Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Helpful Hints for Beginners

There is a steep learning curve for the chicken enthusiast just getting started.  However, there are also many wonderful "chicken people" out here who are willing to give the benefit of their earned experience.  What follows is basic information that we have gained with trial by fire!

Pullets are young female chickens that haven't begun to lay.  Laying an egg is a right of passage for a chicken.  The minute she starts laying, she becomes a hen.  Cockerels are young males that haven't reached sexual maturity yet.

Roosters are not necessary to have eggs.  You can have just hens if you just want eggs.  A rooster is needed if you want to hatch those eggs and have chicks.  Another useful tidbit is that one rooster can handle eight to twelve hens.  While having a rooster isn't necessary to have eggs, he will really take care of his "girls" by finding food and calling them to eat, warning them of impending danger, and even fighting for them if necessary.  He will be their personal bodyguard.  A good rooster will even help with the chicks that his hens hatch.  Woodrow, our oldest Phoenix rooster, will get on the roost at night with two to three chicks under each wing while Charlotte, the oldest hen, roosts alone.  He seems to realize she needs a break.  Prime, our Belgian Maline "yard boss" is ALWAYS the last Maline to enter the coop at night.  He makes sure that all are in before he goes to roost.  Roosters can be very helpful, especially to the hens.

When buying chickens it is important to realize that most farmers (especially on small farms) will not sell just hens.  Our hatches are normally around 50/50 ratio of male to female chicks and sometimes the number of roosters is higher.  Typically we will sell pairs or trios.  A pair is one rooster with one hen.  A trio is one rooster with two hens.  Chicks are sold from day old and straight run normally. Straight run chicks are not sexed so you take what you get.  Chicks can be shipped at one day old because they have absorbed the yolk before hatching and that will normally sustain them for 2 -3 days.

You've heard the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"!  Don't allow your pure bred chickens to range in mixed groups, for instance don't let Jubilee Orpingtons range with Phoenix and so forth.  They WILL co-mingle!  If this happens, you should not hatch their eggs for at least 14 days if you don't want crazy mixes in your chicks.  A hen will retain a rooster's sperm for around 14 days and sometimes longer.  It's necessary to have a separate coop, roost, and run for each breed to keep your pure bred chickens honest!

We keep the different breeds in separate pens with coops, roosts and runs.  We also have several large areas for them to roam.  We alternate their range days and areas.  This way everybody gets some time to roam in the really large areas.

In order to sell birds and/or ship them in most states some testing is required.  P/T testing is free and done through Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.  NPIP is also a good thing.  This program tracks movement of birds in the state and out in an effort to prevent and stop harmful poultry diseases.  In Texas your flock needs to be registered with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).  This is a simple process as well.  Find out about these and how they can help you and your flock.

Last but not least, watch your chickens.  Pay attention to how they act normally.  This will help you realize when something is not quite right and can literally be a life saver for your chickens.  There are a few diseases that require a very quick response and treatment.  Coccidiosis is one such disease.  It will kill chicks very rapidly and even mature birds if not caught immediately.  It is easily cured if you are prepared.  We keep Corid on hand.  It's a medicine for Coccidiosis that is added to their drinking water daily for 7 to 14 days.  Read about Coccidiosis in order to recognize the symptoms early.  We also keep VetRX on hand for respiratory difficulties and various other ailments.  Worm your chickens regularly (several ways of doing this as well).  DO YOUR RESEARCH!  If you don't understand what you are reading, ask a "chicken person" for recommendations.  For that matter ask several and go with what you think will work best for your circumstances.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Where do you get a Henobator?

A steadfast rule in chicken farming is that it is ALWAYS better if a hen can do the hatching.  With that said, we all have to use incubators from time to time.  In the beginning of our chicken journey, I asked my online chicken friends about which incubators were best.  Several kept coming up, but one stood out among the rest.  The "Henobator" was mentioned 8 out of 10 times.  Being new to chickens, I searched all over the internet trying to find this wildly popular incubator with no luck!  I know, I know...........DUH!  It didn't take long to figure it out.  To brood or not to brood is entirely up to the hens!  This leaves many eggs that need to be incubated. On the other hand, some of the hens would go broody with one or no eggs under them.  The larger hens can easily sit on eight to ten eggs.  Since their laying stops while they sit, it just makes sense to give them more to sit on for the 21 day incubation period, thus the "Henobator"!  I had found that miraculous incubator finally!  Go ahead and laugh, I know you want to!

Our first experience with the "Henobator" was with our little Black Cochin Bantam hen, Annie.  She was constantly going broody. Time and again her eggs proved infertile and nothing would hatch. Having many Seramas, we always have plenty of Serama eggs and not always enough broody hens.  One day my husband, Willy, took a few Serama eggs and put them under Annie.  She dutifully sat for the 21 days and hatched four beautiful Serama chicks.  It made NO difference to her that their legs were not feathered and they were smaller than normal.  They were HER chicks.  She did an excellent job of raising Seramas for me.  In fact, she did such an excellent job that she has since hatched many Seramas.  

Once this "Henobator" concept kicked in, the sky was the limit.  We've had a Phoenix hen hatch Jubilee Orpington chicks when the Jubilee girls would not cooperate.  We have even had a Serama hen (determined to remain broody until she hatched SOMETHING) sit on two Belgian Maline eggs. Two of the big eggs were all she could manage, but she stepped up to the challenge and hatched two healthy Maline chicks.  Watching her, it was easy to tell what she was thinking when these big chicks hatched - "WHOSE chicks are those?"  In two weeks they were her size, but she was a faithful mother to them.  

Most recently, we had three Cochin Bantam hens go broody with no eggs.  Willy had a bunch of Guinea eggs that he was going to put in the incubator.  He took them and divided them among the three Cochin hens.  Guinea eggs have a 28 day incubation period as opposed to the 21 day period for chicks, but these little hens do not care!  Yesterday, the first of the three hatched her "chicks".  The amazing thing about this hatch is the calm demeanor of these normally "wild" keets.  They are as calm as their "mom", while the keets hatched in the incubator are very "jumpy".  

Cochin Bantam with Guinea Keets
Cochin Bantam with Guinea Keets

                                       Our feathered friends NEVER cease to amaze me!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Which Chicken?

In deciding on a chicken breed or breeds, there are many things to consider.  What are you wanting to accomplish by owning chickens?  Do you want eggs, eggs and meat, just a pet and the eggs would be a bonus, or do you possibly want a chicken that lays certain colors of eggs?  Also, you will want to consider temperament especially if you have kids or grand kids that will be around the chickens. The following information is what we have learned in our own experiences.

If eggs are the important factor, look for chickens that average 260 or more eggs per year.  Chickens that are good layers include Dominiques (one of the oldest breeds in the U.S.), Leghorns, Marans, Orpingtons, Ameraucanas and Malines to name a few.  Of the ones mentioned, we have had experience with Dominiques, Orpingtons, and Malines and all have been excellent layers with most averaging an egg a day when they are not brooding or molting (down times).  We found the Dominiques (especially the roosters) to be more aggressive towards people.  It bears mentioning however that if you just want eggs, you do not need a rooster. All chickens will have down time when they are brooding, molting and during weather extremes which effect their laying averages.

