Dogs & Eggs

How do we manage our bountiful harvests of duck, chicken and goose eggs?
  • Perfect eggs are sold through the on-line co-op directly to members who order them.
  • Cosmetically "imperfect" eggs (stains, odd shapes, etc.) are saved and eaten by Spouse and I.
  • "Sketchy" eggs (thin shell, hairline crack, found in sunshine, etc.) are saved, cooked hard, and fed to the dogs.
If there's ever been a time where our dogs have looked at me in utter adoration, it's been when I've topped their kibble with cooked eggs.


Dog Debacle & Redemption

It was all my fault.

It was easier to get Bandit into the cab of the truck instead of the bed, because the used utility truck we own was/is jacked up for bushwhacking. Though the truck bed tailgate is out of easy reach, Bandit can get her paws up to the cab floor. Once she's on her hind legs, all I need to do is lift her arthritic hips, and let her walk forward. Her sister Maggie can jump into the truck cab all by herself, so this should be easy, right?

Yeah. You know where this is going.

In the interests of efficiency and saving time, my keys, purse, phone, and full travel mug of coffee are placed in the cab's center console before getting Bandit inside. From there, as they say, "chaos ensues".

Center console with coffee and purse overturns as Bandit gets into the truck and decides she is going to drive. Bandit's paws and underbelly also happen to have soil all over from digging up a cool spot under the trees, so soon there is soil mixed with coffee mixed with nervous dog saliva all over the vinyl seats, floors, and dashboard. Swell. No time to do more than wipe the driver seat with a nearby towel, and off we go to the vet. Bandit continues to insist on driving, or at the very least sitting on my lap en route. I strong-arm her aside for the blessedly short 2.3 mile drive, while giving thanks for automatic transmission. Bandit is the poster-dog for pet-seat restraints.

We get to the vet. I step out of the cab and get ready to leash her when she leaps from the truck seat and starts a panicked run off the vet property. Gawds, this day is getting better & better. A vet tech witnesses the commotion, and makes an end-run before Bandit heads into the local subdivision. So glad she loves the vet techs. Bandit practically drags me into the vet office after capture, trailing the tech.

I pick Bandit up later that afternoon. The tech helps me lift Bandit into the truck bed instead of the cab, as I still don't want anyone but myself driving. I bungee Bandit's collar to a tie-down in the truck bed to deter a potential suicide leap while on the drive home. I was not looking forward to lifting her out of the truck bed by myself, but I'd rather get her home safe and deal with a torqued back from lifting than wrestling the wheel with her on the road. Party pooper, I know.

Photo: Bandit is unbungee'd at this point, I swear.
Here we get to the redemption part. Perhaps some rare moment in the past when I wasn't crabby, I made someone smile and accrued some positive vibes. Don't know how else to credit the idea that pops into my head on how to get Bandit out of (and in the future, into) the truck bed. Next to our driveway is a section of deep/high cutout on the hillside. I back the truck up to the cutout, and drop the tailgate. It lines up perfectly with a level patch of ground. Maggie, excited to see her sister, bounds up the gentler part of the slope and runs into the truck bed to get a good sniff of Bandit. I stand around feeling smug, admiring my handiwork, then wonder why Bandit isn't leaving the truck.

Oh, right. She is still bungee'd to the truck bed.

Bless the unconditional love that dogs give us. I'm not sure how Bandit survives our relationship.


Portents & Signs

 This could be a sign...

...that we need to ride our bikes more often.

Happy May Day!

[pic: Inca dove.]


The Shark Cage

Baby chicks are adorable balls of fluff. Chickens, baby or full grown, are also predators, and not above cannibalizing their own, alive or dead. Natalie of the wonderful Chicken Blog wrote of having a "shark cage" to protect her hens from predators. I've had to create a shark cage to protect some of the chicks from each other.

Feather picking can happen for any number of reasons. Boredom, noticing new blood feathers emerging (the sight of blood gets them into a frenzy, just like sharks), too small a pen, poor feed, too hot... the possibilities are many. This flock is the first I've raised - and I think I've raised at least four - that this has ever happened. After finding three butt-pecked chicks (now five-week-old pullets) in the space of thirty minutes, figured it was time to change things up for the flock.

It was time to move them to the Big Blue Room.

The first of the butt-picked. My cuddle buddy, a rooster.
First, sequester the butt-picked. Sprayed Blue-Kote on their backsides to clean and dye the area so the red isn't so obvious, which in turn dyes my own hands & arms in the overspray. It's the gentian violet. Awesome. Great for temporary tattoos. Left them in the living room with towels, food & water. They mostly pooped on the towels. Mostly.

