Sunday, February 23, 2014

First Ancona Egg

Remember back in June last year I acquired some Ancona ducklings? Well, they are all grown up now and today one of the hens laid the first egg! Finally, it has seemed forever, especially since I rehomed my mixed breed hens last fall and have been eggless since!

First Ancona Egg of the Season
The egg weighed in at 2.5 oz not bad for a first timer. Hopefully we'll be able to hatch some Ancona ducklings here this spring and have home raised Quackers!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sheep Barn Construction Starts...

Katielyn and I have been in CO for over a year now (how time flies!). In hopes of getting Rod to move up here, I decided it is time to vacate the existing barn and build the sheep barn.  I'm also tired of the temporary pens and makeshift gates we put up to "temporarily" house the sheep and ready for something much more appropriate.

You'd think designing a simple sheep barn would be a simple task and it probably is if you're starting from scratch and not trying to incorporate an existing building into the plan. You see, there is a large run-in shed located in one of the pastures. It's 11' x 24' -just about the right size for basic sheep barn. But it's location is too far from the house to be convenient for use as the sheep barn.  I want to avoid drawing building permits for a new structure so my plan is to tear down the existing shed and re-erect it with some modification closer to the house.  The greenhouse also needs to be torn down and rebuilt so I'm going to incorporate it on one side of the sheep barn along with a coop for chickens. I really hate the wasted greenhouse space in winter and would like to take advantage of the synergy of the greenhouse daytime heat for the barn, and the animal heat to help fend off freezing temps in the greenhouse to hopefully elongate the growing season.

I drew up plans and then we spent last Wednesday choosing a location. We didn't want the building to close or too far from the house, we wanted easy access to our pastures and it had to have a south facing long wall for the greenhouse. We also wanted as flat an area as possible (this proved difficult).

Wednesday, August 28th

We finally chose a spot and spent the afternoon establishing and squaring the perimeter and corners.  This is our first day's progress, it certainly doesn't look like much!
The perimeter of the barn staked out in none other than baler twine! The string we had stretched to much to be of any use so I tied multiple pieces of baler twine to make twine string. I knew I kept all that twine for a reason!
After mapping out the perimeter of the barn on the ground I was concerned with it's size-it looked so small. We measure the current barn and it's main area is 15'x25' and that includes a 5' alley way which the sheep barn won't have as well as built in mangers, so 12x24' should really be big enough.  I still had my concerns...

Thursday, August 29th

They say " build bigger than you think you'll need" ;and here I am with just an outline and already thinking it might be too small.  After looking at sheep barn layouts and plans all yesterday evening, I have decided to add 4' to the width of the barn. 16'x24' just seems so much more usable. This will entail adding 5 more posts but I know I won't regret going bigger.

Of course it means remeasuring the outline, yet again.

Finally the outline is set and I do like the added space. I've modified my materials list and it's off to town we go to purchase materials for the first phase of construction-the foundation.  We've already established that over the 16' there is a drop of 15" so I'll have to get some fill hauled in.  We're building a pole barn so we'll put the posts in first while we have solid undisturbed soil to work with. We'll then put a skirt around the perimeter of the barn to keep predators out.

Foundation materials list:

9 4x6 12' pressure treated posts
18 80# bags of sakrete
100' tape measure (we only had a 24' tape on hand which isn't enough for measuring the diagonals)

While purchasing the foundation materials we happened on a big pile of seconds 2x4x16's and 2x10'x 16 at a fantastic price so we purchased them too. I'm sure we'll be able to use them in the project somewhere.

We also need to buy 7 cattle panels as we will have to tear down some existing fencing so the fill trucks can get in to dump the fill where we need it. We still want to use these pastures so cattle panels will enable us to put up a secure temporary fence while construction is underway.

Two days at this and we still have no actual construction started...grrr...time is a ticking!

Friday, August 30th

Today construction began! We dug the 4 corner post holes and put in the 4 corner posts.  The holes were dug by hand so progress was slow. We also measured and remeasured in hopes that we can keep the building fairly square.

Here's what we had by the end of the day:

The first post is set!
Four corners in place-they are square and level. The electric post in the background is very crooked! Note Phira watching the sheep through the fence, she thinks they are much more exciting than our construction.
Saturday, August 31st

Rod leaves tomorrow so today we'd like to have all the posts in and fill line marked on the posts.

It's a rainy day but we have managed to get the rest of the holes dug and posts in.  Happily most everything seems square.  The second to last hole was horrible to dig-the ground was so compacted there it was like digging rock.

I have calculated we'll need at least 9 yards of fill. I have put a post on our local online community board and have found someone to bring fill this week.

9 posts set and we're almost ready for fill (still need to take down fencing)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Even Cuter

OK, the chicks were cute but I think these guys are way cuter.