If your desire is meat and eggs, you'll need to find good dual purpose birds.  Larger birds are normally the better meat birds obviously.  Some examples of good dual purpose birds include Australorps (Australia's "national breed"), Brahmas, Dominiques, Marans, Orpingtons, and Malines to name a few.  Again our experience is with the Orpingtons, Dominiques, and Malines.  These birds are large in size at around 6 months of age.  After looking around, we found a woman that will process our birds for around $4. each.  We have several in our freezer as we speak.  The birds we have are also excellent layers.  This gives you the best of both worlds.

If you want eggs, but desire that they be certain colors (some people do) then good choices would be:
Araucanas - blue eggs, Ameraucanas - blue eggs, Easter Eggers - blue, green, rose , brown, sage, olive or cream eggs, Cream Legbar - blue eggs, Marans - deep brown eggs, Welsummers - chocolate brown eggs, and Penedesenca - dark reddish brown eggs.  I'm sure if you do your research, you will find others.  We are not so much into the color of the egg so most of ours lay cream to light brown eggs.

If a pretty chicken is what you desire with eggs just being a bonus, look for the ornamentals.  These breeds include but are not limited to Serama, Cochin Bantams, Cochins, Silkies, and Phoenix to name just a few.  Most of the bantam sized chickens lay small to medium eggs.  This group would include the Serama (very small eggs), Cochin Bantams (medium eggs) , Silkies (medium sized eggs) and Phoenix (medium sized eggs) of those mentioned. Opringtons are not an ornamental but are gorgeous birds that come in a variety of colors especially if you get into the more rare Orpingtons such as the Jubilee and Silver laced varieties.  The benefit to these birds is that they are excellent layers and good meat birds as well as pleasing to the eye.

As far as temperament goes, we have found the Orpingtons (all varieties), Silkies, Serama, Belgian Malines and the Phoenix all to have wonderful personalities and dispositions.  That's not to say that some of the others wouldn't do just as well.  These are the breeds that we have dealt with.  We won't have birds that our grand daughter (who is almost 18 months) can't be around.

We wanted it all - eggs, meat, pretty, and calm natured!  We chose Jubilee and Silver Laced Orpingtons for their eggs, meat and looks!  Jubilee Orpingtons are still considered a rare color in the Orpington family, but the Silver Laced Orpingtons are even more rare.  These are gorgeous birds with all the other qualities as well.  We also selected the Belgian Maline which is know as the "gentle giant" of chickens.  These birds are very large with a very calm demeanor.  The hens are excellent layers and mothers. As I mentioned before, temperament is also of extreme importance to us.

Silver Laced Orpington
Jubilee Orpington

Belgian Maline

 For the smaller "pretty" breeds, we chose Seramas, Silkies and Cochin Bantams.  The Seramas are the smallest breed in the world, come in a seemingly infinite combination of beautiful colors, and have a sweet confident attitude.  They are wonderful pets and show birds.  There are specialty shows for Seramas where the birds compete in Tabletop competitions which spotlight their "attitude" and type.  They look like tiny soldiers when posed!  The Silkies are a big beautiful ball of sweet fluff.  These are the chickens that girls LOVE!  They have sweet personalities, and come in a variety of colors (black, gray, lavender, blue cream, blue, splash, and paint to name a few).  These are also great show birds and pets. The Cochin Bantams also have our heart.  They are such sweet, fluffy, beautiful small chickens with feathered legs.  They always look like they are in their big footed pajamas and are great as show birds and pets.

Cochin Bantam

We have a few other breeds such as the Phoenix.  These birds are gorgeous with the roosters having long beautiful tails.  They are good layers of medium sized cream colored eggs.  They are excellent mothers as well.  We have not had any problems with them as far as temperament.  They will even come up and eat from our hands when we whistle (the sign that we are bringing treats).


As you can see - for us - just any bird would not do.  If any of these birds interest you, contact us.  We have a facebook page - The Singleton Roost and a website under construction that will be at when completed.  We are more than happy to share any insights we have gained from raising our birds.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Farming is Almost a Lost Art

As a child I can remember my grandparents having a big garden with a little bit of everything growing in it.  They raised tomatoes, okra, peas, beans, squash, peppers, and eggplant.  We all ate from this garden as soon as it started producing each year.  As kids, we would have pea shelling contests (a trick created by my Mama B to get us to shell the peas).  Our fingers would be so sore the next day, but we would shell those peas.  My grandmother was a fantastic cook and most every Sunday (and if we were lucky also some during the week) we would get together and have lunch as a family.  My granddaddy also raised cattle and when needed they would have one processed and put in the freezer.  There was no shortage of fresh food from late spring until well into the fall.  Then we would eat off of what she had canned for the winter.

We kids would ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, which was several miles across and several miles long.  There were no worries then about being kidnapped, or worse.  We'd stay outside until almost dark.  We did not play on computers, or phones.  Our mom would call us by yelling out the front door.  We played ball, rode bikes, played "rodeo" in the pasture.  Life was good!  The neighbors chickens would come into our yard, mostly to use the restroom.  You've never lived until you find their "restroom" with your bare feet!  That's right, we went barefooted in the warm months.  We made "mud pies" and "playhouses".  The TV only had three black and white channels and it went off at midnight anyway.  There were only cartoons on Saturday mornings.

It's sad that today's kiddos are missing out on so much.  There are so many things of interest on a farm and so much to learn.  Kids today sit in the house and play video games constantly.  They need to "get out and get some sunshine" as my Mama B. would tell us to do.  They never had to tell us twice.  Staying inside was almost a punishment for us.

Most of our grand kids and nieces and nephews have grown up in cities, some of them larger cities.  They cannot wait to get here in the summer for a few days.  They typically run in and put their things away and take off to see what new pens have been built, or to explore through the Pine thicket.   They plan each year to visit again the next.  The boys actually enjoy helping Willy and Tristan work on pens and such.  The girls help with feeding the chickens and other birds and with the cooking and clean up.  They fall in and help with the chores and never seem to mind.  Then we do the fun stuff, like swimming or fishing occasionally.  We even take in a movie on occasion.

A farm is an educational experience these days.  Our dream for this farm is to eventually provide a place where kiddos can come and spend some time in the summer and learn about the almost lost art of farming.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Can't Turn Your Back on Anyone

Among our first chickens, were some Dominique chicks given to us by a friend from church.  We raised these cute little barred chicks like pets.  I would go out and sit and feed them dried meal worms from my hands.They were so friendly and would come running when I whistled.  they knew that if I whistled I was bringing treats.  They trusted me and I trusted them.  After a few months, it became clear which ones were pullets and which were cockerels.  Still they all remained very friendly and loved eating the meal worms from my hands.  Then came the dreadful day that one of my sweet and friendly roosters (now quite large) ran up and pecked my hand.  It wasn't a "love peck" either!  I told Willy and Tristan and they laughed and told me I'd probably just startled him.  I was cool with this because I loved my sweet babies.

