Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The guinea drama continues...

It's alive!  The guinea survived the night "outside the wire" and is still around.

On my way home, I was on my cell phone with someone from work, and kept getting repeated calls from home.  I was almost there, so I didn't bother taking the calls.  Once I got off the phone, I called home to be reminded that middle son had piano lessons at 6pm that I had to take him to since the good wife had to leave for work at 6pm.

I pulled into the driveway to a flurry of activity.  The boys had seen the guinea come out of the hole he went into yesterday and was walking in and out of the hole.  Middle son told me that I had to come see.  Still dressed from work I ran down to see the activity.  Telling them that I had to take middle son to piano lessons, oldest son gets upset that we are so close and we need to catch him so he doesn't get eaten or lost "out in the wild."  Reluctantly I start reaching down the hole up to my shoulder, realizing I'm still dressed from work.  After about 5 minutes of this maneuvering, I realize, this is going to take some time.  Piano lessons will have to wait for next week, we have an emergency on our hands! 

After going back up to the house and changing into more appropriate clothing, I head back down to command central.  Oldest son had cleverly used sticks in the one connection hole that we dug yesterday to block the guinea from going too far down into the hole.  Unfortunately, he was still a bit too far away to just reach in and catch him.  That would be WAY to easy.

The live trap was pushed up against the hole with sticks on either side to keep the guinea from escaping.  It would just be a matter time.  I could reach down into the connection hole and touch the guinea, but couldn't get a hold of him.  When I tried, he would head towards the opening, but not far enough to reach.  I used several sticks to try to prod him, but no luck.

The trap in place, ready for the great capture and rescue.

I had just bought some bird netting at Lowe's during lunch, so I had an idea.  We would move the trap and put the bird netting over the hole.  This will lure the guinea into thinking that there wasn't anything out there any more and then get him to come out.  Once out and into the bird netting, we could just grab him and the rescue would be over.

Oldest son had a better idea that he should be under the netting ready to grab the guinea.  After a few minutes we realized that wasn't going to work, and he needed to get out from the netting so the guinea didn't see anyone.  Once we got the netting situated and tacked down with tent stakes, we were ready.  I reached my hand into the connection hole and prodded the guinea with a stick.  He was coming out.  He came out.  He was under the netting.  Grab him!!

Not fast enough.  He slipped out from under the netting and took off.  After letting him run a bit and then settle down, we began the pursuit.  We saw him run and then lost him.  Saw him run again, and then lost him. Guineas are really hard to see in the woods with all the leaves on the ground.  They really blend in and can hold really still.  Obviously traits that will serve him well, preferably after he is full grown.  After a bit of cat and mouse, we had him surrounded.  All the sons were moving in and I was trying to distract the guinea.  Oldest son moved in for the grab.

I told him to grab his foot.  He reached up and grabbed him.  He had him!  For a moment.  The chase was on... again!  He ran through the woods and crossed the neighbor's road.  Then he ran along the other neighbor's back yard fence.  All the way around it and into the woods.  I was in hot pursuit and the sons were close behind.

I got within a couple inches of him at one point before he bolted further into the woods.  We chased and he flew, we chased, and he flew.  We had pushed him further and further into the woods.  It was getting to the point where I may not find my way home.  I sure hope the guinea's sense of direction and home was stronger than mine.  A little after 7pm we called the search/hunt/rescue off.  We could do no more.

The sons were disappointed.  Each blaming themselves for opportunities lost.  Another life lesson in exchange for a piano lesson missed.  Overall, a more than fair trade.

I wonder if the guinea wants to be found?  Maybe he likes being free in the woods?  It got below freezing last night and he survived.  It is supposed to get cold again tonight, and then rain the rest of the week.  I have to believe the odds are against him at this point.  Hopefully death will be as elusive to him as he was to us.

Again...only time will tell.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guinea Escape!!

I came home from work Monday afternoon thinking everything was good.  The guineas survived the cold night without any problems and the chicks were walking around their condo eating and drinking in the morning before I left for work.

When I got home, the boys told me that they had let them all into the run to get some exercise, but that the guineas had all moved up and into the chicken condo.  Apparently they had enough of the low-rent district and wanted to move up into the lap of luxury.  The chicken condo is too small for all of them when they get full size, so I didn't want the guineas getting used to all the amenities the condo had to offer.  So I pushed them all out of the condo and into the run, then let the chickens back in but kept the guineas out.  Then it was time to put the guineas back into their coop and seal them up for the night.  But as I looked at the guineas, there didn't seem to be as many as before.  Hmmm.  Maybe I missed one in the condo.  I went back and looked, but he was not in the condo.  I went the guinea coop and checked.  Not there.  I took a cursory glance across the yard to see if I saw any piles of feathers that possibly the dogs had been successful, but nothing.  The boys figured it out too and started to look around, but nothing could be found.  So we got the rest of the guineas into their coop and went up to the house for supper.

