Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Backyard Walk

This afternoon I had a couple minutes to spare, so I decided to take a walk in my backyard.  Come walk with me.

I have a big backyard. The sun was getting low, the temperature was perfect - a little cool, but not cold. First I walked by the garden and took a peek at the dirt where the seeds were planted less than a week ago. Nope, nothing growing yet. Then I walked around the old barn and took this picture facing into the sun.   

I continued to walk deeper into the woods behind our house.  As I walked through the woods I actually found a skull and crossbones!  From a deer.  There were other bones, too.  A deer had laid down here to breathe it's last breath long ago.  I left the bones undisturbed.

I walked past the old hay rake my husband and I discovered last year.  We had found it buried under vines when we were clearing the property.  When we discovered it, the vines were so thick we actually didn't know the hay rake was there.  We were cleaning up the vines, trying to make some sense of the chaos back then.  This property was an old farm many years ago.  This place has a lot of history ~ I love thinking about it.

As I walked in the woods I saw these seeds from a sweet gum tree which always have made me smile, even though I don't like them.  I always have called these seed pods "gumballs" since I was a child.  I don't like them because they hurt to walk on when barefoot (not that I was barefoot today!!).

I walked past an old gate on our property.  it's complete with a rusty chain and a padlock ~ for which we have no key.  It goes nowhere.  It's just a wooden gate on an old fence which is partially fallen over.  Behind this gate are several fallen trees.  We have quite a few gates that go no where on the property.  I guess at one time the gates used to lead to something...

As I walked back, I passed by the old barn again and took this picture.  This barn used to be the home to horses back in it's day.  Now it's just a memory of happy farm days.  Many birds make homes in it's rafters.

Before I knew it, I was back at the backdoor and my walk was over.  Springtime walks are always too short!

Thanks for the company!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Garden Planting

We started working on the garden last week.  Well, actually before last week we started planning the new and improved 2010 garden.  Here's our plan... 

We decided to make the garden bigger than it was last year ~ it was too crammed packed last year.  We needed more room.  Yes, I understand that a larger garden means more weeding will be needed ~ please make sure to remind me that I chose a bigger garden later this year when the weeding is driving me nuts...

We moved back the chain link fence which enclosed the garden last year, and decided to use part of the existing backyard wooden fence as our garden deer barrier this year.  The wooden fence is not rabbit or small animal proof, but we don't have any problems with rabbits ~ there are many fox in this area which keep the rabbit population in check.  And I don't think all our woodchucks will eat our vegetables (they seem to only like clover and grass).  We have raccoons and opossums and skunks, too, all of which will have access to the garden now...hopefully they will not be an issue.

Randy dug up the garden earth with the tractor first, just to mix up the dirt and making the tilling easy. We dug up all sorts of cool and interesting items - pottery, toys, glass, metal pipe, buried hose, and two more horseshoes. Last year we also dug up a horseshoe in the old garden area.  So now we have three old horseshoes. Are they supposed to bring luck? Hopefully this means our garden will do twice as well as last year!

Next we tilled the garden with the rototiller and the hoe. While we were hoeing I brought in some of the hens to assist with "worm control".  I really just wanted the hens to enjoy the fresh dirt.  The hens had a great time digging up and eating earthworms.

On the right are Little Danni and Chloe.  Below is Lucy, our friendliest hen.  Lucy was constantly in the way, diving in to get worms before the hoe left the dirt. She thought we were out there digging just for her. 

Eventually we got the garden all planted before dinner Saturday night. We planted many varieties of peas, beans, cucumbers, squash, carrots and cantaloupes.  Last year our best veggie was the squash ~ we had yellow squash, dark black squash, spaghetti squash, and green zucchinis.  I ate more squash than I've ever eaten in a season, and still had so much to give away.  Last year we didn't plant peas, carrots, or cantaloupe.  We'll see what does best this year. 
Tomorrow it's supposed to rain here and water our new garden. We still plan on planting corn, asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkin, but they are not going in this fenced garden this year, they will be planted elsewhere on the property.  Now we watch and wait.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guinea Hens & Guinea Eggs

We have 2 Guinea hens.  They were raised right along side of our chickens, and live with our chickens.  I think they believe they are chickens.  They make a lot more noise then the chickens, but it's not really as bad as people have told me it would be.  We got them to control the tick population around our house. 

The guineas have a bedtime song, which they sing when everyone is roosting in the coop and preparing for sleep.  It's a happy song, a song of comfort and peace, and usually one of the guineas sings herself to sleep.  The song comforts all the chickens and puts everyone to sleep in the coop. 