A few days rocked on and all was well. Then, for no apparent reason, this same rooster (obviously the dominant rooster of the bunch) ran up, grabbed the skin on my hand and twisted it hard!  He PINCHED me very hard and obviously on purpose!  It seems he was trying to establish the pecking order by showing me who was at the top!  If you know me, you know this is NOT the way to get me to comply!  Now Willy and Tristan are convinced that I am doing something that irritates him.  I assure them I am doing what I have done since they were little!

The animosity between this rooster and I grew daily.  Each day he tried to make it worse than the last.  Finally, I'd had enough.  He tried to flog me (thank goodness he had no spurs yet).  The chase was on.  I chased him up and down and all around that pen until I caught him.  I picked him up, held him for a while, and we had a good talk.  I put him down expecting his compliance.  He charged me again.  I chased him, caught him, picked him up and talked again (more seriously this time).  I put him down.  Charge - Chase - Repeat!  Finally he gave up (as it turns out, it was only for that day).

My son eventually experienced the wrath of this rooster.  He gave him a not so nice nickname (which I shall not mention) and it stuck.  This rooster reached the point that he would stand at the fence and wait and watch for me.  He started warning me the instant I reached the fence and would follow all the way to the gate warning me not to enter.  WHATEVER!  That was MY pen and I was the top of the pecking order (if only I could convince him of that).

It wasn't until later (months of this disrespect actually) that we learned that Dominiques are aggressive by nature.  It wasn't me after all!  He eventually ended up being the first chicken to go in the freezer.  That's a story for another day!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chickens Anonymous Anyone?

I've said it many times now but it could stand to be repeated again that we just wanted a few chickens for eggs and meat.  So how is it - you might ask- that we now have almost 400 birds representing different breeds and types?

Willy wanted Jubilee Orpingtons and I wanted Serama.  It was so simple then!  A church friend found out we wanted chickens and graciously gave us some Dominique chicks.  We decided these would be our egg and meat birds.  Then we visited with a cousin to see how he set his birds up.  While there, he gave us a beautiful pair of Phoenix so I could have a rooster that crowed - immediate gratification!  He also gave us a pair of Eastern Wild Turkeys.  So now we are up to Donimiques, Phoenix and turkeys - none of which were part of our original plan, but oh well!  Willy ordered his Jubilee Orpington hatching eggs and we visited a farm near Dallas to look into my Seramas.  We came home with a trio of Seramas.  Little did we know that instead of having two pullets and a cockerel, we were sold two cockerels and a pullet.  This was fine for a time - until they fully matured - and then it was not so good for the hen.  We had to build them a pen and of course I would need more so that I had enough hens. Luckily, Willy had already built a nice double coop with runs for his Orpingtons (which had not hatched yet).  This held the Phoenix and Dominiques, but soon the Orpingtons would hatch and need their pen.  We would need another pen.

Serama Grow Out Pen
I found a reputable Serama breeder in Florida and ordered two trios from him.  He gifted us a pair of Bantam Cochins in our shipment.  We of course fell in love with the Cochins!   This required the building of still more pens!  My Seramas started laying and we started hatching so their numbers grew quickly.    I needed a chicken house for the Serama which we built (well mostly Willy and Tristan)!

Lady Amherst Pheasant

My cousin called and said he was giving up his pheasants - Ringneck and Lady Amherst - and wanted us to have them.  We now had more birds! Of course we could not even think of turning away these beautiful birds! This required the building of still more pens!

Belgian Maline Hen


Meanwhile, Willy discovered Belgian Malines, the gentle giants of the chicken world.  He ordered some chicks which required a pen and coop.  Again he built a double coop/run set up!  Then a neighbor gifted me some Peacock eggs.  I was delighted because Peacocks were already on my radar.  We needed more pens!

 I think by now the pattern of Poultry Addiction is abundantly clear!  We are NOT alone in this addiction.  All of our "chicken friends" suffer the same symptoms.  We all have too many chickens, have shows to sell our chickens and buy others (the buy others is part of the problem), and we NEVER have enough pens!  Just this morning, one such friend messaged me that she had found more chicks she wanted, but with the last two necessary pens not finished at her place she might have to wait!  We "chicken friends" recently found out that there is a film coming out called - "Chicken People"!  Go figure!  There must be many more chicken addicts that we first realized.  We have tentatively set a "girls night out" to see this film.

My husband and I have committed to bringing our back to our favorite rare breeds and limited numbers of those.  How this will actually turn out remains to be seen!  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Simply the Best

Willy, my husband of 17 years, is the type of person to commit himself to hours of research to be sure we are doing the absolute best for our farm be it the birds, pens or anything else.  Our chicken coops are insulated in the roof to keep the birds cooler in the summer and to hold heat from their heat lights in the winter.  The roost area can be completely closed in for added warmth and wind block in winter.  Under the coops and roosts is a shaded area for them to get out of the hot summer sun.  He has invented a nippler watering system that will not freeze in winter.  The chicken house for my Seramas has opening windows, a ceiling fan, a sink area, and an air conditioner.  Some of the coops in the chicken house have runs to the outside accessible through small doors which slide open from inside.  All of their outdoor pens have electricity so I can run heat lamps in the winter when we tarp the pens in for warmth.  Our chickens really do live in style.

Their feed is no exception.  We do't just give them feed out of any one bag.  We mix their food with ingredients Willy has researched and found to be of value to the chickens.  We feed our chicks Purina Medicated Chick Starter.  We have found that it is the right grind (for lack of a better word) to allow even the smaller chicks to find small enough pieces.  We still smash it for the new Serama chicks because some of them are absolutely tiny when they hatch.  The medicated feed also helps protect them against Coccidiosis which is the most common threat to chicks.

For grown chickens, we mix our feed in a 5 gallon bucket (this may take several refills).  The mix contains 2 parts BIG 5 laying crumbles (20%), 1 part BIG 5 Scratch Grains, 1 part BIG 5 Laying Pellets (20%), 1/2 cup Fast Track Probiotics, 1/4 cup Producer's Pride Minerals, 1 cup Black Oil Sunflower seeds, 1 cup whole Oats (from Tractor Supply), and 1/2 cup Crushed Oyster Shell.  They are fed this as a supplement for those that are pasture raised, and as feed for those birds that are penned.  All are also given occasional veggies, watermelon and cantaloupe.  All the birds have FRESH water daily.  We also throw scratch grains out in the open areas occasionally for an added treat, as well as hand feeding them dried meal worms several times a week.  As I said, Willy constantly researches to find what they need and be sure they get it.  We keep Corid on hand for the occasional battle with Coccidiosis (this is a must because once they have it they will die quickly if not treated), and VetRX for a multitude of other ailments.  We have vaccinated for Fowl Pox which is always worse during mosquito season.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Getting My Ducks in a Row

Many times in my life I've been told that I needed to get my "Ducks in a Row".  We added Silver Appleyard ducks to the farm last November and they are very smart as a breed. Each morning, my husband goes down to the barn area and turns our birds loose.  They all have areas that they can roam in to catch bugs, worms and eat grass.  To get to the large corral where the ducks are allowed to roam, they have to navigate through two gates which my husband opens for them each morning.  He closes these gates behind them so other birds are kept in their areas.  He then lets the ducklings out of their crib into the duck pen so that they too may "roam" a little.  Everyone has food and water at their disposal.

