Monthly Archives: February 2014

New Quail Coop & Eggs!

The last couple of days have been simply gorgeous outside.  Today was actually tshirt weather!  We’ve been grabbing our chance to work on the new quail coop.

I don’t think I ever showed you my sketch:

As with my costuming, I really don’t like to follow someone else’s pattern.  I just like to come up with these things on my own.

After two days work, here’s where we are:

Different view:

At the last minute, I decided to flip the nest box to the right side, because I realized that will make it possible to see the quail from the kitchen window.  There will be a small green roof on the middle section.  I’ll probably fill it with the musk strawberries I’ve been wanting to grow (that will keep them out of reach of any slugs.)

Loki’s future wives came in the mail today.  Instead of going through a regular hatchery this time, I chose an individual off ebay to buy from.  He had good reviews, so I’m hoping the eggs hatch well.  He did pack them really well, first in a massive box filled with crumpled newspaper, then in a carton wrapped in bubble wrap.

Then each egg was wrapped separately in paper.

Also, he sent extras – a full twenty eggs.  None were broken, so I’ll have to try to candle them to see if the air cells of any eggs are detached, and only incubate the twelve that I feel have the greatest chance of hatching.  Since it’s really, really hard to candle teeny dark-speckled eggs, I’ll probably mostly be guessing.

I was surprised by one of the eggs:

Look – there’s one completely plain egg – no speckles!

I’ll be incubating that one for sure.  I’d heard that some coturnix lay plain eggs, and hopefully, if it hatches and is a girl, she might lay plain eggs also.  That would be a fun addition!

Right now the eggs are “resting” from their ordeal of being shipped.  Tonight before bed, I’ll candle them and choose twelve to put into the incubator.  And hopefully, sixteen to eighteen days from now, I’ll have baby chicks!  Girl chicks.  Fingers crossed.

My little kale and cabbage seedlings are ready to go out into the garden this weekend, which frees up the grow light for ground cherries and tomatoes.

And today at the Food Coop, I couldn’t resist picking up a few Golden Beet starts, even though I’ll be planting my own beet seeds out soon.  It’s just so lovely to have something green and growing in the vegetable bed!

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New Incubator!

I got my Brinsea Mini Advance incubator in the mail today.

Of course, I immediately set it up, plugged it in, and set the temp.  It worked wonderfully well – it didn’t take long at all to go up to 99.6 degrees (recommended for quail) and stayed there!  You’d understand my intense jubilation if you’d had to fuss with the incubator I used for my previous quail eggs.  So fussy and difficult – I was constantly tweaking the temp, and it even so, it was jigging all over…perhaps one of the reasons I got only about a 50% hatch rate.  As this incubator is much smaller, and only holds 12 eggs, I’m hoping for a much greater hatch rate this time.

Of course, the hatch rate also depends on what happens to the eggs during shipping, and I have no control over that.

After I tested to be sure the incubator seemed to be working, I ordered a batch of quail eggs.  I chose “Golden Italians”, because I am beginning to believe that my male Loki is actually an Italian, rather than a Blonde.  For one thing, I’m not sure “Blonde” actually exists outside of Stromberg’s catalog descriptions.  I can’t find any mention of that color anywhere else!  They do, however, describe their “Italian” quail as having brown/black markings on a cream base, which is Loki to a T.  So I took a chance, and ordered some “Golden Italian” eggs from an online seller – the picture listed looks like Loki.  If they hatch, he’ll just have to be happy with what he gets, exact match or not!  🙂

So here we go – more adventures in hatching quail.  Now I just need to finish building their new coop, so Loki and his future girls will have someplace to live.  Even though I have him separated from my other male, Peabody, they are still fighting through the bars.  No blood has been drawn, but Peabody spent a few days sulking in the nest box after Loki apparently scalped a patch of feathers off Peabody’s head.  Peabody’s own fault, of course – he’s the one who stuck in his head through the bars and gave Loki the opportunity!  I tried to tell him that, but there’s simply no explaining anything to a sulking quail.