The good wife was at a ladies meeting at the church, but left a pot of excellent homemade potato soup on the stove for us.  We cut the tops off the bread bowls and dug out the soft sourdough center in anticipation of filling them up with soup.  It all tasted so good, I felt bad that the good wife was not there to enjoy it with us.

After dinner we decided to take a stroll through the woods behind the house to see if we could see the guinea.  A long shot at best I thought to myself.  My oldest son started at one end of the ravine and my middle son and I started at the other end and headed towards each other.  All of a sudden my oldest son starts yelling.  He sees it!  He sees the guinea!  It's alive!  Quick.  You go over there around behind it.  Middle son, go up to the house and put the dog in the house that youngest son let out.  Now go over to the road to keep it from crossing the road.  (I know there is a guinea crossing the road joke there, but not sure what it is!)  Now everyone come closer together.  There it is again!  Keep moving closer.  Slowly.  We have it surrounded.  Up it flies onto a low tree branch.  Then up to a higher one.  It is now about 10 feet up.  I pull the branch down towards me and stretch to reach up to grab him.  Right when I go to grab him he moves and flies off.  Back on the ground and running.  Oldest son, go that way.  Middle son, go over there.  Try to get him up to the yard.  He is down in the ravine!  I'll stop him from going over to the neighbors house.  Quick, try to grab him.  He is running down the ravine.  We have him now...

Where did he go?

Right into what looks like an old fox hole or den of some sort.  We look in with the flashlights and he is down there, probably a good 10 feet.  Still going deeper.  He turns the corner and is gone.  I know he has to be in there.

One of you get some bird food.  The other get a shovel.  We look which direction the hole goes and climb up above the ravine and start digging.  We'll get to the bottom and pull him out.  I start digging.  And digging.  And digging some more.  I check the hole again.  Am I heading in the right direction?  I keep digging.  One of you get the post hold digger.  This shovel isn't going to cut it.  I keep digging.

We move closer towards the entrance to get an intermediary hole.  I keep digging.  We break through!  I look down in the hole.  Nothing.  I get a better read on the direction of the second hole.  It looks like I am digging in the right spot.  I keep digging.  And digging.   And digging some more.  It is getting dark. Youngest son is getting cold.

We finally decide to get a live trap that we have and put it outside the hole with a bowl of water and some bird food.  Hopefully he will come out to eat and get caught.

We get back to the house and middle son starts crying.  "Now we have lost four birds!"  Two chicks and one guinea.  Possibly a second.  I tell them that I will check before bed.  Hopefully if he does decide to come out he will skip the trap and go up to the coop to get warm under the light.  Or if he does get caught, it is before I check when I go to bed so he doesn't freeze.

I can't believe that I dug these holes.  Big holes through roots and vines.  At least four feet deep on the one, and no intersection with the den hole.  Piles of dirt in the woods, testament to our attempt to save the guinea.

We aren't sure how he got out.  I wonder if one of the boys let him get out when they were in and out of the run.  Maybe he flew out the top over the six foot fence.  If he is lucky he will come out and get caught.  Be put safely back into his coop where he has food and water and a warm heat lamp.  He didn't know how good he had it.  If a raccoon, possum or fox are the next thing that goes down that hole, he will be wishing he had just stayed home with his friends.

Only time will tell.  Sleep well and see you in the morning...I hope.

The birds are free!...at least from the basement.

After the realization that the guineas have been starting to use the entire basement for their home, I figured it was time to get everyone outside as soon as possible.  A few bad guineas spoiled the fun for the whole crowd.  Although, the chickens were definitely getting the better end of the deal in the chicken condo.  I had to get them out before they discovered my wife's seedlings she is starting in the basement.

I intended to spend a good part of Saturday getting the guinea coop ready for their occupation, but the good wife had other plans.  She wanted something nice around the house, so I was off to Home Depot.  (I didn't bother putting a link since I have done that on enough posts!)  Luckily I called ahead, because they only had one sod cutter and I arrived just before someone else that also wanted a sod cutter, but I had called ahead! Score one for the good guys.  After coming home and failing to "cut the sod" where she wanted, because it was more rocks and dirt than sod, we decided to work around the house some and removed the sod all around the one end of the house where we intend to put mulch and few shrubs.  After hosing the sod cutting beast off and getting it loaded into the back of the truck, I was off to Home Depot to get it back before my 4 hours expired at 3:30 pm.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It was now almost 4 pm by the time I got home and hadn't done anything on the guinea coop.  I do have to give the good wife some props though, because while I was gone she painted the panels for the guinea coop to match the chicken condo.  We didn't want the guineas to feel too ghetto.

