Category Archives: pigeons

Building and Baking

Every time I think I’ve built the last animal-related housing project, I discover there’s another thing I need to make. This year I’ve built a duck coop, an angora rabbit pen, a meat rabbit grow-out pen, and a nest box for the pigeons. Is that it? I feel like I’m forgetting something! Anyway, let me show you some pictures of the latest things.

The meat rabbit grow-out pen. I was using the second chicken coop for this, but now that I’m raising meat birds, this coop isn’t available for rabbits anymore. In the front yard veggie garden, there’s this one awkward corner. It’s awkward because it’s always overgrown with bindweed. Rabbits love to eat bindweed! So I built this.

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It’s about 6X2 foot, and I need to roof it, but roofing it isn’t a huge priority, since it will only be in use during the summer months, when I’m breeding rabbits.

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As the bindweed attempts to grow up through it, the rabbits will eat it. Mwahahaha! I love it when I can solve two problems with one building project!

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Also, the rabbits will be conveniently to hand, when I’m weeding in the veggie garden. They seem to like it.

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Next problem was the pigeons. Whenever you get a new animal, there is always a learning curve, while you figure out what they really like/don’t like. My plan was to have them all nest in the attached building. Problem is, my first male on the scene, Emerson, decided that ALL the building belonged to him and his mate. He would not allow any other pigeons to nest in it. My second male, Mordecai (Emerson’s son), was growing increasingly desperate to find a nesting area. There was constant tussling in the coop, and no one was happy. So I built an attached one-pair nesting box on the opposite side of the coop. (It still needs a roof.)

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Mordecai was SO HAPPY. He immediately went inside and started calling Esther to come and see.

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It’s nice because I can open the back from the outside of the coop in order to clean, or check on things. They immediately built a nest, and peace was restored. (You can see the original pair, Emerson and Peabody, canoodling at the entrance to their nesting area.)

This nest box is working out so well that I think I’m going to build several more on the back side of the coop, then close off the attached mini-shed and have it be for hay/food storage. It’s more difficult to clean, and it would be so much more convenient to have all the pigeons nesting in single-pair boxes like this.

And now for the cool story of the month. My mother and I belong to a neighborhood social media group called ‘Nextdoor’. People in your city can post warnings, requests for advice/recommendations, etc. About a week ago, my mom commented that someone had found a mysterious ‘strange bird’. This woman was sure it wasn’t a chicken, but otherwise had no clue. It had marched right up to her neighbor’s back door, and appeared to need help, but since she wasn’t sure if it was an escaped domestic bird, or a wild bird, or even if it was an adult or a baby, she wasn’t sure what to do. People were commenting thinking it was anything from a dove to a baby hawk! I went and looked at the pictures, then laughed at my mom. “That isn’t a strange bird! That’s a coturnix quail – we used to have those in the backyard!” I contacted the concerned lady, and she asked if I’d be willing take it, since I mentioned I was currently in the process of hatching more of these quail. I said sure, and that is how I ended up with Scruffles – who I renamed Amelia, after Amelia Earhart. It seemed appropriate, given how adventurous she was. She had obviously been through some hard times, she’s blind in one eye, and was missing a lot of feathers.

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The feathers are mostly grown back now, and she’s laid about seven eggs for me.

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What’s really weird, though, is that two days after she came to me, the lady who found her called back. Another quail had turned up at a neighbor’s yard. The cat had gotten this one, but they’d rescued it, and didn’t see any injuries. This one was a male, but unfortunately, it died the next day. They couldn’t find anyone in the area who had quail, or had ever heard of quail. I don’t know whether these two escaped, or whether their owner had gotten tired of keeping them, and had released them into the wild. Please don’t do this, people. Domestic animals cannot survive in the wild, and even though there are wild varieties of quail, coturnix are so thoroughly domesticated that they have no wild instincts at all. At least little Amelia/Scruffles found a safe home. She’s a bit lonely, but my quail eggs are due to hatch in about three days, so she’ll have friends soon.

And one last thing. I discovered this fantastic baking blog: https://www.womanscribbles.net/

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I’ve tried three of her recipes so far, and they are extremely well-written and clear to follow. All three breads turned out perfectly – just like the pictures! – and were very tasty. One of them, Spanish Bread, is going to be a regular in my household.

Oh – and one more last thing! Remember the Freedom Ranger meat birds I was testing out this summer?

