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Thursday, April 28, 2016


Mention chivalry and images of knights in shining armor, gentlemen throwing capes over mud puddles for satin slippered ladies, men rescuing damsels in distress in tall towers from dragons, or even the simple act of someone holding a door from you.

As a chicken keeper, on a small scale, our flock members all have names.  They all have personalities; motherly, crazy, loner, curious, peckish, ornery.

Today we lost Zap.  While free ranging, the flock came under attack from a red fox.  Yes, I could keep them caged all the time, but they belong outside being happy.  The ruckus caused by the intruder was mistake for loud and noisy mating.  Let's face it, Zap was ravenous in that area of his life.  When Caughlin looked outside he saw the red beast.  It was running around the side of the barn with little Meriwether in its maw.  It dropped her and ran off across the hayfield. 

Feathers were everywhere.  Caughlin took stock of the flock and birds started coming out of hiding.  He found zap halfway down the meadow.  He put up one hell of a fight before the fox found his neck.  We found his feathers at each of the feather spots around the yard, so not only did he warn the girls and give them time to run, but he continued to fight every time the fox tried for another hen.

Lucy was also lost.

Cirrus is shocked and has a few small punctures and maybe a dislocated wing.  She is wrapped and resting in the barn. But eating mealworms like the crack they are.  She may be a wing dragger for life.  Her days of sneaking into the barn flying up to the high food stores may be over. But for now, she is alive.

Poor Ethel lost her entire tail and is scared silly.  I can't blame her.  She has a few scratches and is resting in the barn.

Meriwether had a couple of scratches and is otherwise fine.

All have been cleaned and will be watched.  Cirrus and Ethel could still pass from shock, so we are ready for that. 

The birds will remain in the coop and run for at least a week.  And Heaven help the fox if he comes back and I'm out there.  I know it was just collecting food for itself or kits, but that doesn't mean I'm running a KFC.

Nature is as nature is.  It hasn't been the first loss, and it won't be the last.

Zap and Lucy share a spot under the Mulberry tree.

The silence when the sun rises over the acreage in the morning will be deafening.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The "Homegrown By Heroes" Label

Yesterday we obtained the rights to use the Homegrown By Heroes label on our eggs.

The HBH label "serves to inform consumers that products donning the logo were produced by military veterans. The program is available to farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and value-added producers of all branches and eras of military service."
I first heard about this program from an NPR story that I heard a little over a year ago.  At the time, we only had three laying hens and not all of them were laying.  Of the original four chickens, Penny had gone off to Haweewee months before courtesy of a predator, and Meriweather was sitting on her clutch of eggs.  That left just Hyacinth and Olive.  The other eight hens (and Zap) that we got from the breeder were in various stages of growth, none laying.  And Donder, Blitzen, and Cirrus were among the eggs under Meriweather.  In short, egg sales weren't a going concern for us.  Nuts, the girls weren't even yet keeping up with our kitchen needs!

My how that situation has changed!  These days we're getting up to and including a dozen eggs a day, even with Daisy's production line shut down while she takes care of her brood.
The obligatory picture with Daisy and her chicks
Somehow I remembered that NPR story recently, and a little bit of paperwork later we have the rights to use the HBH label.

Tangentially, the astute among you noticed that in the picture of the egg cartons, they're stored in what appears to be a temperature-controlled chamber.  You're wondering "what happened to storing them on the counter?" "Why are they in a refrigerator?" and "I clicked on that link and boy has Zap grown!"  Yes, he has but focus, please, focus.  In the interest of broadening our egg sale opportunities, we also obtained a Nebraska Egg Code Number from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture a few months ago.  This brings with it various labeling requirements and a requirement that the eggs be washed and refrigerated like you find at an American grocery store.  We still eat countertop eggs, and we still offer countertop eggs (and chicks) by request, but our default sale is now washed & cold.  But still a whole lot fresher than you'd get from the store.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Boing! Spring has SPRUNG.

Living in Nebraska, on the edge of the Great Plains, I have learned the true meaning of Spring has Sprung, also why it's called SPRING.  It's because the darn season bounces back and forth between Winter and Summer faster and more often than a Tigger on a Sugar and Caffeine bender.

We have bounced from 80' days to 32' days; blazingly sunny to dim, dark, and gloomy; thunderstorms to freezing rain to snow (sometimes in the same day).  The one constant has been the incessant, relentless, howling winds.  Diaries from homesteaders tell tales of people going insane due to the endless whistling and roaring of the winds.  It is amazing how trying on your nerves the low frequency sound of wind through trees, fence lines, and over the prairie grass is.

This time of year we are also bone dry.  The ground is dry.  The vegetation, either somewhat in hibernation or dead from a long winter, is acres upon acres of kindling.  The air is dry, with Relative humidity as low as 17%.  Couple all of that with a brisk wind and you have the makings of one humdinger of a fire season.

