Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kitchen Corner

I haven't been blogging lately on the happenings around the farm because I've been busy baking. Anyone who knows me knows I love to bake! between my job and the farm, it seems I just don't have much time left to do what I enjoy. So, this autumn, I've decided to try to make more time for my kitchen creations.

I thought I'd share just a few things I've baked in the past month...

Orange cupcakes with pink icing

Autumn colored cupcakes for someone leaving my office

Chocolate cake with buttercreme icing made up at my Mother's house ~
without all the baking supplies!  It was a group effort by my Mother, my sister, Barbara, and I 

Halloween cupcakes for work. They were carrot cake and orange cake (not together!) cupcakes

More Halloween cupcakes!

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies made last night

Right now I'm thinking I want to bake some bread next...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Deer Antler

Last week Randy found yet another little deer antler in the woods...

This one was down past the front fields in the edge of the trees.  I found a smaller one in that general area before.  Obviously, this one had been there a while, as the deer are not loosing their antlers now, so I must have missed it before.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girl Guinea Gives us an Egg

Girl Guinea egg from 22Oct10

Girl Guinea used to lay eggs every day in the chicken coop, back when she thought she was a chicken.  But now, for over a week, she has been a guinea hen, walking the property with the guinea flock.  She has been very happy being a guinea hen and not a chicken. 

The only way the guineas can get into the chicken coop now is to fly over the chicken pen fence and enter the coop through the chicken door. But as the guineas enjoy their freedom, they do not fly back into the chicken pen like they used to.  In fact, I have not seen them in the chicken pen in the past week at all. 

Guinea Flock

I wondered if Girl Guinea was still laying eggs out in the woods somewhere.  She was laying before, so I assumed she was still laying eggs somewhere.  I thought possibly random eggs in the woods may draw raccoons or skunks or mink or other unwanted animals closer to the chicken pen.  

I mused about what would happen if one of the guinea hens went broody and tried to sit on a nest.  I wondered if the flock would stay by the broody hen area or move on, leaving the hen to deal with any predators by herself.  The flock does a very good job protecting itself because of it's numbers.  Ten guinea fowl are very loud and seem to scare away every other animal.  Randy watched once last week as a fox approached the guineas, and they scared him off.  He ran quickly away from their screams.  No guineas nor chickens have been killed by foxes since the guineas have been set free on the property (some of the chickens often escape from the chicken pen and wander about on their own.  In the past we lost chickens to foxes whenever they got free like this).  I know the guineas ALWAYS chase away poor Jerry, the outside cat, whenever they cross his path.  They take one look at Jerry and they all start running for him, flapping their wings and screaming.  Maybe they chase him because he runs, I don't know.  But Jerry hates them!  

Then yesterday, on Friday, we found a lone guinea egg right in front of the chicken coop door.  Not the small door in the chicken pen where the chickens enter the coop, but the large door in the front of the coop where us humans enter.  I have to assume the egg belonged to Girl Guinea, I don't think the other guinea hens are laying yet - they are only 4 months old now, but Girl Guinea is over a year old now.  The egg had a slight weak spot on one side like Girl Guinea's eggs used to have.  I guess the front door was as close as Girl Guinea could get to the coop, her former nesting/laying area.  Hopefully she keeps laying there, right out in the open, so we can continue to find her eggs! 

Thank you, Girl Guinea!  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Catch a Wild Guinea Fowl

The other day I noticed Guinea Boy was limping.  I mentioned it to Randy, who also said he noticed it.  He said he had unsuccessfully tried to catch Guinea Boy for the past few nights when he roosted in the pine tree ~ it appeared a small string was caught up on his feet and was limiting his walking, causing him to limp.  We guessed it had only been caught on his feet for around 3 days, based on pictures I took of the guineas.

Guinea Boy before the string got on his feet
So I made it my mission to catch Guinea Boy and remove the string.  It was a Saturday, the weather was warm, I figured this would only take about 30 min or less and then I could get back to my weekend chores.  Randy was busy working around the property with one of his friends, so I didn't bother them.  I figured I'd casually mention to Randy that evening that I removed the string from Guinea Boy's feet after all was said and done.

