Category Archives: pigeons

Busy, Busy, Busy!

This past month has been insanely busy. We’ve had a few gorgeous Spring days, and some less-than-completely-gorgeous Spring days, but I’ve been outside working in all of them. All day, every moment I have! This is my favorite time of year. I’ve discovered that I don’t even mind working in the rain, as long as I’m wearing a hat. I’ve been too busy to even blog, so I’ll slowly have to catch you up on everything that’s been going on. Believe it or not, the loooong post to follow is just a small sampling!

First of all: new chicks!

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I have Freedom Ranger meat birds. These guys are the best. So calm, so quiet, so completely chill. We did a test run of four last year, and absolutely loved them. They were awesome to raise, and tasted the best of any chicken we’ve had.

Second: We rat-proofed the chicken coop. Guys. We had such a rat problem this past winter! They were burrowing into the chicken coop, and stealing all the food. I couldn’t go outside without seeing them scampering away…they were bold as squirrels. First step, we laid an apron of hardware cloth around the perimeter, inside and out. We got rid of the areas around the coop that the rats were using as cover. We set traps. And we bought a rat-proof feeder. This one.

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The chickens took to it instantly with no learning curve (even the dumb ones!), and the rats almost instantly stopped coming around. I saw a rat now and then for about a week, and now I see no rats at all. Not a single one.  This feeder is worth every penny.

Third: The neighbor took their tree down, and we waylaid the tree-trimming company and snagged the chips.  Last year, we did not get a proper layer of chips down in the chicken yard, and we paid the price all winter. The ground was a soggy, muddy mess. I was forced to put down some straw just to make it bearable.  In the below picture, Mina and Valentina are scandalized by the muddy state of their yard. Behind the hens: lovely, thick chips. In front of the hens: mud and squish.

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Free wood chips have been the most amazing thing we’ve ever done for the chickens. They hate them when we first put them down – I don’t know if it’s the fresh scent, or the texture – but they hate them. Within a week, however, they are loving them, and are scratching down through, to the ground which remains diggable, soft, and full of worms.

Fourth: Moving Cocoa’s cage. My angora rabbit requires special housing to keep her fur clean. No slumming about in shavings or dirt for her! She’s bunny royalty. I had her cage inside the breezeway, but I started feeling sorry for her, because she was so isolated from all the other critters. If there’s one thing I’ve loved seeing, it’s how all the animals on my backyard farm are interested in each other. The ducks explode with joy whenever a chicken comes near their pen (every duck I’ve ever owned has been obsessed with chickens!) the quail and the chickens watch each other like television, and the chickens and the rabbits nap near each other on sunny mornings.

So I moved Cocoa out to the bunny area. Her cage is raised up off the ground, both to keep her fur clean (she has a linoleum floor) and to give the chickens another place to get out of rain. She has a hardware cloth window through to Bramble’s cage, so they can spend non-sexy time together, and of course she can watch the chickens. I still need to roof her cage. That ugly tarp has to go!

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Fifth: The pigeons got new nestboxes. They are built on the outside of the cage, so I can do welfare checks on the squabs without going inside.

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They like them, and it’s much easier for me to keep them clean (and handle the babies).

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I had three pair in this pen, but I decided that was one pair more than I need. I found a buyer for the extra pair, but since he needs to build his cage before he can take them, I stuck Casanova and his mate in the Bunny Barn temporarily. With the rabbits.

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People on the internet will tell you this does not work – even though they haven’t tried it themselves. They have all sorts of reasons why not: It will scare the rabbits, and they will die. The rabbits will kill the pigeons. The pigeons will blind your rabbits. The pigeons/rabbits will get sick. The rabbits will get pooped on. They will eat each other’s food and die of malnourishment. They almost had me convinced. But then I found a person who actually does it, and it works perfectly for her. And I was reminded of all the rabbits who live with chickens, and my common sense came rushing back.

The rabbits were not scared. My rabbits are not namby-pamby wussy critters locked away in solitary confinement–my rabbits live in the real world, with screaming neighbors, fireworks, and other animals. The only time they are ever stressed out is when it’s time to cut their toenails. The rabbits and the pigeons completely ignore each other. The pigeons live in the loft areas, the rabbits live on the ground. Since I feed my rabbits real grains with their hay, they are largely eating the same diet as the pigeons–and the pigeon food is up in the loft, anyway, and the rabbits eat on the floor. No one has gotten sick, or even pooped on. Most of the things that might make an animal sick are species specific, anyway. It’s not a thing I worry about. I am LOVING having these pigeons in the Bunny Barn. It may have started as a temporary thing, but I think after this particular pair of pigeons are sold, I might put a different pair in there. The potential is wide open!

Sixth: Starting seeds, and preparing the garden. It’s a bit early to direct plant outside, but I do have the greenhouse full of seeded trays, and I’ve put out a few hardy beasts, like lettuce.

