of our broiler chicks for unknown reasons. That leaves us with 23 broilers and two turkeys for our freezer.

At 3 weeks of age, we released our young birds into the wide, wondrous, ever-changing world outside the brooder walls. After a day or two of being unsure and fearful with the sudden transformation of environment, they transitioned nicely into our free-range flock.

Several broilers foraging with a Speckled Sussex hen.

They began venturing out from the coop progressively farther as the days rolled by, supplementing their diet increasingly with green, growing things, and learning the natural rhythms and daily routine of life on our little farm.

We enjoy seeing our chickens thriving on a variety of vegetation.

This change of diet is key to the differences we enjoy with our free-range broilers compared to a conventionally raised bird.

The bird itself is healthier, having been raised in fresh air, a much cleaner environment and eating a more well-rounded diet.

Their love of feed remains strong, however.

They were bred to eat and gain incredibly fast, so eat, and overeat, they must. But after they have decided they can stuff their crops with feed no more, they set out to forage, explore and, well…nap, in wild places beyond the feeding station.

The broilers reach their ideal butcher weight at 8 weeks.

Our turkeys, which are Broad Breasted Whites, the typical commercial bird raised for Thanksgiving tables across the country, are much less porky at this stage and still sporting a lean, proportionate appearance.

Oh, they are cute. Is it the fuzzy little head? The musical call of “pe-peep-peep-peep”? Or perhaps their relatively graceful mannerisms?

Regardless, these turkeys, despite our best efforts, have worked their way into our softer side.

We call them Thanksgiving and Christmas, as a reminder of their purpose on our farm and to not become attached, but it is hard. What can we say? We love turkeys.

These turkeys need about 20 weeks of growth until they reach their ideal butcher weight.

Despite the end we have in mind for our meat birds, we are certain they enjoy a good life here at Little Arrows Farm. Their lives are incomparable to their counterparts raised in commercial facilities. We take pride in raising our chickens the best way we know how.

With happy weeks spent feeling the summer breeze, warm rays of filtered sunshine and a carpet of green under their feet, we are rewarded with the best chicken to be placed on a family dinner table.

Becca

Drama in the Hen House

When people ask me how to begin raising wholesome, natural food for their family, I will typically tell them the chicken is about the easiest, most low-maintenance way to begin.WP_20170402_15_07_14_Pro[1]

In our experience, taking on a handful of hens for some fresh eggs is easier than all the work that goes into planting and maintaining a home garden. wp_20160723_20_24_26_pro

For the past couple days, however, we have been experiencing a little more maintenance than usual in our chicken coop.

It all began when our black Jersey Giant hen, Millie, went broody a few weeks back.

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Millie trying to forage after the snow had melted but before new grass grew.
Out of all our hens, she has the strongest maternal instincts.  Every spring she dedicates herself to the task of hatching something out of a clutch of eggs.  She faithfully sits on any eggs she can find, denying herself fresh, cool spring air, young plants, and of course, every hen’s favorite activity: scratching through the dirt.  20180530_104848[1].jpg

We’ve always just reached under her and pulled the eggs out, though.  We’ve never given her the chance to sit on eggs and now that we have no rooster, sitting on chicken eggs is rather pointless.

A few weeks ago, Ryan suggested we put our duck eggs under her. We have several drakes and one female duck, so those eggs are very likely to be fertile. 20180328_075049[1].jpg

Our duck has no interest in sitting on her eggs, and I would wager she forgets about them the moment she leaves one lying in the nesting box.

Why not replace any chicken eggs under Millie with duck eggs and just see what happens?  It sounded like an interesting plan, so we began putting any duck eggs we found into Millie’s nest and Millie would happily roll the eggs underneath herself.  This went on for a couple weeks, until she was sitting on 9 eggs and we felt that was enough.

So where does the drama come into play?

When another previously non-broody hen, who was out frolicking in fresh spring air, eating lots of young, green plants and scratching in loads of dirt while long-suffering Millie was sitting on her nest, decided she, too, wanted to become a mother.  This hen, who happens to be Henrietta, a Dominique, didn’t find herself a new nest of eggs to sit on.  No, she pushed her way onto poor Millie’s nest.

Now two hens were squeezed rather uncomfortably in a small nesting box meant for one.

