Almost Thanksgiving

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The weather has turned suddenly cold and the blustery winds are blowing the remaining leaves off the trees here on Cedar Street. Even though we knew it was coming, it somehow seems a little early to be staring at the inevitable winter! Last night, we made our first hot buttered rum and toasted the coming holiday week; as far as we are concerned, the holiday season is upon us!

Up until a few days ago, we were still getting ripe tomatoes off a few of our heirloom tomato plants. Our recent bout of frosts, however, have caused the plants to fade for good. The chickens don’t mind as they are happy to eat the leaves, green tomatoes, and whatever they can rummage off the dying plants. Speaking of chickens, our girls are on the upside of molting, but with the days being so short, we are getting approximately 1-2 eggs a day only. They spend their days foraging around the garden, dust bathing in dry areas and soaking up what limited sun they can find.

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Buffy, our New Hampshire Red, was one of the first to molt in early fall. She is almost back to full fluff, but is still on egg-laying hiatus for the season.

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The most talkative of our current flock, Jo Jo, a Rhode Island Red had a very light molt and is looking as fine as ever.

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Laverne is one of our youngest gals. She was one of the two hens we kept from the 8 chicks we hatched in the incubator last spring. She is an Ameraucana who lays light blue eggs.

As we prepare to host Thanksgiving here at our house this week, we are thrilled that a few of the offerings will come from right here at Raggedy Hen–we have a nice crop of Brussels sprouts still in the garden and we’ll be roasting a bunch for the big dinner. We also have still plenty of greens to make a nice fresh salad! Additionally, squash, potatoes, onions, and garlic are all waiting in the garage larder to be worked into the hearty traditional menu.

However you commemorate the end of the harvest and the coming of the winter, we wish you all the best from all us raggedy hens!

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Incubation Tales

Chicken Egg Incubation

We are on day 15 of our incubation adventure here at Raggedy Hen Farm. This means, we only have 6 days to go until hatching should begin. Of course, we’ve all heard the wisdom about not counting one’s eggs until they’ve hatched, so we remain cautiously optimistic. While we haven’t had the winter storms and power failures like last year (fingers crossed), we have had some incubating adventures…

We candled the eggs early on (around day 5) and since this year’s eggs are rather dark-shelled, it was difficult to determine whether all the eggs were viable and developing. We’re still novices, but we do our best. We did a second (and last) candling on day 14 and it was a little easier to see the dark shadow and air sack on most of the eggs. Those green Ameraucana eggs are a challenge, however!

Later in the evening on day 14, we went to turn the eggs and found one of the eggs had little droplets of a very sticky, syrupy substance on one end. From all of our reading and research, we knew this was NOT a good sign.

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When incubating eggs get this oozy substance, it is because the embryo had died and the egg is basically rotting from the inside. Gases are building up and if left unattended, these eggs will explode and cause quite the contaminating mess in the incubator. Then we’d have to discard all the eggs and start over.

So, we pulled the egg immediately and carefully, putting it on a paper towel. After it cooled, we took it outside (just in case it had an awful odor) and broke it open. It cracked with a bit of tension–meaning there was some gas build-up inside. Sure enough, there had been an embryo developing in the egg, but it looked to have died around day 9 or 10. It could have been from something genetic, or bacteria (more likely) that got into the egg.

We’re feeling wary now, hoping that this egg did not contaminate any of the other eggs in the incubator. It is certainly a possibility and since all the eggs came from the same place, there is always the chance that they could have similar problems. We want to make sure we catch anything that might be going wrong before lock-down on Day 18–the day we stop turning the eggs, boost the humidity, and leave the incubator closed for the possible hatch!

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We started with 9 eggs this time around…now there are 8!

A Year’s Worth of Eggs

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Here we are…the very first day of 2015. It finds us with exactly twelve hens–even though 2014 saw a few more chickens coming and going from our little flock. We keep track of our eggs, expenses, and the little bit of income we make from selling our eggs and we thought we’d share last year’s results!

Our food expenses for the chickens came to about $142. This does not include straw or table scraps. We earned exactly $34.50 from selling eggs. Of course, we gave away dozens and dozens too!

Our gals laid us 120 dozen eggs over the course of 2014 and they cost us right around $1.12 per dozen. Not a bad price for fresh, organic eggs from very happy hens.

What we haven’t really calculated is the value of the chickens who ended up in freezer camp, or the value of having a broody hen hatch and raise new chickens, or the value of all the tilling, fertilizing and compost management our gals do. Of course, there is our labor involved in caring for the chickens, but it has also provided us with an active hobby and a grand urban adventure!

Autumn Again

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Fig preserves, freshly canned, and cooling on the counter.

Growing our own food keeps us well-tuned to the seasons. This past summer has been a bit of a blur as painful realities of life demanded our full attention. The garden got a little raggedy, Hilda managed to hatch three chicks without much attention or fanfare from us, and before we knew it, it was time to plant the the fall and winter veggies!

We currently get 4-7 eggs a day from 10 laying hens, but it seems the eggs are starting to taper as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool. We are expecting some serious molting to start any day. We have started to evaluate our little flock and think about any changes we might want to make as we head into the Fall. We’ve learned that keeping the flock healthy and thriving sometimes means making tough decisions about who stays and who does not.