It’s going to be a great weekend.  The weather is improved (sunshine replacing snow), I have quail eggs and strawberry plants arriving in the mail, and I’m attending a class at my local nursery on espalier tree pruning.

Garden Update & Plans

Every day it isn’t raining, I’m out in the garden now.  I’ve got so much that needs to be done asap!

I just got the word that my new Brinsea incubator has shipped ahead of schedule, which means I should have it next week, rather than March 16th.  Good news, because now (as soon as I test it) I can place an order for more Blonde Quail hatching eggs.  Bad news, because this makes building Loki’s coop even more of a priority than before.

We did get a start on the foundation, before we were hit with a little snow.

I dug out the center of one curve of my circular flower bed, and laid down a foundation of cinder blocks.  Leveling those was the most difficult part of the project; mom (as the expert leveler) was kind enough to help out.  I think she’s more invested in Loki, since he was the baby she had to help out of the shell, and he hatched right into her hand. 

The male quail are beginning to feel the stirring of Spring – they are crowing again.  I hadn’t heard a peep out of them all winter, and I really missed it.  Mom and I both enjoy the sound – it’s almost worth keeping quail just for that!

On top of the cinder blocks is a frame of 2×6 boards.  I wanted to raise this coop up, to make viewing the quail a little more easy, while still keeping them on a natural dirt floor.  I’ll lay down a liner, then fill this frame with dirt, as if I were making a raised bed.  The coop itself will be built on top.  I’ll show you more pictures as it comes together.

Another project we built this weekend was a new trellis for one of the clematis.

I’ve been slowly working on adding compost to the vegetable beds, and I can’t wait to get started with some actual planting.  The peas, I think, will go in next week.  I’ve started chitting them in the windowsill already; I use the paper towel method, and it works wonderfully!

I also have a few vegetables started under the grow lights.  It’s nice to see something green!  This is a little Emiko cabbage.  I haven’t grown those before, but so far it’s doing great, as well as being very pretty. 

In chicken news, I really would like to get a couple more chicks this Spring: an Ameraucana (to replace the rooster I accidentally picked last year) and a Speckled Sussex.  Both those breeds are in at the local farm supply store on March 14th, and May 16th.  Last year, my reliably broody hen, Josie, raised three chicks for me.  I just bought them, popped them under her, and she didn’t put a foot wrong.  She was a perfect mother!  It did wonders for her self-esteem, too.  She went from being the shy, bottom-of-the-pecking hen to the One In Charge.  All she has to do is stamp her foot, and the other hens give way to her immediately.  I was a little worried the power would go to her head, and she’d become a bully, but thankfully, that hasn’t happened. 

Josie is the black hen inside.  Her two foster daughters from last year are the cream-and-black one beside her Isabelle) , and the grey one (Little Blue) in front.  I love this system of fostering!  There was no fuss or problems, it was so sweet watching her care for them, and the other girls accepted the new ones into the flock without any difficulties.  And since Josie is friendly to me, her babies were too.  Little Blue in particular loves to sit on my lap.  Whenever I sit down, she comes running.

I’m just hoping Josie goes broody again at the right time!

I’m also really looking into meat ducks.  I don’t have a proper set-up to keep ducks year-around yet (and no time or money to build this year) so I’m considering just getting a few white Pekin ducklings and keeping them in temporary housing.  Ducks don’t need much, and Pekins grow so fast that they are ready to process at 7 weeks old!  I looked into having a professional do the processing for me, but it’s too pricey.  $17 per duck!  So I’ve been doing a ton of research online, and I think I’m up to doing it myself.  Helping process the quail taught me a lot.  The kill itself is super fast, and if you do it right, there’s no suffering for the animal.  And once the animal is dead, I found I don’t have the negative feelings I thought I might have, about plucking, dressing out, etc.   And when it comes right down to it, I want to be the sort of person who can kill her own meat.  I don’t believe in the vegetarian lifestyle, but I want meat that is humanely raised, and fed only healthy feed.  And when it comes time to butcher, I like the idea of having control over the process, so that I know the animal didn’t suffer.

