Thursday, January 20, 2011

Disappearing chicken mystery... solved!

Our chicken population has been mysteriously and steadily shrinking over the past month.  This has happened to us before, but not since we gave up our free-range dreams and put the chickens behind portable electric poultry netting. 

The plus side of being a free range chicken - volunteering for the road trip

In the past we have had chickens carried off by coyotes and local dogs.  Something, probably a raccoon, once ate toes off some of the young chickens while they were sleeping in the brooder porch (I know, awful, isn't it?). 

But these are full grown chickens, living behind electric fencing.  And we were still finding piles of feathers on the ground.

Farmer Boy came bursting into the house the other day and shouted "I figured it out!  I saw it in action!  It's a hawk!!"  I could not believe it... a hawk, taking full-grown chickens.  Sure sign of a drought.

We found this little guy in the woods a few years ago, struggling to fly.  How could something that starts out this cute become a killing machine?

Now this is not an easily solved problem.  We had not been planning to fence the top of the chicken area... it is really big, and how would we make that portable, or even get under there to manage the birds, and... ugh.

We have not yet decided on the solution, but I think we are down to two.  One is to move them into the planned covered-garden-perimeter-poultry run.  The other is to get a livestock guardian dog dedicated to them. 

Puppy, or massive farm project... hmmmm....

Somebody had a third idea.  Ahem.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

How Patti is Like a Magpie, OR The Great Escape

A few things you need to know about me....

~ I like to encourage my children to help with farm chores young
~ I'm sometimes impulsive
~ I am as easily distracted by pretty things as a magpie

Okay, you already figured the second one out from the guinea story.  Add in the other two and we've set the scene for the exciting sequel (um, conclusion?) to that very story.

The guineas were 3 or 4 weeks old, and had been quite manageable.  So I hadn't screened the top of the brooder.  Because really, the tyranny of the urgent seems to drive me when it comes to the farm.  And things hadn't felt urgent.  For you literary types, this writing technique is called foreshadowing.

It was a gorgeous fall day, the children and I were outside, and I was feeding and watering the guineas.  The brooder lid was propped open, but I was right there.  I walked away from the brooder for a minute to bring the waterer to the hose.  No problem.  All was peaceful as the guineas hungrily huddled around their newly freshened feeder.

Little Warrior came running over to me as I rinsed out the waterer, and asked if he could fill it.  Well, of course he could... sure it meant he would end up soaked, but he's four and I'm trying to give him as many big-boy jobs as I can.  You know, hard work builds character and all that.

While he held the hose, I walked back over to check on the guineas, who were starting to look pretty with their brand new grown-up feathers.  They calmly munched their grain as we waited for hose-aiming-challenged Little Warrior to finish filling up the waterer. 

Pretty birds. 

A squawk from the direction of the chicken yard turned my head.  More pretty birds.  I grabbed my camera off the brooder porch roof and meandered toward the chickens.  The light was so pretty.  The chickens were so pretty.  The roosters were especially pretty.

I started taking pictures.

I knelt down and took more pictures.

Lots of pictures.

Preeeeeetty birrrrrrds.....


I turned around to see a guinea fly up.  Suddenly, like popcorn in a pan, guineas were popping up and out of the brooder every which way.  The first guinea or two had hit the brooder lamp which fell off its hook and onto the brooder floor, terrifying all the rest.  And if you're a guinea, terrified = fly.  

The closer I got, the more guineas flew out of that brooder.  I froze and did the only sensible thing a calm mother such as myself would do - shouted "HELP! I don't know what to do!" to my teenager. 

By the time we made it to the brooder and got the lid closed, there was one guinea left in it.  The fields and trees looked like ice cream with guinea sprinkles shaken on it.  They were everywhere.

We tried to herd them like ducks.  Um, no.  

We tried to lure them with food like chickens.  NOT!

We tried to catch them.  As if.

Three of them flew in with the chickens.  That was nice.   Farmer Boy finally managed to catch one that was on the ground, and put it in with the other three.

I heard squawking, and followed the sounds to the big pond.   Peeked through the trees hopefully, but found these guys...

Pretty, aren't they?  They were swimming, a happy wild duck family, just peacefully swimming...

Preeeeeeetty birrrrrrrrrds...

DOH!  Guineas, guineas, focus on the guineas!  