I armed myself with a couple large dark colored bath towels to throw over the bird when I caught him and a fishing net on a long pole that we use sometimes to chase the young chickens out of the pine tree when they follow the guineas up to roost.  The pole was long and awkward, about 20 feet long.  I marched up to the guineas, put the heavy towels around my neck/shoulders, and awkwardly maneuvered the fishnet towards the guinea flock.  They all took one look at me, screamed bloody murder, and took off running through the woods.  Guinea Boy still limped and had to make small steps, but he was very, very fast!  The chase was on!

Fishing net on 20 foot pole
I ran after them with the net in the air.  When I finally made it to them, they screamed some more and flew away into the woods.  I watched their direction, and worked my way through the woods towards them.  The net got caught on all the branches, I had to maneuver the long pole around trees, making my progress slow.  The towels were hot and heavy around my shoulders.  I passed through thickets of rose vines, which snagged on me and scratched my arms and even my legs through my pants.  I tried to avoid the poison ivy that was everywhere.  

An hour later, I wasn't making any headway. I was still following the flock every time they flew away. Guinea Boy was getting slower with his walking, his legs appeared to be tiring, but his wings were strong, and when he took to the air he flew long distances, easily leaving me behind. I chased the flock into the deep woods, thinking they wouldn't be able to fly in heavy branches and would have to run. Guinea Boy was slowing, separating from the flock when it ran. I had to cross two small historic wire fences, halfway knocked down by deer over the years. I used the towels to put over the fences while I climbed over. The towels came in handy, finally. I didn't want to leave them in the woods even though I hated carrying them.

Another hour of pursuit went on.  I would work my way up to the flock, they would run/fly.  Guinea Boy knew he was tiring of running, so he mostly flew.  He would leave the flock and fly out of my sight, then I'd have to track him through the woods, listening to his chirping.  I knew his call, he sounds different than even the other male guineas.  His voice is deeper than theirs.  He knew all my noise ~ crunching loudly through the dry leaves on the ground around the trees, dragging a long pole behind or above my head, weaving it through the tree branches, cursing when a thorn tore across my arm or ripped my shirt.  He started hiding in the woods and learned to be quiet so I had a really hard time finding his hiding spot.

Another 30 minutes passed.  Guinea Boy was tiring, his walking was very limited now.  He relied mostly on flying, and when he flew he left me in his dust.  I almost caught him many times, throwing the towels over him, just to have him slip away.  I maneuvered the net over him several times, but he snuck out.  Once I had him in my hands, but lost him.  Finally exhausted, I made my way towards the house and found Randy and his friend, asking for help, telling them of my adventures.  I was worn out, sweating, hair going in every direction, scratches all over, pants torn, covered in ticks (I forgot to spray beforehand!).  I figured they could help to corner Guinea Boy.  I led them right to the bird's hiding spot in the woods  ~ he was hidden under a wild thicket of rose bushes with huge thorns everywhere. 

And to my dismay, Randy's friend walked right up to Guinea Boy, disregarded the thorns tearing at his arms and clothes, and he reached down and picked up the tired bird.  I just stood there with my mouth hanging open, feeling foolish.  He made it look so simple!  He didn't even use the towel to throw over the bird, just used his hands.

Guinea Boy this morning with the white guinea hen
Guinea Boy had a horrible string wrapped tightly around both his feet with about 4 inches of play so he could walk.  It was so sad.  He would have eventually died if we didn't remove it.  It was a very long string, wrapping around and around his feet dozens of times.  One toe was just about severed off already, the string was so tight.  I had to cut it off with my small nail scissors ~ it was so tight on his toes no other scissors could cut it.  I hope the bird doesn't lose that one toe.  The guinea flock followed us when we caught their leader and stood around while we worked on his feet.  Then we released him and he limped away with them just as if nothing happened.  Now, a week later, he is no longer limping.  I walked up to about 3 feet from him this morning, and all toes were intact and looked fine.