The guineas also have a cry of alert, which the roosters know very well.  They make this alert cry when something startles them, when something is out of the usual, when they are scared.  When the guineas' alert cry goes off, the roosters' make what I call the "horn" noise.  The rooster horn noise is a loud "honk", when one roo makes that noise, all the other roos are on alert, honking, heads tall, looking for danger.  The hens all run for cover, the roos all stand tall ready to fight off whatever they think may be attacking them.  The guineas are the first alert program for our flock.  They work well with the roosters, and any attacker would have to be very brave to enter an area with guinea alert cries going off and roosters standing tall ready to fight.

We really weren't too sure what sex our guineas were, but now we know they are females.  Both the guineas hens look alike.  They are semi-friendly because we raised them from chicks.  I think the guineas were tougher to raise than chickens - we started with 5 and only have 2 left.  2 died, 1 flew away and never came back.  We want more guineas, but haven't decided if we want to start with chicks again or maybe buy some adults next time.  Whatever decision we make, we will get more guineas this summer.  They come in different colors - ours are pearl gray.  I'd like to get some lighter colored guineas, maybe lavender or coral blue. 

Just recently we have started finding guinea eggs!  They are smaller than our smallest chicken eggs, weighing in at .7 and .9 ounces and have brown speckles.  The guineas don't lay in the chicken nest boxes, so we have to look for their eggs.

Here's the guinea eggs beside 2 small chicken eggs.

Any recommendations or suggestions regarding guinea fowl? 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Whitetail Deer Antlers

Over the past year and a half, we have collected quite a few whitetail deer antlers.  We just find them laying on the ground, in the woods or in the fields.  Many whitetail deer live in and travel through our area. 

This picture is of the antlers which we have at our house.  We have a number more out in our barn. 

Maybe we have enough for one of those antler lamps??

Monday, March 22, 2010

Springtime in the woods

We have now lived in this house on this property a little over a year and a half.  This is supposed to be our dream house.  One day, after the renovation and updates are complete, it will be.  It is our dream property, that's for sure.  It's over 250 beautiful acres, mostly wooded.  I love coming home to this property.  It still takes my breath away.

Saturday evening after working outside all day we decided to take a ride on the ATVs around the property.  The weather was perfect, it was the first day of spring, it couldn't be any better. 

We have two creeks on the property, one larger and one smaller.  The larger creek I call a river.  It flows steady and has a strong current.

The large creek winds and bends quite a bit.

There were beavers in one area on the large creek, but I didn't see any additional beaver damage on this visit.  Maybe they have moved on to greener pastures?  I hope so.

Here a small waterfall is formed by water runoff into the small creek.

Saturday evening I saw several underground springs come above ground and flow into the creeks.  We startled some deer as we drove by, and eventually we watched the sun set between the trees.  It was the perfect ending to the beginning of a new season.

Spring is welcome here.   

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring has Arrived

Spring arrived yesterday in all it's glory.

The weather was absolutely perfect.  First thing in the morning we went to an Amish Farmer's Market here in MD.  It's a 30,000-square-foot farmers market which sells fruits and vegetables, freshly-squeezed juices and ciders, steroid-free meats, dairy products, homemade chocolates and Easter candy, and it has a food court with breakfast and lunch buffets and food stands offering barbecued chicken and ribs, chicken corn soup, fried chicken wings and more.  Plus there is Amish furniture and crafts for sale, including handmade quilts for sale.  I forgot to take pictures because I was enjoying it too much! 

I found my new favorite snack - dried and salted green beans!  I'm going to have to make these this summer - they are very addictive!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Egg Cartons

We are getting ready for our egg sales business.  We already had quickly run out of egg cartons, so we ordered some online.  They just came in the mail yesterday.

There are alot of rules for egg cartons in Maryland.  Such as the word "Eggs" and the quantitiy must be displayed, the grade and egg size must be listed, the egg safe handling instructions must be printed on the carton in bold capital letters in a box.  The farm name and address must be on the carton.  The registration number and lot designation of the eggs must be listed on the carton.  And everything has specific font sizes.

To make this less complicated, we ordered pre-printed egg cartons from  They were the cheapest we could find online at the time.  We will still have to put specific data on the cartons, such as our name and address, and the egg size and grade, and the lot number and registration number.  But most of it is done for us.  Simple.  Sort of.

Fresh eggs, anyone???

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Broody Hen

We seem to have a hen that has gone broody.  I haven't previously experienced this, so I'm still researching it. 