I've been wanting Ancona ducks for over a year and had made arrangements to get some shipped to me with some Calico Cochins but a bad hatch left me without either. I made more arrangements for Ancona's from a different party and believe it or not they too had a bad hatch and didn't have enough to fill my order.

So I decided to go to the best source I know Boondockers Farm.  For those who don't know Boondockers bought Holderread's prized Ancona flock, after Holderread brought them back from the brink of vanishing in North America. The American Livestock Breed Conservancy's 2000 Census only showed 128 breeding Ancona birds in North America and their status is still critical.

 I was able to get in for Boondockers June 24th hatch and have been waiting with baited breath.  I saw someone post yesterday that their ducks from Boondockers were at the post office...and I still hadn't received my tracking #. Oh no? Please say THEY didn't have a bad hatch and I wasn't getting any.  I emailed them and later that evening they sent me my tracking # with a delivery estimate of this morning. Phew...the ducks were on their way!

This morning I got the eagerly awaited call from the post office saying they were there. Yippee! I'm not normally very excited to get calls at 6:30 am but this morning it was a relief!  I quickly got dressed and headed to the post office who let me in before opening.

Here is what greeted me when I opened the box:

Since I can't keep them all I tried to vent sex them (identify gender). It must have been quite the sight seeing Kt and I inspecting the little duckies privates.  It's not as easy as it looks on the videos! Finally we made our best guesses, 6 girls and 5 boys...and there were only supposed to be 10 ducklings, we got an extra. Thank-you Boondockers!

We think these are the boys...

And these are the girls...look at the perfect heart on the left upper duckling's head! Sweet

Kt likes this little black one..

The best little rubber ducky ever

I couldn't be more pleased with this shipment.  I believe we have almost all the Ancona color varieties and they are nicely marked  There are a couple of blacks, some chocolates, lavender, I'm guessing some Lilac's (lighter lavenders), and maybe a Silver (this one's almost all yellow but you can see some silvery white in it's down).  It's pretty hard to tell exactly what some will end up but there is definitely a variety!

Two weeks later...they haven't changed much!

Here are some of the MF/Calico Cochin chicks two weeks later.  They haven't really changed much have they?

A little bigger, a few more feathers but still cute!
I think this is Kt's favourite-it's hard to tell what color it will end up.

A box of cuteness

Look what came in the mail a couple of weeks ago (yes a couple of weeks ago...sigh...never enough time in the day to the Blog updated!).

I woke up in the morning to a phone call from the post office-your chicks are here! I got up and drove down and there was a chirping box.  These weren't day old chicks so I was pretty worried about their travels. They came from South Dakota to Denver and then on up to Bailey by express post. Even though they were express going between here and there it's a two day trip. And Denver was getting pretty warm (mid-90's).

Here is the box they arrived in...

And this was what was inside! An assortment of colors and sizes

Pretty cute aren't they?
I was shipped 11 chicks alas 2 didn't survive the journey, one was dead on arrival and another despite my offerings of sugar water and egg died a few hours later.  Despite the losses which saddened me, I was quite happy that the others had made their long journey without harm.  I'll only be keeping a few of these as I don't need this many chickens, now how to choose amongst them?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Of Chicks and Chickens

I've had a fondness for Cochin chicks since I purchased my first paid a year ago so in February I decided to order some Cochin eggs for hatching. Then I read about how hard it is to hatch eggs that were shipped from a lower altitude. Sigh. It really does pay to research before you buy.  I don't know how I missed this tidbit of information before I ordered.  I dutifully set 15 eggs for hatching and immediately broke a couple because my incubator is too small for that many-but how could I not try to get them in?

In March after painstakingly candling the eggs (the process of shining a bright light into the egg to see it's development) I was down to just 3 eggs that looked viable. Of those just one hatched. What a cute little thing.

Trey hatching
A day old..

Wanting buddies for my little chick, I purchased a couple of Silver Laced Wyandotte Chicks in April, and then at the end of April a couple more Cochin Chicks.  All went well until it was time to graduate from the hutch in my office to the outside world.

The Wyandotte Chicks,

"Trey" my sole hatching chick went out first as he was the oldest. My plan was to slowly acclimate him by putting him out for short periods in the chicken pen. What's that saying about "the best laid plan"?  Jinny my cochin hen didn't think much of the new addition and chased him out of the pen. I didn't realize that a chick already feathered out could slip so easily between the wire mesh.  Jasper alerted me to his escape but I couldn't find him, so I let Jasper off his leash and "whoosh" Jasper was chasing from his hideout. I quickly grabbed him and brought him inside and decided to wait a little while before putting him out again.