Good luck, Guinea Boy. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Training a Guinea Hen to Fly

Guinea flock with Girl Guinea in front.
We have 10 guinea fowl.  Two of them are older, they were born exactly a year ago.  The male is pearl gray, which is dark gray with white dots. The female is royal purple in color.  Eight of them were born in the beginning of June this year.  These eight are coral blue, white, and lavender in color.  All the guineas were raised along side with or by chicken hens.  We originally got the guineas so they could free-range all over the property and eat bugs.  Because we have so many deer and other animals around, we had a tick problem and wanted the guineas to assist us with this issue.  Plus guineas are good guard animals, alerting on anything strange or new.

The guineas were raised in the chicken coop and chicken pen.  The two older guineas were raised beside chicks; they are the only two surviving from a group of guinea keets purchased at the same time.  One is a male, one female.  The male flew away last winter and was gone for three months.  We thought he had died, but amazingly, he returned to us after the very cold, snowy, harsh winter.  We have no idea where he went during the winter.  We named him Boy Guinea, and the girl is Girl Guinea.  Not original names, I know!
Girl Guinea thought she was a chicken and wouldn't fly like a guinea fowl should.  She just hung with the chickens and did as chickens did.  She came running when the roosters clucked about food, she roosted in the evenings besides the hens in the coop.  She laid eggs in the coop just like the chicken hens.  She thought she was a funny-looking chicken. 

Then we got the batch of guinea keets in June this year, and they quickly grew big.  Boy Guinea became the guinea flock leader; he is a very good leader.  Boy Guinea showed the guinea flock how to fly out of the chicken pen and walk around the yard eating bugs.  Girl Guinea wanted to go, but refused to fly away from her chicken family.  When she was forced out of the chicken pen by human intervention, she sat right outside the gate begging to be let back in all day long.  The guinea flock begged for her to go with them and be a guinea, but she refused.  She was a chicken after all, wasn't she?  This went on for weeks.  During this time, the guineas continually flew in and out of the the chicken pen, begging her to fly with them.  But Girl Guinea couldn't fly.  The guinea flock would never go far away from the chicken pen.  They knew one was left behind and refused to leave without her.

It was then that Randy started giving Girl Guinea flying lessons.  Every day he would throw her up into the air, forcing her to use her wings to fly back down.  After weeks of flying lessons, one evening Girl Guinea flew by herself.  All the Guineas were preparing to fly up into their night sleeping spot: a tall pine tree which is in the chicken pen.  The guineas were all flying up the tree and back down again, trying to encourage Girl Guinea to come up with them.  They all were screaming loudly ~ guineas are not quiet birds, you know.  Finally, as Randy and I watched, Girl Guinea tried to fly by herself for the first time!  She finally decided maybe she was a guinea after all!  She didn't make it up the tree that night, her wings just couldn't take her, despite her attempts.  But she did fly again the next night, and she made it up the tree and slept beside the guineas, who welcomed her into their flock with open wings.  And she's been flying ever since.

Girl Guinea now has become a guinea and no longer is a chicken.  The chickens really don't miss her, anyway.  The guinea flock is now complete, with their female leader right beside the male leader.  All the guineas now wander the fields and yards daily, happily eating bugs and talking as only guineas can talk.  They wander quite a distance, but always return to the chicken pen to roost in their pine tree at night.  If one of them is inside the chicken pen during the day for any reason the entire flock stays near until that one flies out to join them.

Guinea flock walking down the road.  Girl Guinea is the third from the right.  Boy Guinea is on the right.

Guine flock wanting a treat from me

Here's a short video of the guineas:


Monday, October 11, 2010

Roof Repair

We live in an old historic home from the 1850's which sits on a lot of beautiful pristine land.  We bought the property for the land, certainly not for the old tired house.  The house still needs a lot of work to be done to bring it up to my standards (i.e., no leaks when it rains, insulated interior walls that don't freeze in winter, AC and heat throughout house, grounded 3 prong electric plugs in house, floors without weak spots, etc, etc.)  This work is going much slower than I had hoped when we bought the place, but I guess I thought I could just snap my fingers and have it all done for me.  Darn, I was wrong!  But we are making do with the house, making repairs and renovations as possible. 