Pekin ducklings come into the store on March 5th.  If I’m going to do this, I need to get set up now!  This would be a nice test run to make sure I can handle the processing before I spend a lot of time and money setting up a permanent duck coop and run.  And if I can handle raising meat ducks, I’m thinking about the possibility of raising a few meat chickens each year too – in a temporary run separate from my egg-laying girls.  Cornish Cross hens are ready to process at 8 weeks, and actually can’t naturally live much beyond that without developing health problems.  Things to consider!

And if all this talk of meat animals was too much for you, here’s a flower picture for you.  Thanks to the slug-egg-eating prowess of my chickens, this is the first year this plant has been able to bloom without all its flowers getting eaten off as mere buds.  I forgot how gorgeous it is!

Buying a Beehive

Well, we’ve done it!  After reading every book I could lay my hands on, checking out a million blogs and other other online informational sources…I’ve picked a type of beehive, selected a company to make it, and placed my order.

I am about to become a beekeeper!

If you’ve been reading my adventures with raising quail, it will come as no surprise that I believe the best way to raise any sort of living creature is by figuring out what way of life they prefer…then giving it to them (as closely as possible.)  In this case, I’ve come to the definite conclusion the way to natural, healthy bees is using the Warre Hive.

hive1

Last night I attended my first (and probably last) meeting of the local beekeeping group.  They were all extremely nice folks, and all wanted to be helpful, but wow.  What an eye-opening experience!  Not one of them uses anything other than the “traditional” Langstroth hive.  The Langstroth hive is actually a very new concept in bee-keeping – a very invasive, non-natural way, that forces the bees to put out an excess of honey at the expense of their health and happiness.

And our health, too.  Using the Langstroth hive, beekeepers are functionally forced to use chemicals in their hives to control pests and diseases, and to artificially feed them sugar during the winter to keep them alive.  Also, the Langstroth hive depends upon using pre-made honeycomb, instead of allowing the bees to make their own.  This pre-made comb is either plastic, or beeswax taken from many other hives, or a combination.  There is no way of knowing what chemicals or diseases this comb has been exposed to, and since it is re-used again and again in your own hive, the result is clearly problematic!  With the Warre hive, the bees make their own honeycomb every year, so it is always fresh and new.  It is also made especially to the bees’ specifications, and they are such master designers that it is complete foolishness to think we know better they they do how a hive should be run.

The local beekeepers said that they had a serious problem with hive failure, and they tracked the difficulty in keeping their bees alive to three things:

1) Varroa mite infestation.  Varroa mites can be handled naturally, and a Warre hive allows you to do so.

2) Moisture within the hive.  A Warre hive is specifically designed to combat this!

3) Starvation during winter.  I intend to put my bees first.  Until about 150 years ago, people didn’t harvest their honey in fall, but waited until spring.  Fall harvesting means you have to simply guess how much honey your bees will need to see them safely through the winter – and some folks today will even take all the honey and just artificially feed all winter long.  This is so wrong to me.  If you wait until spring, you might end up with less honey, but your bees will be in no danger of starvation!

There is conclusive evidence that the problems with the honeybee population is directly caused by invasive, unnatural beekeeping practices; practices that focus on forcing as much honey from the bees as possible, rather than on the overall health and well-being of the bees themselves.  This is absolutely in line with what I’m seeing everywhere else in the modern world, when it comes to “controlling” and “managing” nature, and I find it an appalling thing.  If a Langstroth hive were the only way to keep bees, I wouldn’t keep them.  After everything I’ve learned and read, it’s become that simple for me.