Next, I looked around, and figured the easiest place to put the new digs was directly behind the 10'x10' coop (the Home Despot modified shed), under the sprawling oak. Good protection from any northern winds, and a nice combo of sun and shade for the pen. Snagged a roll of fencing, moved a pallet of rotting straw that was in the way, set up a pallet against the coop as a temporary roost. Trimmed the low oak branches, moved rocks, set up a protected feed/water area. Put eyebolts on the coop wood trim, attached a large tarp for rain protection, then bungied the opposite ends to the oak branches. Set up a "shark cage" within the new digs for the injured pullets, and set up the heat lamp so the heat would be shared by both areas.

The new palace.
Last but not least: capture then move the 27 pullets from the porch pen to their new digs. One chick eluded my grasp and managed to fly over into the duckling pen, freaking out the ducks. The ducklings huddled with fright in a corner as the chick strutted around, proud of her skills. [Spouse laughed when I told him this part. "That's right, b*tches, I can FLY!"]

Duckling: "What-what-WHAT???"
The chicks were in turn freaked out by the Big Blue Room at first. "No porch wall! No ceiling! What's this weird stuff beneath my feet? AIIEEE!!!!". Took a better part of an hour for them to calm down and come out from under the pallet. Took a little longer for them to forgive me.   

A few of the chicks, now on top of the pallet. They learn fast. 

Overnight, a cold front blew in (of course!), and this morning found part of the fence blown down. Thankfully it was early enough that the mature hens hadn't decided to check out the new girls, and the new girls weren't too keen on exploring yet. Threw some chopped lettuce into the center of the pen to distract the chicks, then fixed the fence. 

Whew. Quite the 24-hours for chicks and human alike. 


Feel Free to Laugh at Our Pain

Video was taken a few years ago, but the situation remains the same: it's egg-laying season for the geese, and the geese are crabby. Thankfully it's only four months out of the year.


I Love This Goose & Duck Feeder, Okay?

Installed the last new poultry and waterfowl feeder a couple weeks ago. It took the place of an old goose feeder station that used two baby pig troughs mounted on a backboard. While prepping for replacement, dug out the sunken pavers that held up the old station so it could be re-leveled. When I saw all the worms wriggling in the dug-up soil below, I called over the hens so they could have a snack.

I've seen at least one of these girls swallow a small snake, whole. Despite those kinds of instincts, these hens did not understand the concept of eating worms. What???

A few brave souls would eyeball a worm, pick it up and give it a shake. They'd then drop the worm and walk away. Ooookaaaay. I had to make up for that obviously bad call by scattering some scratch for them to eat. I have a reputation to maintain as the biggest providing rooster, you know.

photo of the Saturn 3 (smaller feeder)
courtesy Premier 1 Supplies
Moving along: All the moving, digging and leveling done in the area of the old feed station left me smelling of waterfowl spit and old fermented grains. The work (and smells) were worth it all, however, as the new station is nice and level, and there will be so much less waste with these new feeders, Saturn 15's from Premier 1 Supplies (and no, I'm not getting paid for this review, it just took a long time to find a good feeder large enough for ducks and geese).

The Saturn 15 has larger feed openings than the Saturn 3, and easily fits most duck and goose heads, although you could always remove every other "bar" on the grill if you needed larger openings. The feeders have eliminated a good 80% or more food waste, which is a significant cost savings when it comes to organic chow.

Some things I've learned about using feeders - in general, and specifically the Saturn 15 - for ducks and geese:

Photo of ours, the Saturn 15.
Not as pretty as Premier 1's photo. 
1. Since they need to drink water to wash down dry feed, one needs to keep drinking water near the feed station. They will often grab a mouthful of feed then dunk their beaks in the water. This can lead to drinking water needing refreshing twice a day, so the grains don't start fermenting.

2. When ducks & geese move from water bowl to the Saturn 15 feeder, their wet beaks can leave moisture in the feed, which may clump and block feed in the tower from refilling the base. You'll want to raise the tower to sit at its highest level on the base, and to check the feeder to ensure free-flowing feed. I give our feeders a few shakes every night to ensure the base is filled.

3. If you don't hang the feeder, the small "hat" at the top of the feeder can get knocked off by a stiff breeze or a curious goose. I use a carabiner clip at the top to keep the hat on the feeder. The hat also keeps chickens from trying to roost at the top.

4. Although feed gets eaten rather quickly around here, the fats in organic feed/grains can go rancid if kept too warm for long periods of time. Keep feeders protected from direct sunlight. Spouse built these wooden feed protectors for both sun and rain protection.