Then hen on the left is Lucy, and the one on the right is Zoner.  Zoner has gone broody.  At the time this pic was taken, Lucy was sitting in the nest box, and Zoner came in & tried to push Lucy out so she could sit on Lucy's egg.  Zoner was in a zone right then, focusing on the eggs, ignoring me.  Lucy is looking at me & wondering why Zoner is sharing the nest box with her. 

Zoner was our first hen to lay eggs.  She always has been the most popular hen with the roosters.  And now she's the first to want to raise chicks.  She's only 5 and a half months old.

Zoner never wants to leave the nest boxes to go outside.  When we remove the egg from under her, she moves to another nest box where someone else has laid an egg and sits on that egg.  Sometimes she doesn't wait for them to get out first.  

Zoner is always sitting in the nest boxes.  We take her and put her outside as much as we can when we are home.  She screams at us and pecks us when we come near her, she doesn't want us to take her eggs or to move her away from them.  In the past she has always had a huge appetite; she still seems to eat, although since she's not pecking around outside much, she can't be eating all that much.

Zoner feels very warm when I pick her up out of the nest box - I read a broody hen's body temp rises and she may pull out her own feathers.  I haven't noticed her pulling out any feathers, but I haven't inspected her belly.  I read that a broody hen will stop laying eggs - so far I think Zone is still laying, but since she moves around from box to box to steal other's eggs, who knows.  We have thirteen hens right now and we get receive anywhere between ten to thirteen eggs a day, averaging about eleven a day. 

Any ideas to stop this broody hen?  Although they are adorable, we don't want chicks right now!   

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Woodpecker Tree

The other day I saw this tree near my house.  The woodpeckers had worked it over very well.  It may even be a woodpecker home - it was too high for me to look inside and see if it was hollow.

Ther are many woodpeckers around our property.  We have seen the pileated woodpeckers only a few times, but know they're out there.  Red-bellied woodpeckers visit our suet feeders daily.  Downy and hairy woodpeckers always come to visit.  Flocks of northern flickers can sometimes be seen working our backyard for bugs.  Only a few times have we seen red-bellied woodpeckers at the suet feeders.

I find woodpeckers very interesting and love to have them around.  Sometimes I can here them drumming away deep in the woods - it's a special sound to hear a woodpecker.  I read articles where many people's homes are damaged by woodpeckers, but I don't have that problem.  With all the woods around my home, the woodpeckers have plenty of other places to nest and eat other than on my house.  

Woodpeckers are welcome here ~ bring them on!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rules & Regs for Having Chickens

I guess anyone who has chickens has lots of eggs.  This pic is just from the last few days.

Notice that one tiny egg in the center?  That was our smallest egg, weighing in at .2 oz.  It was found outside in a dusty area beside a tree where the hens like to take sand baths. 

Our hens have taken to laying outside these days - the weather has been near 60 F. The birds were all born last Oct and really never have known nice weather when they can spend all day outside. Now they are experiencing spring temps and sunny days for the first time in their lives, and it seems some pullets have no desire to go back inside the coop to lay. They just do the deed outside in the sand, hide it under a bush or behind a bicycle, several have taken to laying in the lawn spreader hopper.  They give us an opportunity to have an egg hunt every day, not just on Easter!

I always wanted fresh eggs, and love them now that I have them, but I didn't really think too much about what to do with too many eggs. I guess I never thought I'd have too many eggs! Is that possible? Now I believe that yes, it is possible!


And so I started researching the rules and regulations on egg sales in Maryland. 

First of all, I realized that all bird flocks are supposed to be registered.  As part of an ongoing effort to identify domesticated poultry flock in the state, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Animal Health Section works with backyard flock owners to register their flocks with the state.  All individuals involved in keeping or caring for all types of poultry, which include; small households, poultry production, production facilities, suppliers, dealers, haulers, wholesalers, live bird markets and exhibition exhibitors. Anyone owning 5 birds or more for greater than 120 days in a 12 month period are required to register.  I didn't realize all this - but now I filled out the paperwork this morning!

Second, one must consider if they want to be NPIP certfied.  NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan

Third, any people who wish to sell fertile eggs or live poultry in the State of Maryland are required to have a valid permit to sell. The permit will not be issued until a negative Pullorum-typhoid test is reported by MDA inspectors.  I reviewed this application and believe it asks for NPIP certification.  Alrighty then.  I haven't sold any live chickens, have I??

Fourth, in the state of Maryland there are rules and regulations for selling eggs.  All eggs must be graded and sized if they are for sale. The sale of unclassified eggs is not permitted.  Each carton of eggs must be labeled with both the grade and size of the eggs. Egg sizes are determined based upon the weight (ounces) of a dozen.  The grade of eggs (from best to worst), AA, A, and B is based on compliance with quality tolerances.  To determine the quality of an egg, the eggs must be examined for both external and internal defects.  If the eggs are packaged in used cartons, there are specific rules and regulations for them, too.