As the day winds down, we catch a couple of the ducklings and put them in their crib.  Then all we have to do is get the other ducks in a row and herd them towards ramp for their crib.  Instinctively one or two will take the lead and go up the ramp and into the crib with the rest of the little ones following in single file.  Then we can close them in for the night for their safety.

It's much the same process with the older ducks.  Usually around dusk they will come to the first gate and wait to be let through to their pen.  Occasionally we need to put them in the pen a little early.  This requires that one of us stays to open gates and the other one goes out into the corral and gathers the ducks by walking around behind the group and heading them for the gates.  Normally, one or two lead the way and the others then follow them to the pen.  Now I completely understand what I've been told all my life.  Everything works better when you get your "ducks in a row"!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Duckling of a Different Color

November of last year, we made the decision to add ducks to the farm.  As with the chickens, we did not want just any duck.  We settled on the Silver Appleyard ducks because they are large ducks which makes them good meat birds, and they are excellent layers. After looking around, we found our ducks.  We bought 15 ducklings to get started.  We had no idea how messy ducks are, but they are a joy to watch.  They grow incredibly fast as well.  Around five months of age, they started to get the beautiful coloring common to the Appleyards.  My husband, Willy, and our youngest son, Tristan, built a nice duck "crib" in a nicely shaded and fenced corral which would become their home.  Willy also converted some barrels into nice nest boxes in anticipation of the hens beginning to lay.

Our ducks grew into 8 magnificent drakes and 7 gorgeous hens.  We soon saw them begin to pair up with preferred partners.  We made the decision to go back where we had bought these and get another hen to make it an even 8 pair.  We now realize that you don't need pairs so much and have thinned out the drakes some.  However, when we picked up the extra hen, she gifted us a lone Silver Appleyard duckling that had hatched.  Soon we began to find our first eggs.  These eggs are "eggcellent" (sorry but I could not help myself) for baking and great for breakfast.  They are very large eggs and since our ducks are allowed to roam some, they are very rich eggs.

At last we started getting eggs from all the hens every day.  We decided to start hatching upon returning from vacation in July.  We already had some hens displaying "broody" symptoms.  However, the poor hens would attempt to brood not be able to stay on the nest due to the heat. The incubator became the obvious choice.  We set our first group of about 40 eggs in the incubator.  Unlike chicken eggs that require 21 days of incubation, duck eggs require 28 days.  Of course, we were beyond excited when they began to pip and hatch.  Patience is required here as well because it takes them a little longer to actually hatch once they pip.  Silver Appleyard ducklings, we have since learned, should be mostly yellow with a black "Mohawk" and the tip of the tail should be black as well to be considered "standard" for the breed.  Much to our surprise, we also had a few solid black ducklings, a few solid yellow and a few that were dark with yellow markings (more like a mallard duckling) along with our beautiful standard ducklings.

This has been quite the puzzle since:
No. 1 We purchased Silver Appleyard ducklings that were standard
No. 2 We have NO other ducks on the place (so no accidents)
No. 3 No other ducks (even wild) have access to our ducks

We started reading about this strange phenomenon and found that duck's colors have standard "phases".  Some ducks are "light phase", some are "dark phase" and then there is the occasional "rare phase".  Rare phase are just that - rare and treasured.  "A rare phase duck is a purebred duck with an unusual unstandardized color variation within the breed.  Rare phase ducks are hard to find, particularly because they must be purebred to be true." (quoted from

Silver Appleyard ducks are a standard light phase duck, but they do have instances of "rare phase" associated with the breed.  The rare phase characteristic of the Silver Appleyard is that it is dark, which is noticeable as ducklings.  There are several other qualifying criteria that have to be met for these to be considered "rare phase".  These require that they mature, lay and hatch ducklings and that some of those ducklings are "standard".  It seems we have unwittingly embarked on a "wild duck chase", but we have made the decision to see this through on the chance that we have a "rare phase" on our hands.  Stay tuned for future updates.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Show Must Go On

Life around here is never dull.  A couple of weeks ago while working on our pool, Willy slipped and fell on his shoulder.  Afraid that he might have broken his collar bone, we got ready and took him on the the doctor.  X-rays showed no break, but he had slightly dislocated his clavicle joint.  With back surgery already scheduled for this week, we knew that a broken collar bone would probably have caused the surgery to be postponed.  Meanwhile with all the weather we have been having, my allergies and subsequently asthma started acting up.  Any of you who own chickens or any other farm animals know that no matter what - the show must go on!  With both Willy and I down, the farm duties all fell to Tristan (our youngest kiddo).  Without a complaint, he took over the chores of feeding, watering, releasing and putting up the almost 400 birds we have here on our little farm.  He has literally saved us this week.  During this time, we have also had numerous hatches which means extra work for him.

You never know for sure if the things you've taught your children actually "soak in" until a time comes when you need them.  We are proud of all of our kids, but lately we have had to lean heavily on Tristan and he has NOT disappointed!  On behalf of all of our birds, I want to take this opportunity to tell our son how amazed we are by him and the way he has stepped up when we needed him.   Thanks Tristan!  Without you, the show might not have gone on this week!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Like an Old Mother Hen"

Many times since having my kids, I have been told I act like and old mother hen.  I only came to understand this comment after we started raising chickens.  My mother in law raised chickens so her family would have eggs and meat; therefore, my husband grew up accustomed to gathering eggs and dealing with the hens.  Although raised in the country, my family was more into cattle.  Both sets of grandparents raised cattle.  I was subjected to the neighbor's wandering chickens, but not in a good way (if you know what I mean).  They used our yard for a restroom and went home to lay their eggs.

When we started raising chickens, there was a lot to learn and a short time to learn it.  How many of you thought (BE HONEST) that you could just put some eggs in a nest and sit a hen on them to hatch them?  The hens get to decide when and where they will sit on a nest.  Once a hen FINALLY decides to brood (hatch eggs), even a beloved pet will turn on you in a heart beat!  She will peck you, ruffle her feathers in an attempt to intimidate you, and make you hurt yourself trying to avoid contact.  Yep, it's happened to me many times. I have sustained many minor injuries from getting too close to a hen that has suddenly decided to go broody.  I have to admit that most of the injuries came from the "knee jerk" reaction of jumping back into a door or cabinet to avoid the wrath of such a hen.   She also gives you "what for" in chicken speak and you WILL learn to speak chicken fluently and it's best not to waste time doing it.