The Warre hive is the closest thing I can find to a completely natural experience for the bees, and as a side result, a beekeeper gets to have all the fun and almost none of the work.  The only times you bother the hive at all is when you first install your bees, and when you harvest the honey.  Each box on the Warre hive comes with an observation window, through which you can watch your bees without bothering them.

Here’s a video from Sweet Valley Hives explaining the Warre hive.  I have purchased my hive from them.

And, as I was typing this, I just got an email from my bee guy.  My bees have been scheduled to ship in April.  The hive will arrive the first week of March, so that will give me plenty of time to paint it and get it set up and ready.

I’m going to paint the hive yellow.  The brightest yellow I could find!

a6f3fb5e-8762-430a-8987-a94b4cfde79c_087-6It’s called “Sunny at Heart” and it’s from Mythic Paint, which is the most non-toxic paint available.

My bees are coming from a small, family-run bee operation in Stewart, MN.  Most shipped bees come from Southern states, which concerned me a little, as my climate here is not at all similar.  At least with Minnesota, they’ll be used to cold winter temps, so my milder winter won’t be a huge shock to them.  I was also won over by how they ship their bees, as well as their level of personal service:

“Package bees for the 2014 season…Specially packed with our special essential oil enriched sugar syrup..NO CORN SYRUP…and a special pollen supplement to give them a head start. In today’s world the pesticides are decimating the honey bees and their best hope for survival is the backyard beekeeper. My bees will get to you in the best condition possible.

 “Our small family run operation gives your bees the extra care needed to get a great start. I will give everyone who purchases my personal cell number available 8am -11pm 7 days a week. I will help you through whatever problems you may be having.

$_58

And in other news, I realized I haven’t shown you any pictures of the two New Girls since they grew up and started laying.

This is Isabelle and Elizabeth (Little Blue).

Little Blue is a Blue Andalusian.  She is extremely friendly, despite being foster-raised by one of my hens.  She comes running whenever she sees me, and wants to sit on my lap.  She also has the largest, most floppy comb of any of my girls…but even during our 12 degree cold snap, I had no worries about frostbite!

Isabelle is a Cream Brabanter, and I just love this breed!  She is so cute, with her feather crest.  She is also very friendly, but she tends to be more of a ‘busy hen’ – less time to sit on laps, and more time out foraging.  When I call the other girls in for a treat, she’s frequently too far away to bother coming…unless I call her by name.  As soon as she hears her name, she calls back to let me know she’s heard me, then comes from wherever she is.

I never would have imagined that hens would learn their names like dogs, but not only do they know their own names, they know the names of the other hens as well.  For instance, Ellie (my favorite and very spoiled  hen) always gets annoyed with me when I call one of the other girls over to give them attention.  And she actually growls in annoyance if I call Antoinette over, because she is not fond of how pushy Antoinette is.  They are so funny, these girls!

Assuming my trusty broody hen carries on her broody tradition, I plan to add two more girls to the flock.  A Speckled Sussex, and another attempt at getting a female Ameraucana/Easter Egger.  I want colored eggs, but I always seem to pick the rooster….!

New Incubator

When I hatched out my quail, I borrowed an incubator from a friend.  It did the job, but barely.  It was a hellish experience to try to regulate the temperature and I don’t know what the designers were thinking, but it was nearly impossible to keep enough water in it to keep the humidity at the right level.  Just adding water was a trial by itself, involving aquarium tubing sponges, and cow creamers*.  Honestly, I’m amazed I got a 50% hatch rate.

So when I sold my latest sculpture commission, and had a little extra money rattling around in my bank account, I knew exactly what I wanted.

A proper incubator.  Because I want more Blonde quail girls for Loki, and some other colors for me…and someday I want Bobwhite or California Valley quail.  And also Serama chickens, because they are the sweetest things ever!  They are just about the size of quail, and their eggs are almost exactly the size of quail.

Serama

And their upright stance just makes me happy.

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I must have some, just for the happiness  quotient.