There are stricter guidelines for selling eggs at farmers markets and roadside stands in MD.  Cartons of eggs are required to be labeled with a grade, a size, a safe handling statement, the packer or distributor name and address, lot number, registration number of the packer, quantity or net weight of eggs, and the identity of the product as eggs. Specific lettering heights and wording for labeling requirements can be obtained from the Egg Inspection Section, Maryland Department of Agriculture. 
Wow, this whole backyard flock thing is going to be a job, I thought it was just a hobby...  Does everyone else out there with small flocks follow these rules in their states?  Or is MD stricter than other places?  What does everyone do with all their eggs?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

I neglected to tell my blog friends part of my tale the other day...

The other day I took a walk with the cat, Jack, and found an old deer antler on the ground.  It was such a nice, peaceful, quiet walk, until...
Out of nowhere, a tree fell down in the woods near us!  It didn't exactly just "fall down", either - there was an awful loud, ripping, shredding, tearing noise.  Jack the cat was terrified and tried to take off running, luckily he was on a leash or he would have run until he was lost.  He was flipping and jumping around- I had to scoop him up and hold onto him to calm him. The noise of a tree crashing down- the noise of ripping, shredding wood, is one of the scariest noises I've heard in the woods.  The tree crashed loudly into other trees.  I stood still with Jack in my arms until the noise ended.  Then I put Jack back in the house & went back to investigate.

I found what I believe is an oak tree - broken down. It appeared to have a hollow spot near the base which somehow made it fall. It was a good solid tree, I was surprised it came crashing down.

We'll have to cut it up for firewood when we have time.

The funniest thing is that this is not the first time I was out in the woods with the cat when I heard a tree fall down.  Last August I experienced a very similar situation, except this time it was much louder, much closer, and it was a bigger, stronger tree.
I hope next time a tree falls down near me it's not any closer! 

So, to answer the age long question...
What do you think?

I believe the answer is YES.  I will never forget that sound, and I think it would have sounded just as bad if I wasn't there!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Torpedo

My 13 young hens have really started laying in the past few weeks.  My husband built them 9 nest boxes in the chicken coop, and they love to go in and sit each day.  It seems before they lay they squawk a lot, then they settle down in a nest box and build up the nest.  Soon enough, they go outside to play with everyone else, leaving an egg behind.

Today they gave me 7 eggs - that's the most in 1 day so far.  Last week I found a 2.1 oz egg in one of the nest boxes.  That's the largest egg so far. 
My husband called it "the torpedo". 

The torpedo on the right, one of our normal-sized 1.9 oz large eggs on the left

Over the weekend I cracked  open "the torpedo", and sure enough, it had a double yolk.  The first double yolk egg from my hens!  I remember when I was a child I always was excited to get a double yolk egg in the store-bought eggs.
I feel like a kid again!

Does anyone else still get excited about the simple things like double-yolk eggs from their hens?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Lucky Walk

Yesterday was such a nice day - it was 60 degrees F outside.  The snow is almost gone and forgotten, my mind is on springtime.  And so the orange cat, Jack, and I went for a long walk to enjoy the spring weather.

Jack loves his routine. I take him out on a leash - he used to be a wild, outside cat, and that time in his life is over. He has broken ribs, many scars, and horrible fears of all sudden outside noises to show for it. He doesn't mind his leash at all.

When we go out, we run past the chicken enclosure (Jack and the chickens do not get along), then we walk down the dirt path, stopping only to roll in the dirt, and then he climbs "his" tree - which is a dogwood with low branches.

Eventually I have to remove him from the tree, or he'd stay up there all afternoon.  When he gets out of the tree he always smells the nearby woodchuck holes, and I always keep him from going down one, fearful that maybe a fox or coon has moved in.  Then he always rolls in the grass. 


This time, since the weather was so nice, we went for a walk around the field.  At one point Jack insisted on going into the woods, so I followed.  We walked down a well used deer path, and surprisingly, Jack led me to an old deer antler which was laying on the ground. 

I've been told that finding a deer antler in the woods is lucky, so I guess Jack brought me some luck this day!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Egg Variations

 In the past couple days we've averaged 5 eggs a day from our 13 pullets.  Every week it seems another hen starts to lay.  The weights have varied from 1 ounce (the left egg) to 2.1 ounces (the right egg).  The egg colors seem to be variations of light brown.