A broody hen will sit faithfully on those eggs for 21 days and nights, only getting up to grab a bite to eat and a quick drink.  Brooding, you see, is serious business.  Often she will even pluck her under feathers to make better contact with the eggs.  She will turn the eggs a few times a day using her feet and beak.  We have learned from incubating eggs that we must turn them twice a day to prevent the yolk from attaching to the side of the egg (which in most cases will kill the chick).  We have also learned that a good temperature for our incubator is 99 degrees for hatching with a humidity of around 50%.  We also stop turning them three days out from the hatch date.  Our sweet little hens know instinctively how to do every bit of this and typically have a very high hatch rate.  If an egg is fertile, normally a good hen can hatch it.

Once her chicks begin to pip (break the shell to start the process of hatching), she will NOT leave them.  She stays until all that are going to hatch have hatched.  She gives ample time for the chicks to hatch always aware when there are still eggs under her that have not hatched.  Occasionally, if a chick goes away from the hen while others are hatching, the hen will leave the nest to care for the hatched chick(s), but normally the chicks stay there with her until she finishes.  She then takes them to find food and water.  She will find a piece of food, lay it down and call to the chicks and show it to them by touching it with her beak.  She teaches them to drink in much the same way.  This is truly and amazing process to watch.  She won't lay again until the chicks are old enough to take care of themselves.  She will protect them against all dangers including the hands that feed her!  If the chicks get cold, they call out and she will sit and let them under her to get them warm.  Chicks have to be kept at certain temperatures for the first few weeks of their life.  In the brooder we start out at 95-100 degrees for the first week and subtract 10 degrees for each week.  The mama hens listen to the chicks and warm them when necessary.

When the chicks are old enough, she instinctively starts laying again.  At this point (sometimes a little sooner), she stops "biting the hand that feeds her" and resumes normal behavior.  This process usually takes around three weeks.  The chicks are mostly feathered out by this time and know how to eat and drink on their own.

Some of our hens have even been known to double up and take turns sitting on a nest, and then share "mama" duty once the chicks hatch.  The chicks will go to either hen when she sits and be equally comfortable.  We have had this happen with several breeds.  There was one situation where a Phoenix hen hatched some chicks and we had to put her and the babies with an Orpington hen that had hurt her leg (for lack of space).  The Orpington hen soon "adopted" the chicks and helped raise them.  When the Phoenix hen was ready to leave the chicks, the Orpington took over "mama" responsibility until they could be mixed with the grown chickens.

The hens do a remarkable job of getting their babies ready for the world.  I am now honored to be referred to as "an old mother hen"!  These chicks know what they are doing!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Really Did Buy a Farm

Having both grown up in the country, we really wanted to have our three youngest kids grow up in the country as well.  We had both tried city living and found that it just wasn't "home" for us.  We began our search for a forever home.  The real estate agent called and told us about this great place that had 40 acres,a house, a barn etc.  It sounded like just what we had been looking for and we could not wait to see it.  The first time we came out here, we wondered if we would EVER find our way back to it if we bought it.  We are talking way out in the country!  We knew it was perfect when we walked in and there hanging on the wall in the kitchen was a sign that read, "SINGLETON".  However, we found out later that our perfect house already had a contract on it.  We were very discouraged but continued looking.  Willy worked out of town a lot at that time and was not home when the realtor called to tell me that my perfect place was back on the market (the sale had fallen through).  He told me to discuss it with Willy and let him know if we were still interested.  I immediately told him that I did not need to talk to Willy to be able to tell him YES!  We bought our "perfect place" and moved the kids to the farm.  It was a hard adjustment for the 14 year old son, but the two young ones loved it immediately!  As luck would have it the school bus came right up to the house to get our kids.  At the time, only the 14 year old attended school.  We got him enrolled in this small school.  Within a few months, he admitted that even he liked it here better than in town.

We tried our hand at baling hay, and the big round bales only became resting places for the local pack of coyotes.  By the way, these same coyotes frequently serenaded us at night.  The hay was also great for the kids to climb up on and play.  However, it took up a lot of space, and due to our less than quality hay we had a hard time selling it.  We then took up gardening and gardened for several years.  The kids learned all about squash bugs and how to get rid of them (manually) as well as how to shell peas and pick other vegetables.  The fresh produce was amazing until the deer and wild hogs decided to share the bounty!  Needless to say, they did not fully comprehend the idea of sharing.  We tried everything to keep them out of the garden, but they found the veggies too irresistible and worth any risk.

It was not unusual for us to come out with the kids to get on the school bus and find wild hogs in our front yard.  This made the kids a little edgy and thank goodness this phase did not last long.  The hogs were a little edgy with our presence as well.  We still see evidence of their presence, but haven't actually seen them a long time.  The deer are still daily visitors, especially since we made the decision to plant most of the place in pine trees.  The pine trees provide a perfect route for the deer to traverse our property.  They have grown accustomed to us and our dogs and are not easily dissuaded either.  We see ducks land on the pond and spend a few days before continuing on their way each fall.  My husband has even seen a couple of eagles fly over.  There has been no shortage of timber rattlers, rabbits, squirrels around our place, and our youngest kids have grown up very close to nature.   The boys have always been very comfortable wandering through the woods "exploring".

Buying this farm was one of the best decisions we have ever made.  Living here has been such a blessing not only to our kids, but to our grand kids and various nieces and nephews that plan a visit each summer.  They of course take part in the daily chores which now includes the chickens, turkeys, ducks and pheasants we raise.  They are having fun, but we know they are learning a little more about differing lifestyles.  Our youngest kiddo is 18 now and will soon be attending college.  As our own kids move off and make their way in the world, we hope to keep improving the farm for grand kids, and other kiddos that want to learn about country living.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Licenses, Tests, and Rules - Oh My!

Our initial purpose in raising chickens was to have healthy fresh eggs and meat for our family.  Soon we began to enjoy raising the chickens and hatching chicks so much that we decided to raise rare breeds to sell.  Being new to the chicken scene, we didn't realize how many requirements there actually are to be able to show and ship hatching eggs or chickens and such.  We also wanted to raise Eastern Wild Turkeys (pen raised version).

The first requirement we had to meet was a Texas Wild Game Bird Breeders License.  Anyone having any birds considered game birds such as turkeys, ducks and pheasants (and others) are required to be licensed to have these birds in your possession.  This would be our first license.  Since we have less than 1000 of these birds, our license is currently $27.00 per year.  In order to obtain a license you will need to contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The second requirement to be able to sell the birds from your home is that they be PT (Pullorum/Typhoid) tested.  This is a free service provided by Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL).  We found out our region and who would be responsible for testing our birds and made an appointment.  Our guy, Mark, was very efficient, friendly and helpful.  Our birds tested clean and we were given the paperwork to pass on to our customers showing this.  He also put us in touch with the gentleman over the NPIP program here in Texas.

We contacted the NPIP representative, and found that we need only be PT clean to be in the lower tier of NPIP.  This would require an application, proof of PT testing, and $100.00 per year to become NPIP certified.  We quickly got the paperwork done and sent in to become a NPIP farm.  Being NPIP is required to be able to ship poultry or hatching eggs into most states.