But first, a decent incubator is a must.  After days of checking out reviews, I settled on the Brinsea Mini Advance.  It is quite small; it will only hold up to seven chicken or duck eggs, but since I’ll be using it for quail and mini-chickens, it will hatch a dozen at a time, which is enough.

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Almost all the reviewers say you just “put the eggs in and forget them” which sounds exactly like what I want after last year’s hatching nightmare.  So I went ahead and ordered one, and they say it will arrive in March.

*Cow Creamers have a little tiny pour spout, which worked best with the aquarium tubing!

Not Quite Spring

We’re just coming out of our second spat with very freaking cold temperatures.  And by that I mean nowhere near the polar vortex that some of you experienced.  I couldn’t survive those temperatures…I honestly think I would die.  That is one reason I’ve stayed here, in the Pacific NW, where we think it’s the apocalypse if the temps drop below 20.  Last month, it dropped down to 12 degrees.  This month, I think the lowest was 15.

Each time, I get a ton of questions from folks asking how the chickens/quail are surviving…so here’s the answer: The chickens (being sun-worshipers at heart) don’t like freezing temps – but only because it makes it more difficult to forage for bugs.  Frozen ground = no bugs.  Otherwise, they couldn’t care less.  I don’t heat my coop in any way, and when I check on them at night they are puffed up and cozy (even their combs are very warm to the touch!)  In the morning, they are lined up and whining to be let out into the yard, and all day long they are running around like normal.  To look at them, I’d have no clue it’s so cold!

And how are the quail coping?  The quail are so indifferent to the cold that they won’t even bother sleeping inside their nest boxes.  They just settle down out in the run, then in the morning, they are revved up and ready to go.  I picked Loki up and held him for a few minutes, and wow.  The heat that was radiated through his feathers!  He was like a little pocket warmer!  They’ve obviously put on a nice plump layer of fat in preparation for this winter – something they wouldn’t have done, had I been heating their coop.  God knows how to care for His critters.  As long as they have shelter from wind, proper ventilation, water, and food, they need fear no freezing temperatures.

Me, though…I’m not so comfortable.  I’ll be very, very glad to see this cold warm up.  Until then, I’m starting some seeds inside and dreaming of Spring.

On the Nature of Geeks

So apparently, the Seahawks won the Superbowl.  This is something I know only because my facebook wouldn’t let me not know it.  I am most decidedly not a Seahawk, football, or other team-organized-sports fan.  The only time I like sports is during the Olympics (individual sports only, like Snowcross or Ice Skating) or if it’s played on a broom.

I don’t have a problem with that.  To each her own, right?

What I do find…interesting…is that this is not considered geeky:

Seahawks+Saints+12-2-2013+(64)

Or this:

mcx-football-fans-atlanta-falcons-seattle-seahawks-xln-4011019

While this:

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And also this, are:

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They are all cosplays.  They are all worn in support of a fandom, they all cost money/time to make, and they are all worn out in public.

Why is it socially acceptable to know (and be able to quote from memory) all the stats for your favorite sports team, but not acceptable to know Klingon or Elvish?

The tide is turning a little in favor of the geeks, and Comic Con is the New Cool Thing, but there’s still a feeling of geeky/not geeky among the general public.  My aunt, for instance, burst out laughing when she heard I’d gone to see the Doctor Who special in the theater in 3D.  I doubt she would have the same reaction had I paid big bucks for fancy seats at a football game.

I don’t get it. People who like football are football nerds, and they are just as nerdy as people who are nerdy about other things.  If you doubt that, just check my facebook feed.  Nerdy little geeks, the lot of them.  And that’s cool.  It just would be cooler if my ‘sport’ got the same positive reception from the world.

Personally, I think I’ve got the cooler fandom(s), but that’s just me.  😉

Whoo!!!!!  Way to go Downton Abbey!!!!  Grab that…er…tea cup!!!  And here comes the Dowager for the goal!!!!  Can you believe that save by Mr. Bates????