I'm really curious if the 2.1 ounce egg will have a double yolk.  That's the largest egg we've gotten so far - I felt sorry for the little pullet who laid that one!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Leggy the White

My white leghorn rooster is named Leggy.  I didn't want to name my roosters, as I knew I would not be able to keep them all and I didn't want to get attached to them  So I did not pick out cute boy names for them - instead, names just developed. Like "Leggy" for the leghorn chicken.  And now he's stuck with that name - it fits him, and he knows his name.

We were given Leggy as a freebie when we bought 5 guinea keets from an Amish woman.  He was living in a box with the Guineas.  They must have known he was a male and wanted to get rid of him.  We had just gotten a bunch of chicks the day before, and we wanted to raise the guineas and the chicks together.  We had no idea on day 1 the little leghorn was a male, but he quickly developed into a little cockerel.  When we got the little leghorn, my husband told me that he didn't like leghorns - he had a bad experience with a mean leghorn rooster attacking people when he was younger.  That made raising the leghorn a challenge to me - I wanted to ensure he would not grow up to be mean.

Day 1 - Leggy in the center, a guinea keep on the right

Leggy was different from the other chicks right from the beginning.  He was a little bigger, for one thing, maybe he was a few days older than the other chicks.  But he always looked out for the flock right from the beginning.  In the above pic he heard a noise and stretched that neck out to see what was going on.

Day 20 we knew he was a rooster.  His comb developed before any others.  He is on the left in the above picture.

Day 27

He was always very curious and friendly. 

Leggy liked to be the center of attention.

Day 58 - Leggy and 2 hens in my lap.  He's a little rooster, no doubt about it.

Day 76 - Leg is now the leader of the flock.  He's the biggest rooster, the most protective of the flock, the natural leader of the hens.

Leg crowing 2 months ago.

Leg the white leghorn cockerel in Feb 2010.  He has the biggest comb and wattles that I've ever seen.  He still has not developed all his tail feathers. 

Leg is the flock defender - if a chicken or guinea screams, Leg is right there, making his warning "horn" noise to alert the flock of possible danger.  Once a deer came up to the chicken enclosure to check out the birds.  Leg and another of our roosters were right out in front, honking away, attracting the attention of the deer, willing to fight for the flock, while all the other chickens hid under a bush.

And Leggy is very friendly and loves to sit in my lap and cuddle.  I cannot imagine that he would ever be mean to me.  He's still my little Leggy.  

Thursday, March 4, 2010


This past weekend I was needing to make a dessert, but didn't want to do the standard cake or cupcakes.  I opened my freezer and found some frozen phyllo dough, so of course I thought of Baklava.  I found this recipe in my Taste of Home Cookbook and thought I'd give it a try.  It was my first time making Baklava - I thought it would be complicated, but instead it was fast and easy.  I cut the entire recipe in half becaause I didn't have a big enough baking dish - I used an 8 x 8 x 1 baking dish.  The result was an excellent but unique dessert, which we gobbled up in just a few days.  I highly recommend buying the frozen phyllo dough for that cold, rainy day when you just need to bake something different.


1-1/2 pounds finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound butter, melted, divided
2 packages (16 ounces each, 14-inch x 9-inch sheet size) frozen phyllo dough, thawed

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lemon or orange peel

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves; set aside. Brush a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with some of the butter. Unroll one package of phyllo dough; cut stack into a 10-1/2-in. x 9-in. rectangle. Repeat with remaining phyllo. Discard scraps.

Line bottom of prepared pan with two sheets of phyllo dough (sheets will overlap slightly). Brush with butter. Repeat layers 14 times. (Keep dough covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel until ready to use to prevent it from drying out.)

Spread with 2 cups walnut mixture. Top with five layers of phyllo dough, brushing with butter between each sheet. Spread with remaining walnut mixture. Top with one layer of phyllo dough; brush with butter. Repeat 14 times. Cut into 2-1/2-in. squares; cut each square in half diagonally. Brush remaining butter over top. Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown.

In a large saucepan, bring the syrup ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and discard peel; cool to lukewarm. Pour syrup over warm baklava. Yield: 4 dozen.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving equals 271 calories, 16 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 21 mg cholesterol, 162 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 5 g protein.

Baklava published in Taste of Home April/May 2001, p48

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Odd Chicken Egg?

Yesterday we got this weird egg in one of our chicken nest boxes!  It was only .2 ounces, had a hard shell, and had the weirdest shape!  We have a dozen young pullets who are just starting to lay ~ I'm sure this was someone's first egg.  But I've never seen one look like this before!