Thinking we had the bases covered now, we began selling and shipping our hatching eggs.  At this point it was brought to our attention that some states (quite a few to be exact) require more for shipping in poultry or eggs.  Many require AI (Avian Influenza) testing be done as well.  After some research and correspondence with our NPIP guy, we found the name of an Avian Veterinarian who would come to our farm and test the required 30 birds for Avian Influenza.  This is a little more expensive and ended up costing us around $450.00 (which included his travel and was significantly cheaper than carrying 30 birds to any of the other Vets we'd found to do the testing).  We scheduled an appointment and had the 30 birds tested.  This took a little longer to receive the results as the blood from the birds had to be sent away for testing.  In a week or two we received the news that our birds were in fact AI (H5/H7) clean and we could proceed with the upgrade in our NPIP classification.  We sent the needed paperwork to our NPIP contact and we were upgraded to NPIP AI (H5/H7) clean classification.  Our NPIP number is 74-4222.  The NPIP is a wonderful organization that keeps track of the movement of poultry through sales and such to aid in the prevention and control of poultry related diseases.

Again, thinking we had the bases covered, we shipped more eggs.  This time it was brought to our attention that some states require you have an Import Permit for their state.  To find out which states require such permits takes some research.  Most of these permits are free but must be applied for.  We are in that process now.

Then a friend and fellow chicken person planned a local Poultry Trades Day for our area.  To be able to show or attend these trades days our flock needed to be registered with the Texas Animal Health Commission.  This requires another application, and a fee based on the number of birds in your flock. We filled out the necessary paperwork and sent the fee in.  Soon a representative for our area of the State contacted us and set up an appointment to come out and count our birds to be sure we had paid the correct fee.  Again, another nice person showed up and did what was required and we were registered.  Our TAHC permit number is 2928 and is good for one year, at which time we will register the flock again.

To date, The Singleton Roost is a P/T clean NPIP AI (H5/H7) (#74-4222) clean farm with a TAHC registered flock (Permit #2928) and a Texas Game Bird Breeders License.  It has taken a while to research requirements and to fulfill them, but we are proud to have reached this point in our effort to breed and offer for sale quality birds. Because we sell Serama (the smallest chickens in the world) we are also a member of the Serama Council of North America, The Lone Star Serama Council and the North East Texas Serama Council.  We strive to have nice pens, coops and pasture area for our birds.  We do accept visitors and customers to our farm.  Please call ahead so we can arrange a visit. We look forward to meeting you and introducing you to our amazing birds.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Names Have Changed to Confuse the Innocent

Have you ever seriously read through the labels on egg cartons at your local supermarket?  Do you have any clue what they mean?  It might surprise you, just like it did me, to know that the government does not set requirements or definitions for egg carton labels with the exception of "certified organic".  I did a little research and hope to shed some light on this label confusion.  What follows is my understanding of all I have read on this subject.

First of all, terms like "farm fresh" and "all natural" are really meaningless.  They are used to create a picture in the mind of the consumer portraying a farmer gathering his eggs and rushing them off to the supermarket.

Most of the eggs in our country (some agencies say up to 95%) are laid by caged chickens.  These hens are usually confined in as little as 67 square inches of space.  They don't get to walk around, stretch, spread their wings or any other natural behavior.  Many also have things done to them to manipulate the laying cycle.  These eggs are probably the very cheapest you can buy at your local supermarket.

The next level up in the label mystery is "cage-free".  This simply means that although still very crowded, they are not physically in a small cage.  They can walk, stretch, spread their wings and lay in a nest.  Normally these hens never get to go outdoors.  Each bird ends up with about a square foot of space.  Many cage-free producers are audited for various certifications and therefore are required to provide perching and dust bathing areas.  I have purchased these in the supermarket for around $7.00 for 18 eggs (before we started raising chickens).

Moving on up is the "free-range" category.  This just means that the chickens have access to the outdoors, although this normally means a small screened in area with either a concrete or dirt floor and little or no grass.  In most cases this category is strikingly similar to "cage-free".  The chickens are still very crowded.

The gold standard is "pasture raised".  These chickens spend most of their time outdoors with plenty of space and access to shelter.  They have access to grass, worms and insects as well as feed. They are allowed the more natural behaviors of chickens such as foraging, dust bathing and such.

These different categories of eggs can range in price up to $7-8.00 per 18 "cage-free" eggs at the supermarket.  Most farmers charge around $4.00 - 5.00 per dozen for their fresh eggs.

Personally, our chickens are truly pasture raised with a lot of land to roam on.  They wander about during the day foraging for worms, insects and seeds in the grass and dust/sun bathe when they please.  There is a coop with nest boxes and roosts to which they return at the end of the day.  You know "all chickens come home to roost".  We close them in at night to protect them from predators, but open the doors early each morning so they can "fly the coop". They come and go at will.

As I have mentioned before, there is no comparison between a true pasture raised egg and one from the other categories. In a study done by Mother Earth News which compared pastured eggs to the USDA standard conventional egg - the pastured eggs were considerably higher in vitamins A and E and Omega-3s.  In addition the pastured eggs were found to be lower in cholesterol and saturated fat. However, the noticeable difference is the taste.  Eggs purchased from local farmers are very reasonably priced especially when quality is of utmost importance.  This also provides an opportunity to help out a local farmer who really does rise at dawn to tend chickens and gather fresh eggs.

We, and many others, offer our fresh pasture raised eggs at around $4.00-5.00 per dozen.  The next time you see a "Fresh Eggs" sign, stop in and get you some.  You will not regret it!

This baby girl LOVES fresh eggs!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

From Marilyn to Merlyn

When we first got into the chicken business, my husband ordered some Jubilee Orpington hatching eggs.  He ordered one dozen and we got a little Styrofoam incubator.  We were so excited to hatch our own chicks.  We waited as patiently as possible throughout the 21 day incubation period until finally it was hatch day.  Lesson number one: don't expect a high hatch rate from shipped eggs!  Our dreams were somewhat dashed when only three chicks hatched.  They were beautiful chicks - little "blond" balls of fluff.  Lesson number two: not all chicks that hatch will be healthy!  One of the cute little blond chicks kept falling over onto its back unable to right itself.  My husband tried to break it to me gently that this little chick probably would not make it.  Those of you who know me at all, know that this scenario was completely unacceptable!  No baby ANYTHING will be allowed to die peacefully or otherwise on my watch.

We keep several aquariums set up as brooders for the babies.  I went down several times a day to set this chick up right and make sure she ate and drank.  She was growing fine, but still I would find her on her back kicking her feet in the air.  I quickly decided on a name for the cute little blond thing that stayed on her back - Marilyn (after another famous blond and for obvious reasons).  Marilyn and I continued our daily ritual until she began to be on her back less and less.  My diligence had paid off!  Marilyn was quickly going from blond to growing her beautiful red mottled feathers.  I didn't bother to notice what appeared to be hackle feathers.

