The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

A Walk Through the Garden

A walk through the garden shows me that spring is finally here. After this long, harsh, awful winter, I could not be more excited! I have to look carefully at the soil to see the newly forming life, and it is beautiful.

This is the beginning of a large spearmint plant- small shoots are emerging randomly throughout the herb garden.

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These green shoots are the rebirth of my lovely chive plant, which has been gracing my garden since I started a few years ago. Purple flowers will begin forming soon, and the stalks will grow extremely tall.

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Do you see the red growth underneath the old stems? That is my echinacea plant. It produces beautiful magenta cone-shaped flowers in the late summer. Not only is it ornamental, it is also said to boost your immune system. Apparently when the flowers are steeped in hot water for around thirty minutes, it is an effective precaution against colds. I’m not sure if that has any truth to it, but it does taste alright when steeped with mint and honey!
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This is lemon thyme- a wonderfully fragrant and tasty herb. I purchased the original plant from the farmer’s market, and it has been returning every year since, with more growth each time!
Photo Apr 18, 6 34 29 PMThe chicken manure certainly gave my garden soil a boost! I mixed some into the dirt last fall, and covered it with a layer of straw over the winter. I uncovered it yesterday, and found a nice layer of compost.

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In addition to the outdoor growth, the tomato seeds I started last week have sprouted! I had almost given up hope, until I looked under the thin layer of “germination paper” to find these lovely little seedlings. They are my last chance at tomatoes this year, since I didn’t plan ahead, and as a result am no longer in possession of seeds. I put them under a fluorescent light in the basement, with a heating pad underneath. With some luck, water, and warmth hopefully they will thrive.
post 2Enough about plants- It’s time for a chicken update. I am led to believe that Mary has yet another health problem. Scaly leg mites…

These little fellows burrow into a chickens’ leg scales, causing them to rise, as seen below on Mary’s toes. Apparently it is rather painful, and can cause deformity if not treated in an appropriate manner.  The only way to get rid of these mites is by smothering them. And since they are spread through contact, and Mary lives with three other chickens, I’ll have to treat each one. These buggers have to go, so here is the plan.

  1. Dip their feet in warm, soapy water, while gently massaging their feet with an old toothbrush
  2. Dry off their feet with a soft towel by gently dabbing
  3. Dip their feet in vegetable oil for tenish seconds
  4. Dab their feet dry again
  5. Cover their feet with Vaseline
  6. Reapply Vaseline several times per week until healed
  7. Completely clean out coop again 😦

Its going to be gross, and very messy. But it has to be done! I just hope the people on BYC (backyard chickens.com) actually know what they are talking about. I don’t want to go through all this trouble for no reason

 Photo Apr 17, 6 36 28 PM        Lately I’ve been letting the chickens out for twenty minutes before their bedtime. I open up the door and stand by with a container of scratch in case they wander farther away than I’d like. Mabel always lurks on the perimeter, careful to stay away from me, while Mary is right by my side. Cora follows Edith everywhere he goes, which is usually near me. I always make them go inside before it gets too dark, which is quite a production.

Now that they know of the world outside their run, all they want to do is free range. If I open the door to walk in, they will rush at me in an effort to escape. Because of this, my father has set up a moveable wire fence around their run. This will give them some extra room, as I am not always able to let them roam. There are far too many hawks and dogs for that!

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It is quite a dreary day out here, which marks a discouraging start to my spring vacation. My birthday is coming up- it takes place on Earth Day, which is fitting considering my attitude towards the environment. My parents have been pestering me over what I want for presents, and I have been at a loss. I told them that nothing could ever beat last year’s gift of five baby chicks, and the adventures that have followed.

I smiled at them, and said “unless you plan on getting me more…?” to which they responded with a firm “No”. Oh well, at least I tried 🙂

Spring Is Here (Theoretically)

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

Spring is here, according to the calendar. The snow falling from the sky seems a little contradictory. Frankly, I’ve just given up. I have accepted the fact that warm weather is never going to happen again, and that I should just get used to the winter jackets and sweatpants.