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These guys were the perfect birds. They were completely docile and calm, quiet, and sweet-tempered…right up until a couple weeks before butchering. Then they suddenly turned into little peckers. Literally. We harvested them and they weighed out at about 3 1/2 to 4lbs each. Perfect. A couple of days ago, Mom roasted one of them, and we both agreed it was the best chicken we’d ever eaten! Tender, so full of flavor, and the skin was so crisp and wonderful. Freedom Rangers are it. Next year I’m getting a bunch more!

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The Garden is Exploding!

May is when the garden goes crazy. Green, lush, and – after the long winter – just so suddenly packed full of life. I could easily spend my entire day outdoors working, between the animals and the garden…and often, I do. It’s wonderful.

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Nearly everything is fruiting like crazy, too. I don’t know if it’s because of our unusually snowy winter, but the fruit trees and bushes are packed with blooms. Even the ones that normally don’t do all that well in my garden, like the blueberries. We have apples, currants, gooseberries, peaches and so many others, including figs.

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Cherries:

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And plums. This will be the first year I’ve gotten plums!

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That is, I WILL get plums, if Mama Short-Tail doesn’t get them first.  I couldn’t get her to show off her short docked tail (there has to be a tale of adventure there!) but this particular squirrel nests in the tree right against my fence, and spends a lot of her time in my yard. I saw her with two healthy youngsters just the other day. Sigh.

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There are some ornamental flowers blooming as well. Roses and Lily-of-the-Valley are two my favorites.

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Besides the numerous baby chicks running around, I also have a brand-new batch of baby Rex bunnies. These are about 5 days old.

This one is a blue otter. If she’s a doe, I may keep her.

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The pigeons have a new nest of two babies; I’m guessing it’s another male and female pair since one of the them stands up, puffs out its chest and tries to bite my fingers when I pet them, and the other shrinks down and tries to become invisible. The firstborn pair are fully grown, billing and cooing and falling in love, and trying to find their place in the dovecote. That is Esther with the purple legband, and Mordecai in the green. Watching a bit resentfully (he thinks the kids should fly away and find their own dovecote) is the father, Emerson.

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And they aren’t MY babies, but someone chose to make their nest in this house I put up in the chicken coop rafters. I love hearing the sounds of the babies screaming for their supper!

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I’ve been working on lots of projects. I added another box of commonly-used herbs near the kitchen door – I’ve just started really cooking with fresh herbs, and its unbelievably lovely to just open the door and snip off a few leaves!

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I’ve also been working on the future home of the Muscovy ducks.  It doesn’t look like much yet, but I have a plan! Speaking of the Muscovies, I will hopefully finally get them in about two weeks. It’s been a journey, getting these ducks!

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Mom also finished a project. We have this spot just to the left of our front gate that has always had the ugliest concrete floor. One of us had the idea of just getting cedar boards, cutting them to size, then laying them into the space. It worked, and looks wonderful. And super easy, too.

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I’ve also been sprucing up the garden. First, because a blogger friend of mine wanted to come film my garden and interview me for her channel Making It Home  (I’ll put the finished video she made at the end of this blog, if you’d like to see it) and secondly, because I have several tours I’m giving for various people, plus hosting a family party.

The interview Making It Home did was specifically about the method of gardening I use called Back to Eden, where you keep the soil covered at all times by a thick layer of wood chips. We didn’t get into it because of time constraints, but I really do only a modified version of Back to Eden these days. I have found that while wood chips works fantastically in the perennial beds (and in the chicken run!) it is less successful in the annual vegetable beds. And that is largely because the chips are too large. I scrape them aside to plant seeds, but invariably they fall back in and smother my seedlings – either because of the wind, or rampaging squirrels like Mama Short-Tail. So now I use bunny litter on my vegetable beds. It’s a mixture of wood shavings, plus bunny droppings, and it’s a perfect thing. The shavings are small enough not to smother seedlings, and bunny droppings can be used directly in the garden without composting, because it won’t burn your plants like other manures do. Look at the picture below:

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The left side is wood chips. The right is bunny litter.  I tell ya, I wouldn’t know how to garden if it weren’t for my critters. The bunnies are essential for their manure/mulch, and the chickens have absolutely saved my garden from slugs. I used to come out in the morning and find my lettuce destroyed under a tell-tale trail of slime. In the evenings, you could come out with a flashlight, and see literally dozens of slugs crossing the lawn, heading for the vegetable beds. Ducks are good slug patrol, but honestly, chickens are better. Ducks eat slugs, but chickens eat slug eggs. I let my chickens out free range into my garden for a couple hours a week during the winter and early spring, and they just ninja their way through all the slug egg caviar. Come planting time, there are few slugs left…just a handful of super tiny ones spread out through the whole garden. I see a few nibbles on a leaf here and there, but it’s generally not a problem. I don’t remember the last time I saw a slug larger than half an inch.