Farmers, Ranchers, and Land Managers here (and in other large open states) use fire to control weeds, invasive plant species, and to return valuable carbon back to the grassland.  Remember, it used to burn unchecked by mother nature all the time, before we decided we didn't like our homes, and villages burned out every year.  The fires are planned, regulated, and safety precautions are strictly followed.  Of course there is always the unpredictable fire, caused by a wayward cigarette.  But for the most part, they are controlled, unless they're not.  When they do get going, they are HUGE, the plumes can be seen for miles and miles, and at night, the prairielands can glow an eerie red.  Yesterday, I counted 14 different fires along the horizon surrounding our acreage.

The FUN thing about all this wind is the ability to go fly a kite!  You can't fly a kite, REALLY fly a kite in the city, but out here, there's nothing in your way.  The past week, we had city family from out of state visiting, and I bought each of the kids a kite. ( Remember how easy it used to be to find kites and kite STRING? - HA! Try it now.)  The kids had a great time.  I even caught my mom out there playing!  Of course we had to wait for the winds to DIE DOWN to 20 mph to fly the kites.  Once the winds hit 25, 30, and 40 mph, they had to come in.  I didn't want them to end up in South Dakota!
Another fun event this time of year with all of the dry weather is Virga.  Virga is precipitation that forms in a moist layer of the atmosphere.  When it builds up to a weight sufficient for it to fall to the earth, it gleefully begins its journey towards earth.  Normally it would make it, and we would call it rain, or snow, or freezing rain.  However, when the precipitation falls towards earth and hits a layer of dryer air, it evaporates.  This can happen hundreds of feet above the surface or I've seen it a mere 10 feet off the ground. 
I am always amazed by it and really enough watching the shape shifting ballet of moisture.  This week, we had the extra bonus of having brilliant sunshine at just the right angle to a Virga shower, which resulted in a VIRGABOW.

Acreage Update

With Spring comes the endless chores, which I welcome.  Those that know me, know I cannot sit still.  And when I do, I do not do it well. 

Even with the challenge of the winds, the garden has been cleaned out.  Now I need to figure out which crops go where and set the frames back down.  April 20th I will plant the onion sets, and the potatoes.

We also decided to expand the orchard.  We added 11 more trees and 100 feet in length.  We added redbud trees on the very end between the orchard and road.  They will not only provide western shade (someday) in summer to the fruit trees, but will act as a visual screen to the view beyond.  As for the fruit trees, we added, granny smith, montmorecy cherries, candy crisp apples, cameo apples, cherry plums, rainier cherries, and  stayman winesap apples.  Someday, we might get apples to eat!

The dragons are back.  Well Killdeer birds really.  But we call them rock birds and they lay fabulously camouflaged eggs in our rock beds every year.  The eggs look like they belong to a dragon.  The adult birds have a piercing cry, a great scheme to get you away from their eggs, and the ability to completely disappear in the landscape.  I think they're from another dimension or planet, but that's neither here nor there.

Broody Daisy Update

Today is day 21, hatching day!  Well the AVERAGE hatching day.  We do have action, tomorrow should greet us with at least one puff butt.  This is Meriweather's one contribution to the nest.  The other blue eggs are cream legbars. There is one olive egg, and four black Maran eggs.

We have also decided that we will not let Daisy be broody again.  It's not that she isn't doing a GREAT job sitting.  She is.  The problem is, that's ALL she does.  She doesn't have the brains to get up even ONCE a day to eat, drink and relieve herself.  She will go about her business IF we pull her out, but ONLY if we pull her out.  So no second family for her.

Other Chicken News

Meet Noodle and Nugget.  They are both Ameraucana chicks and are being raised for the Lincoln Children's Zoo.  After they live here quarantined from all other animals, and fully feather out, they will be delivered to the zoo to be raised and trained by the Zoo Crew Kids.  They will then be used to educate visitors and school children about chickens.  They follow in the footsteps of their big sister Lucy, a black Maran, that we raised and donated last year.
Just look at those giant poofy cheeks!

Giant poofy cheeks turn into great big bushy beards!

Until next time!

Doc Here...
Caryl described all that as though these were distinct events at Dunrovin.  No, the chickens decided to help with the orchard expansion.( Caryl ~ known as the construction and approval crew.)  Step 1 is breaking the sod and removing it from where the tree goes.  Then we dig the hole in the clay soil for the tree.  Once we got past step 1, the girls helped.  They helped themselves to the yummy earthworms racing for cover.  For all the scratching they did, they only dug down about an eighth of an inch.  The remaining 11 7/8" was up to us. (Caryl-like all good supervisors, they taught and stepped back and watched us do the remaining work, got bored, and wandered off to have a chat around the water cooler.)

Thursday update

One hatch- Dorcas- mom is Merriweather,  dad is zap. She will be an olive egger. 5 more eggs are pipped that we can see.