But I couldn't find any more.  {sigh}

So here are a few of the things I have learned about guinea raising:

~ guineas really CAN fly very young
~ guineas can fly very high on their first flight (20 feet up into a tree)
~ an open brooder should be treated like a hot stove... never left unattended
~ if guineas escape their brooder young they have no memory of your property and do not yet consider it home
~ young guineas make good breakfast for coyotes
~ I am too distractable to brood guineas the same way we brood chickens

We had four guineas in with the chickens the first night after the Great Escape.  Within a week we had no guineas.

And would you believe that despite all that mad distractability my husband gave me an even nicer camera for Christmas?  If you hear me talking guineas again before I get that roofed pen built, talk me down, would you?  And keep my camera hostage.  There's no telling what pretty birds might lure me in to a photo shoot.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Joy in the Waves ~ A Cropped Photo

We just returned from an incredible family vacation, our first with our extended family.  My amazing and generous father took both my brother and me, along with our families (and our mom!), on a trip to Hawaii.  There were nine of us all together.

I have oodles of gorgeous photos... Hawaii is such a beautiful place even an amateur like me can take decent pictures!  For fun, I decided to try out a challenge that Jenny at Home Is Where You Start From runs weekly. 

This week she challenges her readers to post a cropped picture.  I am working with a very basic camera so I have built in limitations.  But this was a great opportunity for me to look with a slightly different eye at some of my shots.

In the cropped version the story is my sister-in-law's joy.  She is living in the moment fully, and that energy shows.  I love the movement in the waves.  The strips of color in the water have a stronger impact.

The full shot tells a different story... I feel her emotion, but I also have a sense of perspective, how small she is.  The story feels more about the water:

The L.E.N.S. Challenge is new every week; click on Jen's link to join up!

Home Is Where You Start From

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is it a chicken? Is it a turkey? No, it's a Turken!

Years ago, before we moved to our farm, Farmer Boy and I spent a few weeks studying up on chickens.  I read books, he made a chart, and together we curled up on the couch, slowly leafing through the pages of a chicken hatchery catalog.

There were big chickens and little chickens, meat chickens and egg chickens, white egg layers and brown egg layers.

And there were Turkens.

Turkens are, well, ugly.  They are true chickens, but have a naked neck and look turkey-like, hence the name.  We could not figure out why anyone would want to raise Turkens, when there are scores of beautiful, highly productive chicken breeds.

Fast forward five years.  Extreme drought.  Chickens picked off left and right by coyotes.  Our free-range chicken population was slowly and tragically whittled down to zero.

A friend decided to downsize her chicken operation and offered to sell us some full grown layers for a good price.  We ordered some portable electric poultry netting to create a movable fence, and bought a dozen chickens from her.  They were random breeds; whatever she happened to catch while we were standing there.  And we ended up with one Turken.

Honestly, it was kind of a pity buy.  She asked us if we wanted her, and I felt sorry for her.  So I said yes.  I couldn't imagine someone else actually wanting her.

We were in for a surprise.  Our Turken was gentle and sweet.  She was also smart and brave (for a chicken).  And she ate fire ant eggs.

After a little while she no longer seemed ugly to us.  We loved her, and that made her beautiful. {cue violin strings}

Last spring, when it was time to bring a new family of chicks to the farm, we included five Turkens in our order.  They are all grown up now, strong and healthy, and laying eggs happily.  We love the new Turkens too. 

There may be a special advantage for Turken hens here in Texas.  I expect they are considerably more comfortable than the rest of the girls on a hot August day!

photos  © Patti Brown 2010

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I have contemplated adding guineas to the farm for six years.  Rumored to be ravenous insect consumers, guineas supposedly even eat fire ants!

But they are loud.  Really loud.  Really really really loud.  At least the guineas on my friend's farm were.  And I could never figure out a way to buy fewer than of 25 of them at a time, which seemed like insect hunter overkill.

No guineas.

And then...

A few weeks ago I had a wild hair to check the farm and garden section of craigslist.  This is not something I do often, mostly because it’s like going to the store without a list.  I put myself in danger of buying something I did not plan to get, and don’t especially need, but suddenly can’t live without.

Sure enough, I found an ad for 14 baby guineas for only $2 each.  This is about as cheap as I can get them from a hatchery, and far fewer than the mandatory 25 minimum.  Suddenly I couldn’t live without guineas.

A quick email query to the Head Farmer, then an email to the seller, and I was committed.  In the good way, as in "I made a commitment."  Not committed to a mental hospital.  Although perhaps...