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was quite an injustice for Millie.  I would be pretty upset if I did all the work and then my fun-loving sister hen thought she could just push me off my nearly-completed project I’d been faithfully maintaining and take the credit for all I’d done.  The kicker, however, was when we walked into the coop one evening to find yet another hen, a third hen, trying to push her way into the already crowded nesting box.  We knew an intervention was critical.  These silly birds were going to break the eggs.  Indeed, we found one casualty as we began removing the chickens from the nest.

In an attempt to solve the problem, we placed four golf balls into a different nest near Millie’s and placed Henrietta upon that nest, hoping to satisfy her instinct to nest with a fake clutch.  Henrietta didn’t appreciate being removed from her chosen nest and transferred to another, so she immediately jumped off the dummy nest and exited the coop in a huff.  Millie, now in a greatly increased state of comfort, settled herself back onto her nest without issue.  The third hen, a Welsummer, entered a different nesting box and we decided to give her a fresh duck egg to see if she’d also like a chance to become a mama, which seemed to please her.  We waited around for quite some time to see if Henrietta to return.  Sure enough, after she helped herself to some food and water, she returned to the nesting boxes.  She took a long time eyeing all the boxes, stretching her neck up to get a good, long view, examining the nest with the golf balls in particular, then turning her attention towards Millie’s nest, then back to the dummy nest again.  Finally, she made her selection and jumped up onto the nest with the golf balls and settled herself down upon them.  Phew!  All three hens seemed to be contentedly sitting on their own nests.  We allowed ourselves to cautiously relax.

Later, the Welsummer’s desire proved quickly fleeting as she had abandoned her nest, so we placed the new duck egg under Henrietta, who was happy to warm it along with the golf balls.  We decided to leave them for the evening and check again in the morning with the hope all would be well.

It wasn’t.

When I went back to check on our broody gals, Millie was now on Henrietta’s nest, and Henrietta was back on Millie’s nest. 

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Henrietta had once again taken over Millie’s nest.

At this point, I thought about just leaving the hens alone.  Why not let Millie sit on golf balls and one new duck egg, and allow Henrietta to finish incubating the original nest?  As long as there is a hen, any hen, on Millie’s eggs, which we think by this time must be only days away from hatching out, we should still get some ducklings.

But Millie has already been sitting on a nest for almost a month. Would she sit for another month?  Now we have started a second nest of duck eggs to which we plan to add additional eggs when available, and it would be a shame to waste it just because Millie realizes her eggs are taking much too long to hatch and so give up.

I made the decision to move Millie and her original nest to a new, private location where she can brood in peace.  I wanted to find a box to mimic a nesting box, to hopefully make this transfer as smooth as possible for Millie.  Unable to find a suitable cardboard box, I hastily grabbed a large planter, turned it on its side, and added hay.  20180530_105041[1].jpg

I placed it in our smaller, separate coop (which we call the brooder, as we use it when we receive day-old chicks) along with a personal feeder and waterer, just for Millie.  I thought it looked quite nice and Millie would be pleased with her new, upscale, private nesting facility.  Millie, however, looked quite ruffled and upset, and would not settle into her new nest, so we locked her in the brooder and decided to give her a couple of hours to relax and make her decision.

When I went back to check on her, the planter had been moved.  I think she tried to get into the nest, but the round shape must have caused it to roll slightly, discouraging Millie from settling into it.  In hindsight, I admit the round planter was a bad choice.

By this time I worried too much moving and shaking had been done to both Millie and her eggs, so I brought bird and nest back to our main coop.  I set Millie up in a nest right next to her old one, which still had Henrietta in it sitting on one duck egg and some golf balls (although it appears she has now rejected one of the golf balls!), and Millie immediately accepted the nest and began to get situated on her eggs.    20180530_154423[1].jpg

This morning both girls are still on their respective nests.

I sure hope this ends the hen house drama.

I would love to be able to update this post with adorable duckling photos and proud mama hens caring for their brood, but I don’t know how this is going to turn out.  We’ve never hatched anything from eggs on our farm before, and we were unprepared for this new experience.  If we had a chance for a “do-over”, we would move Millie into the brooder with a more appropriate box as soon as she went broody, to give her a private nest from the start.

Millie began with 9 duck eggs, and for several reasons, only five remain.  Will any hatch out from the remaining eggs?  Will Henrietta prove to be as patient and committed to her nest as Millie has been?

Only time will tell.

