13 March, 2011

You’re a big chicken now…

Bebelina, looking all grown up in yesterday afternoon’s soft light:
A side view of a young brown chicken.  Her body feathers have black penciling on them, and her neck feathers are black with bright golden edges.  Her comb and wattles are a lovely red.

For scale:
To the left, a black chicken whose neck feathers have coppery edging.  Behind her is a solid black chicken.  Next from left to right is Bebelina, and then behind Bebelina is a white chicken whose feathers have black edging.  All the chickens have their heads down, picking through the bounty of eggshells, greenbeans, and hearts of romaine lettuce that were tossed out to them.
From left to right that’s Ayinnanku, Matilda, Bebelina, and Lorena. Look how big the little girls are!

We’re giving them back all their eggshells, plus whatever greens we happen to not eat while at their best, plus general vegetable kitchen waste. They get really excitable about this kind of bounty, picking out the best eggshells to eat and getting into little chickeny squabbles over them. It’s all kinds of adorable.

3 March, 2011

Green egg, no ham.

Ayinnanku has started laying! I have been saying for weeks that the young hens would start aaaany minute now and finally one of them has come through for me.

Ayinnanku being an Ameraucana, a breed which is a cross between the blue-egg-laying Araucana and any American breed, we weren’t really sure what color egg would turn up when she started. As it turns out, she must be crossed with a brown egg layer, because what we got was a lovely pale olive-green egg. Behold!

A pale olive green egg with smudges of dirt lays on a piece of white paper.  It is easily the prettiest egg ever.  No, really.

25 February, 2011

I’m so bad at waiting.

Recently I ordered several dog-related items. One is a new crate for Sid; while the Dobes’ puppy crate is tall enough for him it’s not really long enough, so when he’s trying to eat he hunches his back and it gets to be too short for him. I’ve ordered him the next size up which should do him for a while, I hope!

One of the other things I ordered is a cheesey at-home agility kit, which includes a short tunnel, six weave poles, and a jump. My dogs are going to by-dog have fun with that thing if it kills them. I am kind of frothing at the mouth waiting for it to get here so I can start expecting my dogs to enjoy themselves. Part of the reason I wanted it was Sid, because he often has trouble remembering where his entire body is (in his head, he is still a puppy small enough for me to pick up and snuggle), and another part of it is Tink, who could use some physical confidence what with her wonky vision and all. I expect great shenanigans trying to convince Tink to scuttle through even this brief tunnel. She will probably take one look at weave poles and laugh at me.

In cat-related news, we are trying to keep an eye out for Briar Rose to bring her in. She’s the last of the adult breeding females that I need to wrangle and spay and I’d like to find her a home if I can. We’re at five cats, which is quite enough permanent cats thank you, although if the right home came along for Emmaline I would not tell them no. She needs a quieter place than here, with fewer, quieter dogs, but it has to be someone who realizes that she is slow to warm up and will work with her on her terms and at her speed. Generally speaking, people like that are also at capacity for cats, so Emmaline is more than welcome to stay here forever.

Hopefully this weekend weather will cooperate and I can get out and get chicken pics, Ayinnanku and Bebelina have grown HUGE and I keep thinking they will start laying any. day. now. We’ve had a total of 72 eggs from Matilda and Lorena, and are down to a cost of $11 and some change per egg which isn’t bad considering that not long ago we had $50 eggs once the cost of the chicken facilities was figured in.

6 January, 2011

Random Chicken Update

Matilda: Top hen. Laying reliably through the winter, we’re getting an egg pretty much every day from her. Very concerned that any food coming to chickens come to her first.

Lorena: Second in command. Laying sort of reliably through the winter, she gives us one egg every 2-3 days. Deeply charming and likes to stand and go “bweek” at you through the enclosure.

Ayinnanku: Social climber. Will probably supersede Lorena and may unseat Matilda some day. Has not yet started laying.