I love it when things work together in harmony, the way God intended.

Spring Babies

You know it’s Spring when all the critters are reproducing!  Before we get to the new babies, here’s an update on the pigeons.

Guys, we have genuine feathers! Below is the one I’m calling Mordecai (they were hatched on Purim).  Although these Kings are supposed to be all-white, this little one has black around his eyes. It would definitely disqualify him as a show bird, but as I don’t show, I don’t care. It makes him interesting. Notice I’m calling him ‘him’.  I don’t have any experience in sexing pigeons, but this one is much more dominate and feisty than the other. He acts just like his father, so I’m guessing it’s a male?

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And here is Esther.  Just like her mother, she is very calm and gentle. I’m guessing female, which is perfect!

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Look how much their wings have grown!

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Emerson and Peabody (the parents) are expressing considerable interest in the second nest I put in the dovecote for them, so I’m hoping another pair of eggs will be laid soon. When the first batch of babies reach a certain age, the male pigeon takes over feeding them, and the female starts sitting on a new clutch of eggs. Ultimately, I want a total of three pairs of adult birds, and then I’ll start eating eggs and/or squabs.

Now…onto to the new babies! I don’t have a picture yet, but one of my Rex rabbits (Thistle) gave birth to her first litter this year. A litter of exactly…ONE kit! Sigh. Rabbits have litters between 1-10 babies, and last time she had 8. So I was hoping for more. One kit can be dangerous, because baby rabbits can’t properly regulate their temperature and use the body heat of their siblings to keep warm. The mother rabbit only goes into the nest to nurse once or twice a day. She doesn’t keep them warm. I was worried, but Thistle made a massive nest this time with LOTS of hay and pulled hair, and the baby has been toasty warm. It’s going to survive. But it does put my breeding schedule off. I have gone ahead and bred my other doe, Blackberry, so hopefully she’ll come through with a large litter to make up for this one…though I’m not entirely sure she’s even pregnant. She was in a MOOD when I put her in with Sorrel, and I don’t know for one hundred percent he were successful in wooing her. I’ll have to re-breed Thistle in a week or two.

My cream legbar chicken, Sansa, went broody right on cue – it only took me a couple of weeks of asking “Do you want babies????” for her to answer “YES!!!!” I ordered a baker’s dozen of bantam mottled cochin eggs for her, and they should hatch sometime around the end of April. The adults should look something like this:

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And just for fun I also ordered seven silkie eggs for my incubator. I’ve only ever used the incubator for quail eggs, which are so small and often so darkly colored that you can’t really shine a light into the eggs and watch them develop inside the shell. Silkie eggs are white and considerably larger than quail eggs. The person I bought the eggs from has a jumbled flock of many colors, so my chicks could be almost any color, not just white.

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The problem is, he packed them in such a small box that despite the “live hatching eggs – handle with care” sticker on it, the post office didn’t see it, and threw the box in with the general mail. Which means it got thrown around a lot more than it should have. Which means my mail delivery person was very angry on my behalf (she has chickens herself) because she knows my chances of hatching chicks from these eggs went way, way down. Normal hatch rates on shipped eggs vary, but generally you get about 50%.

After four days in the incubator I candled mine, and only ONE is developing! So many things can go wrong with eggs, that I might not end up with any. But assuming this little chick manages to beat the odds, I’ll put her out underneath Sansa with the mottled cochins. They will all hatch out at the same time, and that way she won’t be lonely.

And that was supposed to be it for the chicks this year. But then I went to Tractor Supply to pick up some bedding, and they had a sale on Freedom Ranger chicks – $1 each.

I came home with four.

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These are a meat chicken breed, meant to be similar to the Cornish Cross grocery store chicken, only minus the health issues that breed has. We’ve been wanting to experiment with these guys, to see how healthy they are, and how fast they really grow. So far, I’ve had them a couple of days, and they are super strong and stocky. I think three of them are roosters, because they just act like teenaged boys. The fourth is slightly more delicate and I’m sure she’s a hen. Hopefully they reach butcher weight before they all start to crow!

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I’m still waiting on the Muscovy ducks. The person I want to get them from had a problem with her hatch, I think – but she’s got more in the incubator, so hopefully within a month I’ll have ducklings.

I love spring.

End of March

Pigeons grow INSANELY fast. Remember how small they were at hatch?

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Here they are, today.