Becca

 

 

Kitchen Island Upgrade

We have a large kitchen island which is the gathering spot of our home. It serves many purposes such as casual dining for 6, arts and crafts table, home-school desk, meal prep area, and party buffet server.  I love the functionality, space and storage this island provides our farmhouse kitchen. wp_20161212_09_52_10_pro

But there was something I did not love about it.  It would nag me every time my eyes settled upon it.

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The sides on either end of my kitchen island, where my stools sat, were quite unsightly.
We created our island by ordering 4 base cabinets and screwing them together, and having a counter top installed on top of them.  This gave me much-appreciated kitchen storage with the cabinets, but it left two sides that are probably not intended by the manufacturer to be exposed.  The finish on these sides is not as nice as the cabinet faces and the toe kick never fit correctly, creating an eyesore of a gap.  I began mentally planning how we could fix up these sides to give our hard-working island the makeover it deserves.

 

My plan was to cover the sides in shiplap and add a bit of farm-style flavor.  When I told Ryan my ideas, he got out a pencil, paper and measuring tape (I’m always excited when this is Ryan’s response to my ideas!) and began designing a work plan.

He started by nailing 1×3 boards to create a frame around each side, with one board in the middle.  He left the top open for now.

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Then he cut the shiplap and installed those boards in the frame, and added the last piece of 1×3 frame to the top, ensuring a snug fit.

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I was really happy with this, but thought we needed a little extra oomph in the style department, so he added diagonal boards running from the top middle, to the outer corners. 20180528_080716[1]

He installed quarter round where the island meets the floor, and I gave the pine boards a sanding with Ryan’s new electric sander (nice!). I then applied three coats of white paint using Behr Premium Plus Ultra in a satin finish. 20180528_155557[1]

I’m very pleased with the results.  What a facelift!  Let’s compare this to the “before” picture.    20180526_154412[1]

Now when I walk into my kitchen and glance at the island, instead of disappointment, I feel like doing a happy dance.20180528_163051[1]

The island now shines with a new custom upgrade and beckons people to gather ’round and enjoy life, family, food and friends all the more.

Becca

Hanging Kitchen Herb Garden

Since moving to the farm two years ago, I’ve grown a garden with a variety of vegetables every summer.  I always included some herbs in my garden, which performed quite well.  There was a slight problem, considering the garden is a bit of a trek from my house.  When I’m trying to get dinner on the table, the last thing I want to do is leave my food cooking on the stove and run out for some herb clippings.  As a result my herbs didn’t get clipped back regularly, got too big, went to seed and died.  I needed my herbs to be conveniently close at hand so I could maintain them and add them to my dishes while cooking, but I didn’t want several pots sitting around on my counters taking up space (I’m rather intentional about keeping my kitchen clutter-free).

My solution: a hanging kitchen herb garden. 20180515_100710[1].jpg

I started by foraging around our barn for some old wood from a fence we tore down last summer.  I selected a few pieces that were about 5 inches wide.

Ryan taught me to use his power saw, so I measured and cut these boards into 8 pieces that were 10 inches long, which is enough to make 4 planters about 10 x 5 inches.  20180512_143112[1]

Then I played around with each of the pieces, trying to make a straight back for each planter that could be screwed into my cabinets, but with an angled front piece, creating a triangular design that wouldn’t look too bulky on my upper cabinets.  Finally happy with my design, I measured and cut 2 triangle pieces for each planter to complete the sides. 20180512_182356[1].jpg

At this point, Ryan used his nail gun to assemble my planters.  I selected and planted four herbs reputed to be easily grown indoors and most likely to be used on a regular basis: basil for Italian-inspired dishes, thyme for my homemade soups, sauces, and chicken, dill for flavoring vegetables or fish, and mint for adding interest to beverages and desserts, or soothing a tummy ache.  20180512_182442(0)[1].jpg

I lined the planters with black plastic to keep the wet soil from rotting out the wood.  I added a chalk-board label and nickel-plated thumb tacks to each front so I could label them with the herbs they contained.20180513_172943[1].jpg

Ryan attached the planters onto my kitchen cabinets bordering the sunny, south-facing kitchen window.  And voila!  20180515_102021[1].jpg

A kitchen herb garden that provides functionality, style and cheer to the otherwise useless and boring sides of my kitchen cabinets.

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It is so fun to find purpose for the often-overlooked vertical real estate in my home.20180515_113137[1].jpg

I predict lots of fresh herbs in my future cooking.  Bon appétit!20180515_113940[1].jpg

Becca