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And speaking of seeds, my book library has decided to start a seed library. Of course, I ended up being part of the process, and it’s been interesting. The actual seed library itself won’t be operational until Feb 2021, but we are busy figuring out stuff behind the scenes…including special events like our upcoming Seed Share and Garden Fair.

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While those with seeds of their own to share are completely welcomed, our focus is on getting seeds out into the hands of people who want to garden. So there is absolutely nothing expected of anyone but show up, enjoy the live music, attend the seed-starting workshop if you want to learn how to begin planting (1pm), let your kids make some garden-related crafts, and of course take home free seeds! The entire event is from 1-4pm.

Seventh: Cleaning up. How does so much junk accumulate over one winter?

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And lastly, because if I go too long without mentioning Ellie on the blog, someone always gets concerned and asks if she’s ok, here’s Ellie.

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She’s not amused by the new chicks, doesn’t think the new chips smell nice at all, isn’t sure why I want so many rabbits, and thinks I waste entirely too much time building cages and nestboxes for other animals, when I could be sitting in the sun with her on my lap. Or bringing her mealworms. Or doing something that she wants. Because she is a cranky ten-year-old lady who just wishes those crazy ducks would get off her lawn.

 

Art & What I’ve Been Doing While It Rains

As some of you know, I support my chickens by working at my local library. This month is going to be particularly cool, because we are hosting one of our local artists, Karen Bakke. Every Saturday in February, she will be live at the library, painting! This past Saturday was her first, and it was so much fun to watch.

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She’s super sweet, and so kind. I followed her on Instagram, and she saw pictures of my costumes and says she would like to paint me! How cool would that be?

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She also has a display of her art hanging at the library all month, and I am in love with almost all of them. I couldn’t find pictures of my favorites on her social media, so you’ll have to come down to the library and see them in person.

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She also does custom art, like this splendid corgi portrait:

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Ya’ll know I am partial to corgis! Her art is also very reasonably priced, something I do appreciate as a person who is supporting many hungry chickens. I actually bought one of her paintings, this wonderful bluebird:

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I can’t wait to see what she paints this Saturday!

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Besides a new favorite artist, I’ve also discovered miniature room kits. They come with everything you need (including tweezers, paint, and glue) to recreate a miniature room – they even have a light! I bought one for my birthday gift to myself…no surprise, I chose the library/bookstore.

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They come in a box with literally thousands of pieces, and everything is really amazing quality. I wasn’t expecting everything to be so nice – not for $24! I would have guessed this kit would cost more like $50+.  Some of the books open, with illustrated pages you can flip through. You even put together and upholster the red chair! It was so much fun to do. The only changes I made were to change out the flooring to “wood”, paint the walls yellow, and add the mini cats. Because how can you have books without cats? I’ve put it on my bookshelf, where it seems to fit.

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If you want to watch a video of someone building one of these:

I totally want to do another one, but it will probably have to wait until after Spring. They have the cutest little tea shop I have my eye on….

In between the monsoon of rain we’ve been having, I’ve also made it out into the garden a few days to begin the year’s Spring projects. Every since they tore down a nearby abandoned house, we’ve had a rat problem, and since the protective wire on the bottom of many of my animal’s housing is nearly ten years old, it’s starting to give way. And I will not feed and house rats. No way.  Even though I love pet rats and every time I catch one in the live trap I think “You are so cute!”….right before I kill it.

The Muscovy drake, at least, appears to be doing one of the jobs I got him for. When he was young, I used to find rats scurrying out of his coop in the early evening before I locked the ducks up. I haven’t seen a single rat around the duck coop lately. And a few days ago, when the ducks were over by the chicken coop, I heard a squeaking, and looked over to see the drake had grabbed a small rat and was vigorously attempting to destroy it. Good on him!

So to force the rats to move on to somewhere else, we just redid the protective wire on the chicken coop, and got them a new rat-proof feeder. I just put the feeder up yesterday, so it’s too soon to tell, but so far the chickens seem to be learning how to use it, and it seems quality and like it will do its job. I also replaced the wire on the pigeon coop, and while I was at it, built them new nestboxes. I’ll do a separate post on that later. Next up, I’ll be remodeling the quail coops, and Cocoa the angora rabbit’s hutch. And fixing up a couple of the unused coops to prepare for the new ducks and chickens coming this spring (meat birds).

And then. And then, guys…I’ll finally be able to build a BRAND NEW coop, for a BRAND NEW critter coming to the urban farm. No, not the goose. She is coming, but she’ll live with the chickens as their guard. No, I’m going to mail order some fancy doves! I had doves eons ago, and I miss them. They have such wonderful sounds, from the gentle coo, to the manic laugh! I’m still debating, but I think I’m going to get the tangerine color.

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Really wish this rain would let up a little…I’ve got so much to do before planting season begins!

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!

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.

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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.