I reinforced the pen with chicken wire and tried again the following week. This time things went even worse...Trey got out and Jasper got him. I found him limp and bleeding and laid him beneath the nesting box to peacefully pass. An hour or so later he hadn't passed. I decided to bring him inside and let him die in peace. He didn't die. I examined him and found that he was missing a wing and his wing socket was protruding. I didn't have much hope, but washed his wounds, put an antibiotic cream on them and put antibiotics in his water. I put him in the hutch for the night not expecting him to be alive in the morning. I lifted the hutch door with trepidation the next morning and there was Trey drinking and eating as if nothing were wrong. His injuries didn't seem to bother him anymore.

A couple of weeks passed and the "Eau de Chicken" smell in my office was driving me crazy, so I decided once again it was time for the birds to move outside.  I moved all three into the coop and watched carefully as I planted my garden. All seemed OK-the chicks were keeping to themselves in the coop.  Jinny was clucking scornfully but wasn't chasing anybody.  A couple of hours later I checked again and Trey was gone! He was nowhere to be seen. We searched high and low but couldn't find him.  I hoped we'd find him the next morning but there was no sign. The two Wyandottes seemed to be faring all right in the big coop so I left them there.

That evening when I went to shut everyone in-the Wyandottes were gone too. I searched some more but they too seemed to have vanished.  How dissapointing, all that work raising the chicks only for them to disappear.

The birds later showed up dead by my guesthouse-dogs had got to them but I don't think they intended to kill them as they weren't torn up. It looked like the birds had probably run and the dogs chased. It was sad-especially as Trey was found a week later and it looked like he had just been killed as his little body was limp with no rigamortis. 

Meanwhile the fearsome Ginny who probably was the cause of all this trouble through her chasing of the chicks...crawled under the chicken wire around my garden and proceeded to mow down all of the plants I had so painstakingly nurtured all Spring. She left just one lone potato and the pumpkin plants.  Ginny is sure lucky she lays well as she'd be so out of here...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Planting Dreams...

I've planned since  before we moved here to plant some fruit trees. After seeing how well my plum tree is bearing (now that I have left Texas) I knew that planting some fruit trees would be a priority. Is there anything better than sinking your teeth into an apple freshly picked from the tree? And they are something to get planted earlier rather than later as my plum tree in Texas proves-I planted it about 5 years ago and it was just last year that it really started to bear.

I have heard you can't grow fruit trees here...early thaws will bring the trees into bloom and then a frost will come and make them drop.  The winds are too bad....the dirt is not right.  Yet I see some who manage to grow fruit trees and actually harvest crops. I believe it's all in the selection of the right tree and right place to plant them.

I have done my research and selected just three trees to start-two apples and a cherry.  Though I have high hopes for these trees there is no point in spending the family fortune to be proven wrong is there? I found a very reputable Nursery online, St. Lawrence Nurseries, out of Potsdam, NY.  They have a huge selection of fruit trees, a great reputation and the USDA zone chart puts them as a 4B while they have my zone as 5B-so these plants should be hardy.

I researched success stories, and also read the failure stories and finally settled on the following choices:

For the Apples: 

September Ruby-this one originated from Canada-it should be hardy (I've seen accounts of it growing in Alaska!).  One backyard grower had this to say about the apples "

"I too have September Ruby, mine seem to ripen in late August, early September most years. The taste reminds me of a macintosh, crisp and juicy, sweet, great for fresh eating, but also excellent in pies"

Yum...sounds good to me! 

The other selection I made was is a Norkent Apple. This one is rated for zone 2-another hardy variety.  It's described as "very large apple, sweet crisp, perfumy with excellent flavor".  Keeps well in storage. 

The Cherry Tree-I have always wanted a cherry tree, so I succumbed to temptation and ordered one. Unfortunately it seems sweet cherries don't grow in Northern climates but I did find some pie cherries do, and some are even good for fresh eating.  I chose a Bali Cherry because it was discovered growing near Edmonton, Alberta after withstanding -43F. It's supposedly a vigorous grower and precocious producer yielding large 1 inch fruit. I hope I'll be needing a bird net in a few years...this just sounds to good to be true!

Bali Cherries-I soo want to tast these!

My order came in from St. Lawrence at the end of April-they are ship bareroot and dormant and it is recommended to plant them straight away so I not one to not heed the sage words of those who are wiser than me-I did. I planted them on April 22, the day before we got about 8" of snow.  The instructions said "the weather might not be good for the humans for planting, but it is for the plants".   The first flakes of snow started to fall as I planted

Here are my pictures of the planting.

An Apple tree before planting 
Same Tree in hole ready to fill in

The Cherry tree-I have high hopes for this twig!

I have all the twigs trees wrapped in little cages of poultry wire to protect them from oafish dogs that go by the name of Jasper who I can just see grabbing hold of one and running. I'm faithfully watering them often as per the instructions "5-10 gallons regularly-regularly being every day, 3 days a week or a good soaking every weekend. Dig under the mulch to feel the soil, if it is waterlogged pass for a few days".

It'll be a few years before I get to taste the fruits of my efforts...I hope it pays off!