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!