One day my husband came to "break the news" to me once again.  He said,"I've got some news about Marilyn!"  I immediately thought the worst, after all she had gotten off to such a rough start.  He said,"Marilyn is crowing!"  I told him that could not be - I just knew Marilyn was a hen!  NOPE - as it turned out Marilyn had grown into a big beautiful red mottled Jubilee Orpington rooster!  We could not let any self respecting rooster be named Marilyn!  That day Marilyn became Merlyn!  Merlyn was one of our favorite farm pets and gave us gorgeous chicks!  He had beautiful red hackles and saddle feathers along with the mottling that comes with Jubilee Orpingtons.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Tale of Two Roosters

This post is as it was related to me by my husband:

The first bantams we got were a pair of Cochins, a little blue rooster and a little black hen.  They were about three months old when we got them as part of a Serama purchase my wife made.  Our goal has always been to allow our chickens to free range as much as possible and the Cochins would be no exception.  As soon as they had settled in, I began releasing them outside their coop around the barn.  Annie, the little hen, weighed in at a whopping 18 ounces and Kong, the blue rooster, weighed in at  about 22 ounces and believed, as all roosters do, that he was the "cock of the walk".  The pair were a pleasure to watch and listen to as they walked around the barn looking for anything of interest.  Annie soon learned that if she came into the barn where I was working, she would be rewarded with a handful of dried meal worms.  She would then ride around on my shoulder.  Kong was a little skeptical of this practice but eventually followed her into the barn.  He kept a safe distance and guarded their retreat as she enjoyed the treats from my hand.  It would be good to remember that a rooster does not know how small he is and will stick up for his hen(s) against all interlopers.

We had previously purchased Belgian Malines from Greenfire Farms and they were reaching maturity at about 5 months of age.  Malines are a large breed chicken with the roosters regularly reaching 12 pounds and the hens reaching 8 pounds early in their development.  Luckily, they are also known for being "gentle giants".  I had been allowing them to free range outside but in an area separate to the barn so that Kong and Annie, who by now were my favorite pets, could keep their own space.  Malines, however, are excellent free ranging chickens and over the course of several days began to navigate farther and farther around the barn until they were overlapping Kong and Annie's area.  At first there were no conflicts since the diminutive Cochins gave way to the much larger Malines.  One of the Maline roosters, named Prime, was larger than the rest and at six months weighed in at an impressive 10 pounds.

One day Annie made her usual inspection of the inside of the barn where she received her treats, but I noticed that Kong did not follow her in.  I walked to the end of the barn and peered out onto the drive and could only watch in complete fascination as little Kong squared off against Prime.  I did not have my phone with me and I am not sure that I would have had the presence of mind to film it anyway.  With hackles raised, Kong was jumping into the air as high as he could trying to flog and peck Prime.  Prime, with hackles raised, had a puzzled look and was bent down at the neck trying to figure out how to attack this tiny rooster back.  Obviously, jumping and flogging were out of the question since Kong was so short.  He seriously looked at Kong in amazement following each of Kong's jumps as if to say, "How do I jump lower to teach this guy a lesson?".  Each attempt made by Kong was futile since his highest jump was several inches short of even reaching Prime's bowed head.  There they stood for what seemed like several minutes.  Neither one could get any satisfaction from this stand off.  No one got hurt (not even their pride) since both had given it their best!  Prime eventually walked off leaving Kong to turn back toward the barn and give a triumphant crow.

We lost Kong about a year ago.  He just didn't come out of his coop one morning.  To this day I miss his calls to Annie when he would lose sight of her and his crows of assertiveness.  We still have Prime, a respectable representative of his breed.  He still is the yard boss taking on any and all challenges.  He is always a docile and protective rooster that, even at his present weight of 12 pounds, looks at our 17 month old granddaughter as an oddity to be studied.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What's in a Name?

It was my husband Willy's idea to get a few chickens.  As I have mentioned before, we are not sure how it happened, but a few turned into a few more and a few more and so on and so forth.  Before we knew it our "few" chickens had turned into almost 400 birds.  The first mature pair of chickens were given to me by my cousin.  The policy at his house was that any bird that his wife named could not be sold, traded or eaten.  This sounded like a perfectly good and reasonable plan to me as well.  That first pair became Woodrow and Charlotte.  They were soon followed by Hercules, Frizzle, Samson, Delilah, Bonnie, Clyde, Hollywood, Raven, Sassy, Leonitis, Fancy, Ginger, Goldfinger, Gladys, Bella, Kong, Annie, Maximillian, Apollo, Prince, Annabelle, Zues, Tanto, Lacy, Lexi, Lucy, Morticia, and the list goes on!

It is becoming abundantly clear just exactly what happened around here!  Our policy has evolved more towards - I name all I can and we sell the rest!  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to come up with 400 names?  Don't tell my husband, but I'll be accepting ideas for names soon!  (I've about tapped out the grand kids' name list as well).  Does anyone know where I can find a local chapter of Chickens Anonymous?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Day on the Farm

Our mornings begin in the big cedar rocking chairs on the front porch with a fresh cup of coffee.  From this vantage point, we can watch the turkeys and chickens that Willy has already turned out to free range.  Occasionally we have the privilege of watching the deer make their morning stroll through the pasture and into the pine trees that border our farm on the west side.  It is here, in the peace of the morning, that our day takes shape.

Chores on a farm are endless but, for the most part, not unpleasant.  Many days, as we go about feeding and watering our various birds, we see chicks hatch.  It is nothing short of a miracle that in a set number of days, a chick forms within an egg.  This same chick instinctively knows it must break into the air sack of the egg and then punch a hole in the shell to get more air.  This is known as "pipping".  Once the chick accomplishes this, it can breathe and take it's time "unzipping" the shell.  It does this by carefully punching through the shell in a circle around the large end of the egg.  All the while, it is absorbing the yolk and blood supply from the egg to use as nourishment for it's first few days.  The chick will then push the shell open and break free.  The yolk it has absorbed will sustain it for two or three days if need be.  It's always like Christmas on hatch days.  With some of the breeds, we know what the chicks will look like.  For instance, the Jubilee Orpingtons will be predominately yellow to golden in color.

A Serama hen with her tiny chicks.
 However, our Serama eggs are "like a box of Chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."  Sometimes the Serama chicks aren't any larger than the end of your thumb and it's amazing that they are even able to "pip".  We raise all sizes of chickens, from Serama (the smallest chickens in the world) to Belgian Malines (among the largest chickens).

A mama Maline and her babies.
We also get to witness the different personalities and watch their "preferred friendships" develop.  This becomes abundantly clear if a bird is separated from their "friend(s)".  They will call each other from wherever they are all day long, or until they are reunited.  Roosters will find food, and instead of eating it, they will call to their hens and let them eat first.  We frequently give the birds dried meal worms as a treat.  To a chicken, this is chicken crack!  Still the roosters will take the worm, lay it down and call to his hens.  There is absolutely nothing cuter than the "dance" chickens do as they scratch for food, or the dance of a rooster trying to impress a hen.