I was able to get all the panels onto the guinea coop and a ramp for them to come up and down.  I had to wait until Sunday morning to get the feeder and waterer installed into both the chicken condo and the guinea coop.  The idea was to each have their own home and stay separate, so the guineas will start to free-range later on their own.  However, we woke up Sunday morning to bit colder weather than anticipated.

Yes, it snowed Saturday night and Sunday morning.  Notice the matching guinea coop on the left and the chicken condo on the right, thanks to the good wife.  By Sunday afternoon, the snow had melted and I was determined to get the birds out of the basement.  I put a heat lamp into each coop and put the water and food in.  The only thing remaining were the birds.

My oldest son and his friends gladly transported the birds to the coop and the run.  That evening, we got the chickens into their coop and sealed them up all nice and tight, and then caught the guineas and put them into their coop.  They were a little more reluctant since they just had a wire bottom, a couple of wood clothes rods for perches and a heat lamp.  Not quite the lap of luxury like the chickens have.  We wished them the best and then let them get to sleep.

Looking down from the deck before bed time, everything looked so peaceful.  The chickens in their condo with the heat lamp on, huddled into a ball close together to keep warm in the pine shavings.  The guineas up on their perches under the heat lamp, sleeping away with their heads hanging low.

It was supposed to be cold Sunday night.  Now we just had to hope we didn't wake up to guinea popsicles!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guinea Perfection

The boys were in bed, my wife was off to work for the night (As a nurse!) and I decided to lay down for a few minutes on the couch and watch some network TV.  I sat down and began watching a show when I heard a crashing noise in the basement.  So much for a little mind numbing relaxation.  Knowing that there was no one in the basement except the chicks and guineas, my mind started wondering what they got into.  I went downstairs and found the guilty party.

The Guilty Guinea
She was sitting at the bottom of the game bookshelf right next to an overturned Perfection board game.  She was looking at me as though to say, "It wasn't me!"  But all her buddies were either in the box or perched on the light bar.  The little yellow Perfection pieces fanned out around her like rays of sun from a child's drawing.  After asking her what she had done, as if I was expecting an answer, I went over to pick up the game.  She flew back up onto the box edge and then hopped down into the box as I picked up the pieces and then put the game back on the shelf, this time making sure it didn't stick out, enticing her to perch up higher than the others.

They have to go out in their new home this weekend.  They are getting more and more brave.  After work this afternoon I went down to check on them to find evidence that they have been exploring all parts of the basement.  Apparently, unlike dogs, they just decide to poop whenever the feeling comes, so their evidence was all over.  Over by my wife's grow lights, under the piano bench, around the play table.  It's amazing these little birds can poop so much!

I turned off their heat lamp during the day today and they were huddled together in a tight group and not moving much when I came home.  I plugged the light back in and it was as though their batteries had been recharged.  They started squawking and moving all over.  I may need to put a heat lamp into their outside home for a while until they get older and can handle the overnight low temperatures.

The fun part is that the Barred Rock hens are getting really friendly to me.  The rest don't let me get too close, but the Barred Rocks come right up to me and start pecking my fingernails.  They let me pet them and tonight they hopped up on my hand and let me pick them up.

All of them are quite entertaining to watch.  It is Chicken TV.  I ended up sitting there watching them for a half hour, being mesmerized by their antics.  Scratching at the pine shavings, looking for bits of food throughout the box.  Hopping around when they would get startled by their own shadows.  I may not have gotten to watch TV, but I did get to relax, and it was more entertaining than the Network TV I was watching anyways.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Chicken Condo

I'm not sure what it is about this fresh country air that makes me want to go outside and build something.  Last fall I got it in my head that we were going to have chickens so that we could go outside and get some fresh eggs whenever we wanted.  I didn't know the first thing about chickens and have never raised a chicken in my life.  My wife had at least seen them processed for dinner while growing up in Morocco.  She was one step ahead of me.

So I took the first logical step and headed to the internet.  It is amazing the amount of information that you can find about raising chickens on the internet.  The two best websites I found that have the most information and the friendliest people on the internet are East Coast Chickens and Backyard Chickens.  East Coast Chickens is just a forum, but it is a lot of local people in the greater Richmond, VA area, so they are raising chickens in the same conditions that I would be taking on.  Backyard Chickens has the most general information, about all things fowl, not just chickens.  They also have a great forum with an amazing number of participants all across the country.  If you can't find something there, then it doesn't exist!

The one theme that came across on all the websites I visited was that I should have their permanent home built before I bought chicks, because it always takes longer than you think, and the chicks grow up quicker than you think.  Apparently once you buy chicks, your time estimation skills are ruined.  Taking this to heart, I decided that was a project I should start.