The main portion of our old home was built in the 1850's, but the kitchen and a downstairs bath was added on in the 1950's.  Not only does this add-on not match the rest of the house's style, but it isn't connected to the house's air conditioning/heating ducts, and therefore, isn't cooled or heated.  In addition, the roof in the kitchen leaked very bad, sending a deluge of water onto the refrigerator below every time it rained.  The kitchen roof was shingled, but the rest of the house has the original silver tin roof.

Since the kitchen has a large fireplace, last winter we put in a wood stove with a blower, and it keeps the kitchen and bath pretty cozy in the winter.  The next step was to fix the roof leak.  Upon inspection, it was noted the roof had a change in slope pitch which was shingled over with tar paper and plain black shingles.  In the past 60+ years since the roof was built, the tar paper crumbled and the rain water started pooling at the change in slope, running through the shingles, through the roof boards, and into the kitchen.

Old shingles removed, rotten boards at end of roof removed

Change in roof slope/pitch can be seen here
now that the old roofing is removed

Last weekend we tackled the roof repair project.
Once all the old shingles and tar paper were removed we could see the change in pitch of the roof. We also could see some boards at the end of the roof were rotten and needed replaced.  We put down metal flashing over the change in roof slope and replaced the rotten boards.  Then we put down fresh tar paper and new shingles.  It sounds like a simple project, but it took all day.  Now that it's done, it's so nice to have a dry kitchen!  It rained the day after we finished, and there were no leaks in the kitchen!

One more project has been checked off the list.  Many more to come in the future.

Change in roof slope from different angle

Roof repair in process can be seen in bottom left, old tin roof is above. 
You can see some of the fireplaces with lightning rods, and the front
weather vane lightning rod in this picture, too. 

New shingles

New roof shingles over flashing on change of roof pitch

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Weather Vanes and Lightning Rods

In the United States, the pointed lightning rod conductor, which is also called a "lightning attractor" or "Franklin rod," was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1749 as part of his groundbreaking explorations of electricity.  Franklin speculated about lightning rods for several years before his kite experiment. This experiment took place because he was impatient of waiting for Christ Church in Philadelphia to be completed so he could place a lightning rod on top of it.

In the 19th century, the lightning rod became a decorative motif. Lightning rods were embellished with ornamental glass balls. The ornamental appeal of these glass balls has also been used in weather vanes. The main purpose of these balls is to provide evidence of a lightning strike by shattering or falling off. If after a storm, a ball is discovered to be broken, the property owner is to check the building, rod, and grounding wire for damage.

A weather vane is an instrument for showing the direction of the wind. They are typically used as an architectural ornament at the highest point of a building.

Our house was built in the 1850's.  It comes with two weather vanes complete with glass balls.  They both are identical. One is in the back of the house, the other at the front.  They both actually are lightening rods, and are connected to many other lightning rods which are distributed all over our house.  The house is configured with a complex lightning conductor protection system, with multiple conductive paths from the roof to the ground.  The people who built our home where not going to let it be destroyed by lightning.

Front Lightning Rod

Front Lightning Rod

Rear Lightning Rod

Rear Lightning Rod
Rear Lightning Rod

Rear Lightning Rod, taken from roof, looking out over back yard

Front Lightning Rod, taken from roof, looking out over front drive

Two lightning rods atop fireplaces (one fireplace is on far roof and cannot be seen from this view - every main room has it's own fireplace)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Leggy Update and Broody Hen

Leggy update ~
Today I checked Leggy twice before noon and confirmed his broken blood feather was not bleeding anymore.  At noon I released him to be with the flock again.  He did not like being confined to a coop separate from the other chickens, and he strutted his stuff when he was released.  Of course the other rooster, Muffin, promptly decided to chase Leg... Ahhh, everything was back to normal again.  I will check Leg again at chicken bedtime (about 7:30pm) to ensure he's not bleeding again, but I think he's going to be OK.