Bebelina: Petite, sweet little chicken who likes you to offer her food from your hand. Not at all interested in social status, just in scratching and pecking for food. Has not yet started laying.

Eggs: to date, Matilda and Lorena have furnished us with 47 eggs. Almost 4 dozen! I updated the egg spreadsheet, it now debits the chickens for the cost of their accommodations and feed, but automatically credits them for each egg we didn’t have to buy because they laid one. This means that we are down to $17.17 per egg as of 1800 on Wednesday, 5 January. Of course, with the cost of commercial cage-free (non-organic) eggs at $0.27 each, it will take approximately 1500 eggs if we never spend another penny on chickens before the cost of our eggs matches that of commercial eggs.

On the other hand, in terms of sitting and watching chickens be chickens, and eating eggs knowing that the chickens in question get to peck and scratch and dust bathe and hunt for bugs and things, well, those eggs are way worth it. Also it’s kind of cool to be able to say I just ate a $34 omelet.

28 December, 2010

Christmas Roundup!

We did make it down to my parents’ house in Roanoke, all three dogs and Roo in tow. We even made it home, which is even more impressive given the snow that was rolling up the coast. Alas, we cheated and fled ahead of the storm, and then the Manor got maybe an inch. Given how much hit Richmond I am intensely grateful because things could have gone a lot worse!

A good chunk of my haul was books, which explains my horrible neglect of my gentle readers; I have everything from dissections of early Christianity to analysis of the early 19th century Nullification Crisis to fun fiction to read, and I am reading it in advance of classes starting again in three weeks! Meanwhile I am trying a different dose of meds for my chronic pain, hoping to get me more functional, but it’s fighting the record lows here in the Piedmont so I’m still creaking around like a very creaky thing.

The chickens, meanwhile, are back to regular laying, or at least Matilda is. Australorps are supposed to be good winter layers, and she’s certainly doing well on that front. Lorena produces an egg every couple of days, and still nothing from Bebelina and Ayinnanku, who are getting HUGE. Ayinnanku in fact has been asserting herself more, and I think Matilda may find it difficult to hang onto her spot as the Top Hen at this rate. To date we’ve gotten 39 eggs, which means we are down to a mere $20.75/egg after figuring in all costs. Go, little chickens, go!

29 November, 2010

Action Puppy Goes Home

We sent Musket back to Blackthorn Kennel yesterday with Christine, who came to pick him up. The house seems kind of quiet without him and we do miss him, although we knew all along he was just here for the week. It was a great learning experience for all concerned I think. If I had the time to put into training with him, Christine would have had to pry Musket from my cold dead hands, seriously. He is going to make someone a great working partner: willing, bright, able, and happy to snuggle or keep your feet warm at the end of the day. He’s polite to other dogs, learns quickly not to bother dog-savvy cats who are willing to whack him once or twice, but a little bit of a pest with a cat who has a serious lack of healthy fear like Rooney Lee. Someone looking for a working candidate is going to get a real treasure in Musket, I tell you what.

In other news, we’ve received 19 eggs from the chickens, which means we are down to $42/egg. We sent six home with my parents at Thanksgiving, since they wanted to try home-raised eggs. Ayinnanku and Bebelina continue to grow, and we’re hopeful that soon they’ll be able to go in with the big chickens since temps are dropping here at the Manor.

And now it’s time to go enjoy a movie with the family, although we will have an empty spot on the futon and no one will be dropping balls coated in a heavy layer of dog slobber on us at key moments in the film. Ah, Musket, you’ll be missed!

23 November, 2010

Baby chickens!

Who wants a couple baby chicken pictures? No one? All right then, I’ll just take these and– what’s that? My gentle readers do want baby chicken pictures? Happily, I have uploaded a couple! The babies got a little time to explore the run with me running interference, but are now safely behind a separate fence where the big chickens cannot persecute them. We’ll see how it goes. I may end up dragging the ex-pen out there to make them a bigger area in the run as they grow.