A Chicken Condominium
Often days are filled with building pens or free range areas for certain groups of birds, such as the turkeys or peacocks.  Our chickens live in what the neighbors fondly refer to as "chicken condominiums".  There are fans in the coops, automatic non-freezing watering systems, feeders and other "options" that take a lot of Willy's creativity and time.  He spends a lot of time caring for birds who are "under the weather" or injured as well. We have a hard time "culling" and only do so as a last resort.

A Fairy Garden

There is also much landscaping to do to make the place prettier for us and for those who visit as friends or customers.  I love old farm implements and rusty old chicken paraphernalia so these things are incorporated whenever possible.  Willy and Tristan, our youngest son, are always kind enough to build me arbors and trellises from cedar limbs gathered from our land.  Some of my gates are made from the cedar as well.

My Arbor and Gate from Cedar

Farm life is extremely demanding and extremely rewarding.  We feel so blessed to be able to witness the everyday miracles of this lifestyle.  Hopefully, many of you will have reason and opportunity to visit with us one day.  We love to share the beauty of our little farm.  However, you must keep in mind, it seems to always be a work in progress.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Oh That Smell!

Shortly after moving back to the country, we decided to get a good dog to protect the kids and the property.  At the time, we had three kids still living at home and their ages were 14, 4, and 1.  We needed a dog that could not only chase off "critters", but also protect the kids if and when needed. Our farm is about 40 acres in size and is backed by a wildlife reserve that is around 3000 acres.  It's also surrounded by large tracts of land, so we knew there would be critters!  We ended up with a male Akita pup, which we named "Gus" (after Gus from Lonesome Dove).

Gus quickly grew into a very big dog and a loyal sidekick.  Although Gus was not really serious about the protection part of his job, he LOVED to chase things, (which to critters translated as protecting us ).  He chased everything from squirrels, to deer, to raccoons and - yes- particularly skunks.  He often came home smelling faintly like a skunk.  They seemed by far his favorite thing to chase.

One morning we were stirred awake by the most horrible smell.  It was so strong, it would bring tears to your eyes and at that strength was hard to recognize.  It was a nauseating smell and it was wafting throughout the house strong enough to wake the entire household.  We realized it was in fact a skunk, but stronger than we'd ever smelled and that could only mean one thing - it was closer than they had ever been.  The kids thought the skunk had to be inside the house.  Upon inspection, Willy found that the openings leading under our pier and beam house were wide open.  We hadn't thought much about this until now.  Sometime during the early morning hours, Gus had found a skunk to chase.  Chase he did, right under the house where it unloaded all it had to offer!  This was made worse by the fact that the air ducts for the lower floor were under the house.  We had to spend the day away from home and allow the house to air out to the best of our ability.  It was days before life would be completely normal again.  However, it did not take Willy long to make doors for those openings.  Gus continued to chase things, especially skunks, but after that they could no longer cause us to have to evacuate!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Where the Deer in the Cantaloupe Play

We love living in the country and the seclusion it provides.  We are also amazed at the variety of wildlife that get up close and personal all the time.  After we had lived here for a few years, we got an Akita puppy.  Having already had an Akita, we loved the breed and it made perfect sense to get another.  We named her Sadie and she lived a long life on the farm.  As a young dog, Sadie kept the critters out of the yard, the deer and hogs out of the garden, and she was an excellent babysitter!  She would place herself between the kids and any area beyond the yard and not let them pass.  She guarded them very carefully, just as she guarded the farm.

We took up gardening and had a large garden every year for a number of years.  Each year the garden was larger and finally my husband decided to add watermelons and cantaloupes to our already large garden.  For several years, the cantaloupes and watermelons did well thanks to Sadie's vigilance.  However, as Sadie grew older, she became a little less interested in the deer being around.  The deer sensing her complacence, took full advantage.  As it happens, they loved the cantaloupe and watermelon and began to realize that we had it each year, and at the same time.  They would come and bring their family to our garden smorgasbord.

After a while, we began to notice pieces of cantaloupe and watermelon in the yard.  It seemed strange that the deer would drag them into the yard - adding insult to injury!  It was even stranger that Sadie was allowing this practice.  We began watching more carefully.  As we drove into our yard one evening, we found it full of deer and Sadie watching calmly from the porch where she was laying.  The minute she saw us, she sprang into action and chased those silly deer out of the yard.  The next morning there were pieces of cantaloupe and watermelon in our yard again.  Even stranger, Sadie was eating the fruit all the way to the rind.  It seemed she had developed a taste for the fine fruit the deer left broken in the garden - such a waste to just leave it there.  Somewhere along the line, she had realized that if she left the deer alone for just a while, they would leave her some fruit.  Sadie and the deer were in collusion!

Our garden didn't stand a chance after that.  We very often saw Sadie come walking up with a cantaloupe or piece of watermelon in her mouth.  She was fourteen when we lost her.  The farm hasn't been the same since.  However, the deer show up each year patiently waiting on us to plant their garden again.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Farm and Murphy's Law

In the beginning, we only had a few chickens.  A church friend had given us a few Dominique chicks and a cousin gave us a pair of Phoenix chickens so I could hear the rooster crow each morning.  Everyone warned us of the critters, particularly snakes, that would visit to take advantage of our new enterprise.  However, in those first four months, we never had one incident!

 As my husband prepared for his annual mission trip to Ghana, and our son prepared for his last year at church camp, I prepared to take care of the chickens and the farm for two weeks - ALONE!  Normally as soon as I deliver my husband to the airport and my son to church camp, Murphy's law kicks in!  One year it was wild hogs in the watermelon patch, another year it was a huge dog in our garden (who refused to leave even when I fired my pistol to scare him) - but ALWAYS something!  This year would be no exception!  On my first day alone, I'd done all the chores and gotten dressed to go to dinner with our older son and his wife.  I ran down to the coop to check one last time.  I opened up the nest boxes.  It didn't register right away that the long black squiggly thing in there was - oh yeah - a SNAKE!  Knowing my own limitations, I grabbed my cell phone and called our older son!  I explained my dilemma and begged for help to which he replied,"Mom, it will take me thirty minutes to get there and I'll just stand behind you when I do."  So I began frantically calling neighbors.  No one was home yet.  Finally, I called my friend and asked her to send her husband to rescue me!  Guess what?  He was at work!  She called some friends and they were at work!  In a few minutes, she drove up and said, "I'm all you've got, but here I am."  We devised a  plan!  She would use a stick to chase the snake into the open while I stood ready to kill it (by this time I was holding a hoe)!  We were wedged in the coop door.  Great plan - NOT!  The snake moved all over the coop as if enjoying the "side show" while every attempt to kill it failed!  It then slithered back to the nest box!  I decided it wasn't getting the eggs!  I stuck the hoe into an opening with a foot of clearance and sprang into action!  The hoe bounced up and down like a jack hammer sending shock waves up and down my arms with each impact.  I don't know how much time passed, but finally my friend touched my shoulder and said, "I think you got it, Renee'."  After laughing hysterically not at what we had accomplished, but HOW, I used the hoe and pulled the snake from the coop.  That snake was at least six feet long (although I prefer to believe it was more like eight feet long).  Needless to say, I was late to dinner, but the chickens and eggs were safe!