After several tons of feed, untold hundreds of gallons of water and four months of growing, the pullets have started to lay.
These tiny eggs are, appropriately, known as pullet eggs. Some say the first eggs a hen lays are the best she'll ever lay.
I'm not so sure if that is true (I think they're all pretty darn delicious) but these are certainly the sweetest eggs to find. It's something that never gets old - finding the very first eggs laid by a new batch of hens. Of course, these two eggs are just the hint of the flood to come. Two one day, perhaps none the next, two the third day, eight the fourth, seventeen the fifth, and before I'm ready (of course) we'll be collecting somewhere in the range of 175 eggs daily from these girls. And away we go!
Oh goodness. An entire week has somehow run away from me and here I am to tell you that my fourth and final post is up today over at Rhythm of the Home. If you have a moment, take a look. And if you're so inclined, try making my Solstice Sun Popsicles and let me know what you think. Thanks!
(Giving Thatcher his first photography lesson, Summer Solstice 2012.)
Now, I have something fun to share with you here, in my own space. Here where everything or nothing can be about farming. This has nothing to do with farming, but it does have a lot to do with this blog. Today, because I am a total nerd and nothing makes me happier than a little summertime learning, I begin my first ever e-course. I can't remember at this point the twisting trail of blogs and websites that led me to discover Erin's Eyes Open Creative Photography E-course, but I'm thrilled that lead me there they did (plus, Erin's blog is a beauty). For the next six weeks, I'll be working on my photography skills along with 30+ other people hailing from locations all around the globe and back. West Coast, East Coast, Canada, Japan, Australia (just to list a few). I'm hoping to improve my photography both technically and creatively. I plan to shoot mostly digital images, but I have two rolls of black & white film ready for the occasion. Now, if I can just figure out where to get my film developed... Anyhow, I hope to share some of the work that I do for Eyes Open with you here, and feel free to leave a critique (constructive criticism, please).
A day ahead of schedule, I'm back over at Rhythm of the Home today with a tour of yesterday's chores and a bit of a reflection on the dynamics of farming alongside my children.
Here on the farm, after an entirely rainless April and a May-through-early-June in which I swear it rained every single day, we've been having a stretch of the most perfectly glorious weather imaginable. Craig was beginning to plan for a year in which we would make no hay at all, and I was beginning to think my bees - especially the new bees - would be drowned and washed away with all the rains. So in this recent stretch of Nature showing us the very best she has to offer, we've been mowing and raking and baling like crazy, and I made a trip out to the bee yard to check on the girls. (This photo has nothing to do with hay or bees at all, it's here simply for the way it shows just how beautiful the weather has been. Everything is technicolor blue and green, and the cows and chickens you can see in the distance are thoroughly enjoying every moment of it. OK, so you can't actually see a single chicken, but you can see the mobile coop, and spread out all around it, hidden by the grass, are 200+ young hens. And they are happy, frolicking in the warm sun! Just take my word for it.)
The main objective of my visit to the new bees is to see how they're settling in. Are the queens still present and laying? Are the workers drawing out the foundations quickly? Are they raising brood, and bringing home pollen, and making honey? All five hives are queen-right and looking great, doing just what they should be doing. In three out of the five new hives, I was greeted with bees spilling out from the hive onto the inner cover. A very good sign! Well, a good sign that the bees are thriving, but also a sign that they need more room to grow, pronto.
Here is the view under the inner cover. Yup, this is a strong hive, ready for a second hive body. A second story addition to their previously single story home.
Excellent work ladies! By the middle of this week, I'll be adding a second hive body to the other two hives, lagging just a bit behind the strongest three.
And I came away with the first product from these hives - a big ball of beeswax! This wax was built up as burr comb between the top of the hive bodies and the underside of the inner covers - another good sign of a strong and growing colony. It is common practice to scrape this away, and it is very bad practice to leave such scrapings littering the bee yard. I press any wax I remove from the hives into a ball as I work, helping me to keep the wax in one place and helping to keep the yard tidy.
And now, I'm heading back outside. How's the weather where you are?
Today, you can find me over at Rhythm of the Home with the second of my weekly posts for the month of June. Meanwhile, here on the farm, the wild daisies are back in bloom! Along the side of our dirt road, growing in the scrubbiest patches of sandy soil they can find, scattered amidst the pallets of stone and rusty old farm implements, the daisies are pushing their merry way up toward the Sun. I find it hard to walk by this patch without getting sidetracked. Nothing wrong with a little sidetrack every now and again...
Hanging out with my kid(s) and maybe a chicken or two, not doing much of anything at all.
I can dream, right? And I can certainly see to it that the coming season is, at the very least, liberally peppered with plenty of moments just like this. It takes intention to make time. Otherwise, one would never have time. I am reminding myself of this simple fact.
Here's to making time for all sorts of nothing, all summer long.
(PS - Our little Chick-Chick rode to this spot IN the red wagon. She sure is one patient and courageous chicken!)
OK, I'll admit it. I look at the stats for this blog. Sometimes rather more frequently than I should. Anyway... One of the interesting things about the stats is that I get to see the google searches that result in a pageview here at my blog. Yesterday, someone out there somewhere (please let them not be anywhere near me!!) ran a search for the following: "dropping off rooster in the country".