Ayinnanku and Bebelina.  Ayinnanku is in back, a small black chicken with coppery feathers on her neck.  Bebelina is in front, a tiny brown chicken whose feathers sport delicate black patterning, and with gold feathers on her neck.
That’s Ayinnanku in back and Bebelina in front. They are tiny at the moment; Ayinnanku is about a third of the size of the adult girls and Bebelina is maybe a quarter of their size. And no, the chicken water does not normally look like that.

Here’s a better one of Bebelina, to show off her gorgeous feathers. I took this one after they were moved into their pen-within-a-pen.
Bebelina, a Welsummer, viewed from above.  You can see the delicate black penciling on her coppery brown body feathers, and her gold head and neck.  There's a scattering of green leaves behind her and in front of her is a waterer on a piece of 2x4.
That’s baby spinach on the ground behind her.

Ayinnanku is much flightier than Bebelina and did not wish to pose for pictures in the baby pen. She’ll come around, I’m sure. Since they haven’t grown their combs yet the girls look a little like teeny misshapen hawks, which is adorable. I am tempted to go out there with a leather glove and see if I can convince Bebelina to perch on it, just for fun.

Oh and here’s one of eggs nine and ten that we got Sunday, one from each of the adult hens so you can see the difference! These eggs took us down to a cost of $80/egg, which is very exciting!
A hand and wrist, clad in a shabby faux-shearling coat.  The hand cradles two eggs, side by side.  The egg on the left is skinny, the egg on the right is fat and round.  Both eggs are a warm pale brown.
The one on the left is from Matilda, the one on the right is from Lorena. Matilda, the Australorp, reliably lays a daily egg. Lorena is a more irregular donor of eggs, which is expected as the days get shorter. Australorps are known for being good layers even in the winter, so we may continue to see eggs from Matilda on a daily basis until she gets old. Lorena will probably pick up more in the spring, round about the time the little girls are getting old enough to lay. We will likely see a dozen eggs every three days this summer, which I suspect is more eggs than we’re going to eat even given my deep love of custards. So if I see you and I hand you a half-dozen oddly colored and shaped eggs, well, please try to understand.

21 November, 2010

New residents, and an honored guest.

Another trip down to Blackthorn Kennel yesterday for Christine’s excellent company and our final two chickens! Very exciting. We also on the spur of the moment agreed to bring Musket home with us for a week. Musket is Zille’s younger half-brother, a fine hairy sable beastie who was in need of a vacation at the Manor to give his ginormous brain something to do. In fact, Daniel summed up the worky dog thing pretty well when he said “You know that light Zille gets in her eyes when she sees a ball? He has that all the time.” We’ve had one incident of minor bloodshed when Musket thought he might play a chasey game with Braxton Bragg, who beat him upside the head repeatedly. Everyone survived unscathed, the blood shed belongs to the dog who pretended not to notice but now runs the other way when he sees Brax.

The chickens are about six weeks old, so not laying age for another 3 months or so. One is a Welsummer, a Dutch breed, and she has been christened Bebelina. Welsummers lay fat dark-brown eggs. The other is an Ameraucana, a hybrid of some breed crossed with the Araucana, which is a rumpless chicken that lays greeny-blue eggs and is indigenous to Chile. She has been dubbed Ayinnanku, which is a Mapuche name meaning “favorite eagle.” The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile who were conquered and displaced by the Spanish, who called them the Araucana, from whence the breed of chicken gets its name. Look at that, history and poultry all in one tidy bundle! But yes, I did name my chicken “favorite eagle.” I am, after all, the same woman who named her Doberman “Tinkerbelle.”

Pictures of all this excitement will no doubt follow when it’s light outside, but for now you will have to imagine the fine hairy sable dog and the charming chickens. Bebelina is brown with yellowy neck feathers, Ayinnanku is mostly black with coppery neck feathers and spiffy ear tufts. Fingers crossed that Lorena and Matilda are gracious about sharing their digs. There still might be bantams in spring, but this is it for full-size hens.