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Such funny looking, prehistoric birds! And so calm. They don’t mind being taken out of the nest at all. The parents have differing opinions on that subject. The father, Emerson, would guard his chicks to the death when HE’S on the nest. He growls and pecks and slaps me with his wings. Peabody, the female, is pretty sure I intend no harm. She prefers I not touch, but if I do, she just gives me a precautionary wing-slap, then settles down and lets me pet her and the babies. Needless to say, I handle the chicks when she’s on guard duty…or when they’re both off the nest.

The first ten days of life, the parents feed the chicks with ‘milk’ produced in their crop. They are one of only three birds that do this, and it’s really cool. The crop actually changes to produce milk much the way human breasts do, then changes back after ten days. These babies are on solid food now. When I touch the thin skin of their chests, I can feel the crop’s contents and tell by the bulges that the parents are bringing them whole grains and peas to eat.

The mealworm farm is doing fantastic too. Most of the original worms are now either pupae or beetles. When the beetles first hatch, they are white, then slowly turn brown, then black.  Hopefully the beetles are laying eggs, and soon I’ll have a bumper crop of new worms – some to feed the critters, some to let grow into the next generation of beetles. They are kinda creepy, but definitely the easiest animals I’ve ever cared for. Put them in some wheat bran, add a few slices of raw potato, and let them do their thing.

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The Spring here has been fantastic. About 60 degrees during the day and sunny, in the 40s at night. The garden is exploding with life.

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I filmed a little video tour of my March garden. My camera shut off halfway through, so it’s in two parts.

Spring Pigeons

If you’ve read my last few posts, you know I recently acquired a pair of White Utility King Pigeons.

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They promptly mated, laid two eggs, and now – I am thrilled to announce – hatched out two healthy squabs! Despite the mother’s objections, I want to handle these babies fairly frequently as they grow, so that will be tame as adults. I did this with Zebra Finches years ago, and once they could fly, I could release them out of their cage into my room, and they would come flying to land on my fingers.  So today, I took one of the squabs out of the nest and held it.

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They are ugly-cute, for sure!

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I can’t get over the shape of their beaks! And look, on the very top/tip of that beak, you can still see the little bump called the ‘egg tooth’. This is what chicks use to break out of their shell.  Since they were hatched on the third day of Purim, if they turn out to be a male and female, I’ll name them Esther and Mordecai. Seems appropriate.

The weather here in Skagit County has been so glorious. Upper 60s, and Spring is bursting out all over. The anemones are in full bloom:

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And I started planting out starts and seeds. I have lettuce, kale, beets, collards, and kale coming up from seed, and many herbs. The first few pansies I plant are always so precious, and smell so delightful.

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And look what just happened today…the very first peach tree blossom!

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This is my absolute favorite time of year.

Spring Wedding?

I have a brief critter update at the end of this post, but first I want to talk about weddings. Specifically, Jewish weddings around 33 A.D. They had some beautiful traditions.

The marriage would be agreed upon between the two families, and with the future bride’s consent, the betrothal agreement would be signed. Although they were now firmly and legally joined together, the marriage itself would not happen for at least a year. During this time, the future groom would go away to his father’s property, and build a house for his new wife – a house as good as, or better, than the home she would be leaving. The bride would be working on her wedding dress, and making herself ready to leave for this new house at a moment’s notice – because no one (not even the groom!) knew when the wedding would take place. It was the groom’s father who decided, based on when he felt the house was finished to his satisfaction.

I can just imagine the impatience and longing with which the bride waited, wondering each day, as she saw the signs of her future home being built, and heard rumors from her friends and family of how fine it was, and how close her future husband was to finishing it! But finally, all was prepared to the father’s satisfaction, and he said to his son: “Go and bring home your bride!”

 

The groom would immediately go to the outskirts of his bride’s village, and sound a trumpet to announce his arrival. The bride, who had been seeing the signs and knew it had to be soon, had started sending out her friends to watch and wait for him. When they hear the trumpet, she dresses herself in her wedding finery and runs out to meet him. He scoops her up in his arms and takes her back to his father’s house, where they go into a private room for seven days to consummate the marriage. After that week alone, they are announced to the world as husband and wife, and celebrate a massive wedding feast with their families and guests.

Jesus says that he is the bridegroom, and his bride is all those who believe in who he is, and accept his free gift of salvation. After his death and resurrection, when he legally and irrevocably bound his life to ours, he went away to build us mansions in his father’s house, in heaven. When all is ready, and all the signs say that now is the time, he will return and catch us away for seven years, to protect us from the horror that will come upon the earth. At the end of the seven years, he will return with us to earth, to destroy evil and return the earth to a state of perfection. And there we will have our ‘marriage supper’ with the King of Kings, he who loves us more impossibly and more incredibly, than we will ever be able to understand.