The one downside: we had hoped the new feeders would keep out the dogs, who believe that being fed twice a day is not quite enough. Since they no longer have the easy access like they did the old feeders, they've taught themselves to lick the feed out from between the grill bars instead. *sigh*. Dogs.


A New Pack of Poultry, A New Drama of Ducks

Due to the Egg Laying Strike of Winter 2013-2014, Spouse has agreed we need to refresh our poultry flock, especially with breeds that will lay in cold weather. What we've ordered this year (all bulleted links go to McMurray Hatchery, who thankfully let us mix & match to meet their minimum):

Cagney, our Phoenix hen with her chicks.
We're also updating the duck flock. The Khaki Campbells we currently have enjoy a reputation as good egg layers, but appear to have no mothering instinct whatsoever (with possible exception of Moe, but no definitive proof yet). We're adding Welsh Harlequins to the flock: they have Khaki Campbell in their bloodline, but also have nesting/motherhood instincts. Much easier to add to the flock when you can "let mama do the raising". The geese? They can live and lay eggs well into their 40's, and what goslings they do raise can be mean bast*rds from what I've been told, so we're just gonna stay happy with what we have.

Due to ordering minimums with the hatchery, this means our flock will (gulp) double at onset. Since the Welsh ducks, Pioneer chicks and Welsummer chicks are all straight-run only (you don't know what mix of males & females you'll get), I'm guessing we'll get at least half males, which means duck & chicken dinner by Summer. Some of our older hens may be freezer-bound as well. Killing and cleaning is not fun, nor should it be. On the other hand, if I'm going to be a meat eater, I should be responsible for my diet. I make sure to take excellent care of our flock, with healthy food and plenty of space to roam and socialize. For other meat needs, we do our best to purchase from locals who we know raise their animals with ethics and kindness. I realize it is a privilege to be able to do so. Anyhow...

Khaki Campbells from 2010, just a few weeks old. 
The night-time duck pen will be easy enough to expand, but the chicken coop will require some modifications. We'll probably take down the shelving to create space for more roosts. We currently have in place a 10-space nesting box, and have a three-space nesting box in reserve that we can add if necessary. We could also build a six-space box out of wood, there's plenty of online plans.

I went ahead and ordered duckling-specific starter feed. Some say you can feed ducklings chick starter, but from what I've read, ducklings have higher niacin needs. Since we want the females to be long-term layers, I'm thinking it's better to start them out on the best chow possible. I'll later transition them to the organic chicken chow with supplements once they mature.

I'm oddly nervous about raising a new flock from scratch. It's been a few years. We should receive both the ducklings and the chicks by the end of February. [Expect many pictures and much squeeing upon their arrival.] Timing it thusly, they should be feathered out and ready for protected outdoor pens (until they're large enough to be integrated with their respective flocks) by end of March at the latest, which is two weeks after the last average frost. Fingers crossed that there may be a rooster from the bunch that can get along with Lucky and be spared the ax. There will be no shortage of females for their harems!

Lucky the Roo. He's a right handsome bird, he'll have you know.


*splutter* Winter?

I mean, what the heck happened to Fall??? Texas has been hit with wave after wave of Arctic downdrafts. The cool concrete flooring I wax so joyously about in the Summer now feels like a block of ice, and this year (like last year, and the year before) I swear to get a couple of good sized area rugs to stave off frostbite. I mean, it's so bad that when Spouse surprised me with a pair of insulated muck boots for Christmas, I almost cried - I need them for inside almost as much as outside. Of course, I could just buy the d*mn rugs already...

The biggest event since last post has been The Flood. Our area received eleven inches of rain over a single night, ripping up the roads within AND leading out of the community. Spouse and Uncle brought in a few loads of roadbase right away to patch up our biggest ruts, but we ended up needing three more dump-truck loads to complete all the needed repairs. Our next-door neighbor was a tremendous help, loaning his time & tractor skills not only to repair our culverts and rutted road, but also assisting other neighbors, and doing what he could to temporarily shore up the community road until we all finish fundraising for a pro fix. If it weren't for him, we'd still be 4x4'ing to get anywhere. Thank you D. (and spouse T. for letting him!), more "spontaneous" smoked ribs coming your way!

pic: tangerines, satsumas & limes
In the category of "Hopes & Dreams", the first seed catalog to arrive this season was Good Seeds from Baker Creek Heirlooms, right before Christmas. Second in the mailbox was Bountiful Gardens, the gold standard for everything heirloom, untreated & open pollinated. I've put in a catalog order for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in hopes of more varieties that will work well in our semi-arid region. Our "average" last frost is in mid-March, and if I want any Summer tomatoes at all, I'll need to start seedlings in early February.