I couldn't help but notice a lot of hens screaming as if they need to lay an egg, but no one was going into the coop where the nest boxes are to lay.  If you have chickens you know the sound a hen makes when she needs to lay.  Here is this sound of two of our hens ~ Freckles is in the front, her daughter, Zoner is in the background behind the feeder in the coop.  The nest boxes are in the coop on the left by the chicken entry door.

I promptly went into the coop to check what was wrong in there, and found Ethel has gone broody.  Ethel was in one of the bottom nest boxes and was attacking any chicken who entered the coop.  Ethel is a very aggressive hen.  She doesn't play with the other chickens, she does her own thing.  She's not part of their pecking order, but if she was, she'd be at the top.  She's very independent.  I don't think she believes she's a chicken, but she's just stuck in the pen with the chickens.  She's always off by herself, scratching for bugs.  She doesn't listen to any of the roosters.  The roosters know better than to go near her, she'll kick their butts.  I've always thought she would make a great mother hen, but she never went broody before.  And now it's October, I don't think it's a good time for chicks!  Plus Ethel is molting ~ her long tail feathers are gone. 

A very broody Ethel

 So now Ethel has been separated and is in the spare coop which Leggy just vacated.  As soon as I got Ethel out of the nest box Freckles and Zoner went into the coop to lay (that's when I took the video above).  This is the first time in over a month that I've had a broody hen - I thought maybe they quit that since they were molting and winter is coming.  I guess now that I'm home again I'll just settle in and get used to all the chicken drama.

Bleeding Feather Shaft on Molting Rooster

I've been back home again less than a day and sure enough, a chicken incident occurs.  I mentioned yesterday the chickens are going through their first molt and Leggy, my white Leghorn cockerel, is down to 2 long tail feathers.  I posted a picture of him on the blog yesterday that I took that morning and he looked fine in that picture.  Then, yesterday afternoon, I went out to check on the chickens, give them treats, and collect eggs.  And I couldn't help but notice Leggy's back was all bloody, especially right where his tail feathers come in.  I immediately thought maybe he was attacked by a hawk, but as a watched, he turned his head around and pecked at HIMSELF.  He pecked his back several times while I watched.  Ugh, what a cannibal.  I know chickens will peck at things they don't understand. I'm glad I found him when I did.

So I went through the painful process of catching him and got a better look at him.  He had large clots of blood all over his back.  It was coming from a large blood feather that was missing and the feather shaft was opened where blood was flowing out. It wasn't clotting in the least bit, and he was a bloody mess.  His beak was all bloody from him pecking himself. 

I calmed Leggy down, because at this point he was hysterical from being chased and caught.  I put him in the house in a covered fish tank and covered it with dark towels.  He eventaully calmed down and went to sleep for about an hour.  When Randy got home we inspected him again.  The feather stopped bleeding since he wasn't pecking it anymore.  We bathed his rear end in the kitchen sink and cleaned off all the old blood, but this caused the blood feather to start bleeding again. 

Leggy right after his bath

We put some liquid band-aid on the bleeding feather shaft to stop the bleeding.  It was all that we had in the house.  And we put Leg in the coop with the other chickens, as it was dark and everyone else was sleeping by then.

This morning poor Leg is confined to his own chicken coop away from everyone else.  I am keeping a close eye on him to ensure the feather doesn't start bleeding badly again.  Hopefully he doesn't start pecking himself again.  From what I read, it can take a few weeks for a new blood feather to grow in.  I guess we are somehow going to have to keep a close eye on Leg for the next few weeks.  Once I'm sure it wont bleed anymore I'll release him to be with the flock.  Today I'll look for something to control bleeding better than liquid band aid. 

Has anyone else ever had molting issues like this?  Any recommendations?