But I digress.

That afternoon I picked up some unmedicated game bird feed and a cute little special waterer, and drove to pick up the guineas.  Fourteen hopping, trilling, terrified, one week old guineas, in two cardboard boxes.

Guinea chick at one week

Now this is Texas.  Hot.  Dry.   But because I am special, on the night I bought baby birds who need the temperature to be 90 degrees round the clock, the forecast called for lows in the low forties.  And I had loaned our new brooder lamp to a friend. 

Nooooo problem, thinks I.  They will sleep in the tub tonight.

Just in case you should find yourself in this predicament, I have, out of the kindness of my heart, prepared detailed instructions.  Be sure to follow them exaaaaaactly.  And take pictures.  Please.  Because I forgot.

First Night :
  1. Clean out tub
  2. Hunt down old brooder lamp
  3. Note spider web inside lamp
  4. Clean lamp
  5. Unscrew bulb to remove all web (fire hazard!)
  6. Jump when large black spider emerges from behind bulb
  7. Stare at broken bulb in tub
  8. Thank God that bulb didn’t break on your feet
  9. Clean tub again
  10. Hope for extra bulb in storage
  11. Find extra bulb
  12. Rest metal crutch across top of tub to support brooder lamp
  13. Place cardboard boxes with guineas in tub under light
  14. Remember that you only bought one little waterer
  15. Fill small metal lids from recycling bin with water and feed
  16. Repeat an hour later
  17. Repeat
  18. Repeat
  19. Repeat
  20. Tell the guineas to go to sleep already!

First Morning:
  1. Wake up to find two soaking wet cardboard boxes, an empty waterer and empty lids.  Those birds can drink!  And spill.  
  2. Refill everything
  3. Repeat
  4. Get caught up in homeschooling.

First Afternoon:
  1. Feed and water guineas again
  2. Weed whack around brooder
  3. Clean out brooder
  4. Lay down pine shavings
  5. Search for chick feeder
  6. Search some more for chick feeder
  7. Find countless lost items in fields, shed, barn, shop, laundry room
  8. Find no chick feeders
  9. Try to retrofit full sized feeder with chicken wire to make it suitable for babies
  10. Repeatedly poke self with wire and pinch self with wire clippers
  11. Struggle to not say bad words
  12. As sun is setting, shout to 13 year old to get smallest chicken waterer from chicken pen.  
  13. In the dusky glow, learn from 13 year old that waterer has a leak, rendering it useless without welding. 
Second Night:
  1. Give up and go to store and buy new waterer and feeder.  Get extra bulb for heat lamp because bulb breakage seems likely
  2. Finally get guineas settled around 10:00pm

Now, really, you can see that things couldn’t have gone better.  Except, well, maybe if I had to change just one teeny tiny thing?  I would have started working on the brooder project in the morning.

Live and learn.

Or not.

By the way, these guinea chicks have a lovely cheeping trill for a song.  Not overly loud, and surprisingly like a song bird.

Guinea chicks at two and a half weeks

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Coming out of hibernation



Miss me?

Let’s see (counting counting)... it has been about a year and a half since I have posted on this blog.  It wasn’t just neglect.   I made the decision to stop for a while.

But I love to write, and I find myself writing about our farm in my head as I go about my day, so the lure of the written word brings me back to this space.  I read back about the years gone by and marvel at where we have come from.  And I wonder where we are going.  The fact that madcap adventures and farm hilarity seem to dog everything we undertake helps me in my quest for topics, to be sure.

A few months ago I started writing again on a new blog called I’m Becoming Joyful.  Over there I’m writing about the profound changes in my life since embracing the truth about who I am in Christ.  And I’m writing about how God magnifies joy in my life when I serve others.

And here?  Back to writing about the madness!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on a Spring Night

Thoughts on a Spring Night (a poem by Mary Duce - my mom!)

It's 9 PM in Texas.
The June bugs have arrived.
They're crashing on our windows
And some of them survived.

They're beating out a rhythm
Of triumph over glass
They simply cannot fathom
They're better off in grass.

Their bodies litter sidewalks
They interrupt my peace
I wish there were a posse
Of June-bug death-police.

Oh why do June bugs come here
In April and in May???
If only they would disappear
Forever go away.

My night-time peace is bothered
By smashing sounds on glass
Don't let these ugly insects
Take kamikazi class.