While the garden may have been an epic FAIL in 2013, we had a nice Winter harvest of citrus. There are still some fruits ripening on the trees, but initial harvest of limes gave us enough for two ice-cube trays full of juice, which was promptly frozen & stored for future use. Other limes were used fresh for personal libations, on those few porch-sitting, warm weather days.  Spouse shored up & modified our old kit greenhouse to accommodate the taller citrus trees. The structure has done well by us: it's been a greenhouse in the Winter, and secondary duckpond structure in the Summer. We really need to get a bigger, sturdier greenhouse built in 2014, however, as this one is on its last legs. The plastic joiners can only be repaired so much, and the geese have chewed the edges of the plastic tarp cover to ribbons.

pic: yes, the geese did this
The chickens started their annual egg-laying slowdown around late August, and all but two hens went on outright strike until the other week. Our girls are getting older, but even the youngest (who are less than 2 years old) said "meh". Of course, when the light wanes the girls lay less by nature. We could put a 12-hour timed light in the henhouse, which would trick the girls into laying a few more eggs during Winter... but, nahh. Just two weeks after Solstice, however, the two youngest girls started adding to weekly egg tally, and I'm guessing by late February, we'll be back up to a decent production, enough to sell again. May get a handful of Welsummers to freshen up the flock this Spring. Had high hopes the Welsummer rooster would work out and give us a few pretty babies, as Lucky's progeny turn out too flighty for my preference, but Lucky the Leghorn rooster Did Not Want. The two roosters fought until bloody, with Lucky getting the worst of it. Lucky ultimately won the war by virtue of being a known good roo to the ladies. The Welsummer was shipped off to a new home. Perhaps I'll wait for another rooster & homegrown chicks after Lucky retires to the henhouse in the sky, so to speak.

pic: Nutmeg the Cubalaya, RIP
Speaking of chickens, we did lose one of the Pecking Order Enforcers from our first hand-raised flock, the small yet mighty Nutmeg. She'd been slowing down for a couple of months, and (what turned out to be) her last two weeks I'd bring her inside the house at night, where it was warmer. During her last week, she'd walk towards the house at dusk instead of the coop, and wait for me to bring her inside. She was the only hen that Bandit the dog would willingly share morning breakfast. She is survived by her sister Cinnamon, and two others of the original flock. We will miss her.

Now that Bandit's been mentioned, I must report that most of our savings for a garage has been spent on getting her knees repaired - yep, both back knees. One blew out late Summer, and the other right before Thanksgiving. It's a good three months of rehab (thankfully, we can do that for her ourselves), then three more months before the knee is solidly healed. Not that I know all that much about joint repair and rehab, mind you. I'm not bitter, I swear.

We still have the full flock of ducks: nine hens, and one drake. The ducks experienced a major egg slowdown like the chickens this season, then egg production rose these past few weeks as well. I'm on the lookout for paperboard duck-egg cartons, so if you happen to see any in your 'net wanderings, drop us a line in the comments? Gracias!

pic: Queen Moe,
in dressing room sans costume
Queen Moe had a moment of stardom this Fall when she won Second Place (in the "exotics" category) at a Pet Costume fundraiser for a local convalescent center. I whipped up a pumpkin cape for her back, and prayed no-one would judge for quality stitching. She beat out a horse painted like Nemo the clown-fish, but lost to two small children who painted up their hermit-crab aquarium so their crabs looked like they lived in an undersea world. [One friend mock-huffed "ageism!" Never compete against small children with pets*, or something like that.] Moe was a right trooper, letting herself be carried to, and petted by, all the seated patients in attendance. Her Majesty let me know she was ready to go home by tugging on my shirt towards the end of the event. Not sure where the video of her doing the shirt-tug is hiding, so the pic with ribbon award will have to do.

Last, but not least, we're now preparing for the arrival  of Extreme Goose Crabbiness, also known as Goose Egg-Laying Season. There have been signs, such as heightened annoyance (versus regular annoyance) when anything non-goose gets near, and some of the ladies have been seen checking out the undersides of bushes and other likely laying spots. No synchronized head-bobbing in the Pool o' Woo yet, nor any gander battles either, thank goodness. We wait with bated breath, chewed fingernails, and protective gear at ready.

*"Never work with animals or children." - W.C. Fields

Of Mice and Various Snakes and new Duck Feed Station

As mentioned in the previous post, our region is experiencing a near-Biblical plague of mice. "It's due to all the moisture we had...