Now, to me this reads like it was typed into google by someone who has a rooster, and fully intends to drop him off, and is probably looking for the approbation to go ahead and do just that. Apparently, their search led to my blog, where, if they took the time once they arrived, they would have quickly discovered just what happened after a rooster was dropped off unceremoniously at my farm. Please, whoever you are, keep in mind that before Henry became our (beloved at this point) backyard pet he was beaten up by our preexisting roosters and was then very nearly killed by some one of the many wild and hungry creatures lurking in the swamp just beyond our pastures. After those near-death experiences, he nearly suffocated after somehow sliding (perhaps while sleeping?) behind our oil tank. He was lucky not to be eaten and luckier still not to be run over on the road. No, dropping off a rooster anywhere is not a good idea. Asking a farmer if they want your rooster? That is fine dandy. Also, there are plenty of folks who know how to quickly and correctly dispatch a rooster and who would be more than happy for the subsequent meals.
I am not even going to get into a discussion about dropped-off cats.
Let me, just for a moment, take the opportunity to climb up onto my soapbox to say that it is never ever OK to drop off any sort of animal anywhere, regardless of how cute/useful/sick/injured/unmanageable they might be, and regardless of how receptive/willing/dupable/clueless/naive you think the property owner or farmer might be. There are proper (and more humane) channels for relieving yourself of the burden of an animal you are no longer willing or able to care for. While some dropped-off animals end up well cared for and loved, most are not so fortunate.
This month, I am honored to be a contributor for the Rhythm of the Home blog. I'll be posting there every Tuesday in June. Today, for my first post, I invite you along as Thatcher and I take an early morning walk here on the farm. Take a look if you have a moment, and enjoy!
In the late afternoon on Memorial Day, Craig went off in the Gator to do chores. The kids were napping, and I was busy watering the garden. About ten minutes after he left, Craig pulled back into the driveway. "We've got a problem. A big problem." my mind started racing. Cows out on the highway, a barn on fire, pigs running free - there are plenty of potential problems waiting to happen on a farm. "Bertha's dead." It took a moment for the full import of this to sink in. Bertha is a sow. Losing a sow is a problem in and of itself. But, what makes this different is that not only is Bertha one of our sows, but Bertha farrowed a litter of nine piglets not even a week before Memorial Day. Nine hearty and healthy piglets, just days old, now without a mama. A Very Big Problem indeed.
We started raising pigs here on this farm in 2007. Since then, aside from the still sad but somewhat inevitable piglets lost at or soon after birth, we have lost one grower and one other sow. That other sow died from complications in farrowing. It was a devastating loss for us - she was one of our first sows and our favorite. A beautiful sow with a great personality and a very successful mother pig. Just before she died, she gave birth to one piglet. We named him Wilbur and kept him in a cardboard box out in the garage with a heat lamp and a blanket and a hot water bottle. I proceeded to bottle fed Wilbur every two hours around the clock a formula that I mixed fresh for each feeding - cow's milk mixed with egg yolks and fish oil. I was newly pregnant with Greta at the time, and Thatcher was a young toddler. Wilbur did very well, but the amount of work that went into helping him thrive was staggering.
Multiply that by nine? Well, I can say that we never for a moment considered any option other than trying to keep Bertha's nine piglets alive, but - in those first few moments - I just couldn't imagine how on earth we would manage to be successful.
I ran inside and immediately started looking up information on feeding orphaned piglets. I learned that it is possible to teach a piglet to drink from a pail. Blessing number one! I learned that goat milk replacer works just fine as piglet formula. Blessing number two! I also learned that after the first week, piglets no longer require round the clock feedings. Blessing number three! And then I realized that there is a great deal of difference between a newborn piglet and a bunch of piglets who have had the benefit of several day's worth of colostrum and constant access to mother's milk. Blessings all around!
At not even a week, these piglets were doing great. That first night, we left them in their hut out in the farrowing area, with a board across the door to make sure they wouldn't stray. Tractor Supply was closed for the holiday, but we were able to get a full five-gallon pail of fresh goat milk from a local farm. Craig and I took turns teaching the piglets how to drink it up. In no time at all, they had the new feeding action down pat. They finished the entire dish by morning.
Seeing as how Craig already has too much on his plate, we decided it would be best to have this group near the house so I can be responsible for their feedings. I built them a hog panel pen, and Craig brought over the first hog hut he ever built, now discontinued for regular use (it's too narrow for bigger pigs) but just perfect for our little orphans.
So now we are raising up nine piglets, just outside the house, uphill a bit from the sandbox, to the left of the picnic table. They're the first thing I think of in the morning (first feeding - 5:30) and the last thing I tuck in at night. I can see them from the kitchen, and the front door, and from the dining room table where I'm sitting this very moment. I can see them when they spill out of the hut, looking for food and squealing lustily to let me know three hours have certainly passed by now (they haven't, not yet).
And the kids are in love, of course. So am I. Thatcher has been telling everyone he is the piglets' big brother, with a puff of his chest.
There's one runt in the group (yup, that's him in the next photo), but he's a smart little fellow. He's already learned that he can sneak in under his bigger siblings to slurp out of the dish.
No, not mama.
And they sleep. Warm and cuddled together. They sleep.
This is such bittersweet work... Bertha, we're doing our best for your little ones. Rest peacefully, Mama Sow.
It's another one of those days - those days which I'm afraid are all too common for most of us - too much to get done, far too little time, and how is it possibly June 1st already? But for a moment, very early this morning, with the air cool and the bright sun just rising over our pastures, all was calm and still and so beautifully peaceful.
Wishing you a moment's peace today and every day that follows.