 

We’ve been waiting for our Bridegroom a very long time, but now, finally, all the signs are here that he told us to watch for, and any time now we will hear that trumpet, and feel him wrap his arms around us and lift us up, and take us home.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are [a]asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

I feel so incredibly fortune to be alive on earth during this time. This will be the single greatest moment of the past 2,000 years – and one of the three greatest moments in the history of the entire world.

But while I’m waiting, I have work to do here. The very first job ever given to mankind was in the Garden of Eden, right after the world was created.

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Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 2:15 
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

It is a running theme throughout the Bible that God cares deeply for all his creation, and he does not take kindly to those who destroy and mistreat it. This is why I have a garden and an urban farm. This is why I don’t use chemicals in my garden, and why I give my animals the absolute best and most natural life I can. Nothing I raise or grow in my garden is mine – it all belongs to God, and I am merely the steward and caretaker of it. One day, I will stand before him, and he will examine my work, and judge the value of it.

Hopefully, that day will be soon!

Song of Solomon 2:10-13

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away, for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing[d] has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

My pigeons have laid their second egg, and have begun to sit on them.  In about two weeks, the eggs should hatch.

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And just today, I found a local woman who has Muscovy ducks. She has eggs that will hatch next week, and they are just the color I’m interested in. So if I’m still here, I will finally get some ducklings. I think 7-8, to be sure I get a good ratio of drakes to hens. I plan to keep three of them, one drake and two hens.

The mama “Peanut” is such a cutie.

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In chicken news, two nights ago I went out to shut them up in their coop. It was getting a little dim out there, so I walked down the length of the perch, petting each chicken and counting them as I did. One of the chickens felt…funny. I looked closer and discovered she was wearing a necklace!

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Can you tell what that is? It’s a paper plate! They’d had some leftover mashed potatoes earlier, and obviously she’d managed to rip out the bottom and slip it over her head! It was too dark them to take a picture, but I saved the plate so I could recreate the moment for you guys. Is she hinting that I should make her a costume? It is true that I’ve seen those pictures of chickens wearing tulle tutus and always wanted to make one!

Early March Doings

My garden has its own little microclimate going on. While other folks in my area are still complaining about the cold (and sometimes, still snow) my garden is totally in Spring-mode. Its was so warm and gorgeous yesterday. The birds were singing, the sun was hot, bulbs and leaves are coming out of hibernation, and the soil is bursting with life. I got some cold-hardy seeds planted, with more to plant this weekend – but before I did, I released the dinosaurs for one last free-range mission of destruction.

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The chickens adore this time of year. The ground is not frozen, the bugs are out, and since the majority of the perennials are still not up, they can’t do anything too severe in my garden. Mostly, they just throw the mulch out of place and take dust baths in the empty beds.

Letting them out like this really helps with slug control later on. They find all the slug eggs before they hatch! A little mild soil disturbance is good, too, even in a no-till garden like mine. This was their last grand hurrah, however. After today, I’ll have seeds planted, and perennials coming up, and their excursions into the garden will be limited to one or two hens at a time, under very close supervision. Mainly, I just let Ellie in to garden with me. She’s old enough not to be such a vigorous digger, and she’s pretty good at understanding I don’t want her in the actual flower beds, digging things up.

After I worked in the garden, I brought the new angora rabbits outside to groom them.

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Cocoa is super good at laying still and letting me brush her. And look at these adorable feet!

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Angora feet are the absolute best. I also let Sorrell, my Rex buck have a playdate with Thistle, one of my Rex does. So hopefully she’s pregnant, and I’ll have little kits in about a month. I love Spring on the farm, and all the babies!

Speaking of babies, the pigeons have settled in nicely. Although they have a large outdoor flight pen, they really enjoy the window in their dovecote.

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I see one of them there frequently, watching everything that’s going on. Usually it’s the male, Emerson, but this time it was Peabody.

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They are such gorgeous birds. I just love having them here. And they have exciting news….a few days ago, they started building a nest, and yesterday look what I found?

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First egg!!!! The hen will lay one more, and then start sitting on both to hatch them. Emerson is very attentive. Besides bringing her bits of straw, he’s been sitting on the egg himself. It’s going to be such fun to watch these birds raise young.

While I was researching raising pigeons this video made me laugh. Apparently mother pigeons have very strong opinions!