We like to use the fall to make repairs, changes, and additions to our garden beds and this year we’ve been replacing some of the wood edging frames around the beds and tidying up the layout. Now that most of the summer garden has been harvested and we’ve planted the winter veggies in one big bed that is fenced off from intruders, the chickens are allowed to free range again. They are great helpers in tilling up the beds, weeding away any weeds, and fertilizing the beds for next year. So, as the leaves start to fall, we rake them into the beds and let the chickens break them up and work them into the dirt. It’s a great system!

Some of our last harvesting tasks involve the fruit trees. There are still apples on the apple trees, and we are just starting to harvest the ripe figs to make the delicious fig preserves we use as a marinade for pork and hams throughout the year. The persimmons are just starting to turn a pale orange, and while the leaves are starting to fall from the persimmon tree, the fruits won’t be ready until the weather gets a bit colder. Meanwhile, everything else has been harvested, canned, dried, or frozen!

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Hilda hatched 3 chicks in late August (she was setting on 4 fertile eggs) and proved to be a fantastic mama hen!

The Tiniest Egg

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Teri wanted to try raising the bantams and she started out with two little ones earlier this spring. One of those nuggets turned out to be a rooster, so Minnie remains the only bantam currently in residence at Raggedy Hen Farm. We’ve gone back and forth on our thinking about her breed and had originally thought and hoped she was a Welsummer Bantam. As she’s grown, however, we’ve been leaning toward thinking she is an Old English Game Bantam. We finally figured we’d know when she laid her first egg–dark brown would mean Welsummer and barely tinted would mean Old English.

At 19 and a half weeks, without any fan-fare at all, Minnie took to the newly-fluffed nest boxes this past weekend. There was a bit of rustling and some funny little hen noises. She looked awfully tiny in there next to the regular-sized “inspiration egg” (we’ve painted them forest green so they don’t get confused with actually eggs), but as we’ve learned about Minnie, as far as she’s concerned, she’s the biggest, boldest hen there is.

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After some time in the nest box, she emerged and took some long, drinks of cool water. Teri says this is the tell-tale sign that a chicken has laid an egg–when they go straight for the water trough!

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Minnie’s first egg was tiny, faintly tinted and perfect! Her Old English Game-ness confirmed, Minnie has taken her place as the tiniest egg-layer with the littlest eggs at Raggedy Hen Farm!

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Busy, Bustly Days at Raggedy Hen Farm

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This…is crunch time!  The garden is blousy and overgrown and producing like crazy; Most of the pullets are laying, along with the old hens; it is time for canning, drying, saving seeds,, and just trying to keep up with this last big hurrah of another summer season. This has been an incredibly prolific year as some of our long-term projects like raspberry canes, grapevines, and hop vines are really coming in to their own.  Here’s a little run-down of what’s keeping us so busy…

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We are getting 5-8 eggs a day from our plethora of busy hens. It is so fun to have the diversity of colors in the egg basket. We now have everything from white to green, to dark brown (along with the light brown we’ve had for a while.) We haven’t had any trouble finding homes for all these yummy eggs!

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Our daily forages into the garden with a harvesting basket under one arm are yielding pounds of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and, now, some of the ripest of the winter squash. This means we’re doing all sorts of canning and preserving, along with eating our share of these tasty treasures!

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The apple trees are laden and almost ready to be picked and canned. We’ll make applesauce and can slices for winter pies. Any “drops” get tossed into the chicken run as the hens all love to eat up the fallen apples.

 

 

 

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We have dozens of pumpkins this year and they are all starting to turn orange! It’s a good thing, too, because it’s helping us realize and find them all…although there tend to be daily “surprises” as we stumble upon yet another swelling pumpkin. These magical vines are starting to get a little ragged after roaming all over the edges of the garden all summer.

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Harvesting Hops! We have three different hop vines that we planted a couple years ago. This year, they are laden with ripening hop flowers and we are determined to dry them and use them in the making of home-brewed beer. These have been incredibly easy and fun to grow–the vines twine and stretch and grow along the fences and up into the trees and the hoppy smell is delightful too!

So, there you have it! We are neck-deep in projects and preserving all the bounty coming from our overgrown urban lot. Stay tuned for an update on the also-very-busy honeybees!

The County Fair!

While we live only a mile from our downtown city center, we also don’t live too far from rural farm land and open fields. It is the best of all possible worlds! Because of our prime location, we were able to walk about thirteen blocks and find ourselves right in the middle of the crowing, mooing, and bleating of hundreds of gorgeous critters at one of summer’s pleasures…the county fair!  Here are a few highlights from our wanderings…

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This Golden Laced Polish Cockerel seemed to know he was quite the specimen!

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Teri loved the feather coloring on this Wheaten Maran, and wanted to add this to our list of possible future breeds.

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There were so many adorable rabbits! Small, huge, and then, there were these two, who looked for all the world like they were kissing.

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We’ve talked about getting ducks, and this little family was awfully cute! Between the snoozes and the splashing around in the pool, the cuteness was on overload!

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Well, who knew that folks could enter their gorgeous eggs for ribbons and prizes? We weren’t sure what the judging criteria weer, but it was fun to see all the lovely eggs.

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Chicks were hatching in a home-built incubator. While we didn’t get to see any hatching as we stopped by, there were some freshly hatched ones fluffing up in the warm incubator.

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So many well-cared-for goats brimming with personality. We watched a couple judging/showing competitions and read up on all the different breeds present.

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After lunch, we explored all the jams, jellies, breads, cakes and other home crafted items. It’s so fun to see how other folks’ preserve and create!

We didn’t go on a single ride or play any of the midway games, but we had so much fun exploring, wandering, and learning!