The lazy chickens have retired early...I peeked my head in and found this...

This New England weather has gotten me so confused. It rises into the 40s, and all of a sudden I’m walking around outside with just a t-shirt shirt and jeans on. But then it starts snowing the next day, and it is back to the multiple layers of coats, sweaters, and socks. I just know that the tulips, crocuses, and daffodils are trying to arise from the dirt. If only there wasn’t a foot of snow barring their path to the sun.

The other day I strolled outside to my chicken coop, and did a double take as Edith stepped out into the run. His comb had fallen off, leaving a strange looking (for lack of a better word) nub… I started laughing immediately, but halted when he glared at me, as if to suggest that it was my fault. I retreated back into the warmth after doing the daily chicken chores, feeling slightly bad that his once majestic comb has been diminished so completely.

The other issue I have been facing is eggs. I have too many!  I’ve resorted to handing them out by the half-dozen to neighbors, out of complete desperation for more fridge space. I really want to sell them, but I’m not sure if I need a license for that, and since my chicken operation is supposed to be “covert” (I’m pretending that my neighbors can’t actually hear Edith serenading them in the mornings) I don’t want to draw extra attention to it. I’ll have to do some more research. Farm stands are a really popular thing in my town- people just set up a table on the side of the road with a box for money and piles of fruit vegetables. Asparagus and strawberries decorate these stands in the spring time, and then lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer. Pretty much every turn you take leads you to another one. Why not have one of my own?

The Chickens Getting Ready for Bed

Photo Mar 18, 6 40 58 PMThey were slightly offended by my intrusion A curious angle of chickens roosting...

Seedlings

I started some seedlings earlier this week! These past few years I have utterly and completely failed at getting my little plants to thrive. I’ve had an especially frustrating time with the heirloom peppers I’ve tried over the years. On Monday I filled a flat with four Asters, four peppers, and eight lettuce plants. Or maybe it was eight pepper plants and four lettuce plants… perhaps this is why I’ve been failing at this…

But not to fear! I have a chart with the information somewhere around here. I followed the directions carefully, filling up the bottom tray with warm water, soaking  the black, absorbent mat that goes underneath the flat itself in more warm water, expanded the little soil pellets, sowed the tiny seeds, and covered it all with a thin “germination sheet”. Then I quickly cleaned up the layer of dirt on the kitchen counter before my family laid their horrified eyes on it. They just don’t get it sometimes 🙂

I probably could have easily done all this without the silly Burpee seed kit, but took advantage of it as it was left over from last year. Hopefully they sprout.

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If anyone asks, those crumbs are brownies…

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And if they don’t, I shall try again. After all, I’ve got to have something to distract me from the idea of chicks that I can’t have, and my rooster troubles.

Spring is Here

Spring is here. It has to be, right? There is a smell outside that just seems to say that spring is on its way, and the sun seems warmer than usual. When I venture outdoors I can hear the water streaming off the roof, and I see the mud next to the driveway. Sure, the puddles freeze over at night, but it’s certainly progress.

Edith has been in and out of the basement. I leave him in the little dog crate only when it gets below five degrees- but I don’t think there is anything left to lose on his comb! It has cleared up now, so I can see the line where the dead comb meets the healthy part. He won’t be as handsome when it falls off, but I think it will be okay. I hope so anyways.

One thing I do have to look forward to, however, is summer vacation. I might have the opportunity to travel to Scotland this summer, which is extremely exciting for a girl who has barely left her town, let alone her country! If I can raise the money, I’d ride a plane over to London, meet some family at the airport and stay there for a few days. Then we would make our way to Inverness, and eventually north to the town where my aunt and uncle live. After three or four weeks, I would make my way back home to my family and chickens. Words can’t describe how excited I am to live in a whole different setting, with a different culture and history. I just got my passport application forms today. Next step is to raise a large amount of money by myself, buy some plane tickets, and wait…

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