After going online and finding all sorts of websites trying to sell plans, forums showing sketches and pictures, I had a general idea of what I wanted.  I even went onto Google SketchUp to see if anyone had posted any plans.  After printing out a bunch of ideas from SketchUp and various other websites, I sketched out some rough plans for my coop.  The next step?  Home Depot!  You can only plan so long before starting to build.

A nice 4'x4' base seemed like a good place to start.  A nice foundation to build up from.  And build I did.  (I apologize for not having a full set of pictures and plans, but I built this before I started my blog, so I didn't have this process in mind.)

My youngest son decided to join in the fun, and told me that if the whole chicken thing didn't work out, could he use it as a fort.  This gave me an out of the chickens didn't work out, which at one point, I was glad I had!  I continued to read on the internet when I had the chance and build the coop at night and on weekends.  I'm glad I listened to the advice of all the random people on the internet, because it took me about 6-8 weeks to build my coop, but it was finally done!

I know, the red and white are a farm cliche, but it was my first new building on my property and it seemed fitting.  My wife even picked out the red color for me.  

It even has electricity and a built in light for the winter when the chickens need more light to keep laying eggs.  Another tidbit gleaned from the internet.  I also put an electrical outlet inside in case I need to plug in a water warmer for winter or a heat lamp if I use it as a brooder in the future.  It has two front windows that open with screens, a rear vent, three nesting boxes with a lid that opens from the outside for easy egg access, a side chicken door to let the chickens out and a side human door for easy access to feed and water.  But the one thing I am most proud of is the poop door.

The poop door provides quick and easy access to the poop tray.  Everyone on the internet said that cleaning the coop was the most difficult task, and anything that could be done to make it easier would let you enjoy your chickens, and eggs, that much more.  So I built a tray with walls on three sides to hold the pine shavings, and covered it in linoleum.  That way, when it is time to clean the coop, I can pull my garden trailer or wheel barrow up to the side of the coop, slide out the poop tray and scrape all the used pine shavings into the trailer.  Then slide the tray back into the coop, close the poop door, and put down a new layer of nice clean pine shavings.  I am assuming that once the chickens see the luxury condo that I built for them, they will be happy chickens and gladly produce nice large brown eggs for my family.  In theory, this all makes sense.  Once I put the chickens in there, it may all go out the window.

So now I had a beautiful chicken coop in my garage.  My friend Dave from Phoenix stopped by to visit in early November, and after admiring my coop, asked why it was in the garage.  With him there and willing, it seemed like an appropriate time to move the coop from the garage to the yard.  After scooting the coop to the edge of the garage, and I say scoot because that is about all we could do, we needed a new way to move it.  I hadn't just built a chicken coop, I built an anchor.  That coop weighed 400 pounds, at least that is what it felt like!

We decided that we would jack it up, back up the truck, put on the motorcycle hitch carrier and then lower the coop onto the carrier for the ride down to where it would sit in the yard.  After about an hour of jacking up the coop and getting the hitch carrier under it, we were ready to lower the coop.  We started to lower it down, waiting for the carrier to hold it.  We kept lowering it, kept lowering it, kept lowering it, and finally when the coop touched the ground, figured that even though the hitch carrier is rated at a distributed 400 pounds, it wasn't going to be strong enough to hold the coop.  How much does this thing weigh?!  Maybe my first estimate was accurate.  I didn't have the chicks yet, so apparently my estimating skills were still intact.  We needed a plan B, aka, the neighbor.

My neighbor isn't just your average neighbor, he owns an excavating company.  And what do excavating companies use?  Heavy machinery!

He just happened to have a large tracked diesel bobcat at his house that weekend.  And not just any bobcat, but one with forks!  He gladly came right over, lifted up the coop with ease and motored it down into the yard.  Thanks Clay!

It sure seemed bigger and heavier in the garage than down in the corner of the yard.  But there it sat, in all it's red and white farm glory, waiting for the chickens.  Ready to be the centerpiece of my urban farming adventure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guinea Bombs

We had a pretty good hunch that the guineas have been able to fly up on the top edge of the brooder box and roost up there.  The nitrogen rich guinea fertilizer on the tile floor around the box was the first hint. (We're not rocket scientists but we do have common sense.)  But every time that I went down to feed or water the chicks and guineas, they were always down in the box.  Because of initial evidence, we decided to lay down a precautionary measure around the perimeter.

The picture above shows the perimeter protection after I replaced it.  Let's just say it didn't look so white in the "before" picture.

Tonight I went downstairs and to my surprise, I caught them.  All seven guineas hanging out on the edge, some of them in position to drop an external bomb!  I guess they aren't pine shavings trained yet. (Technically one was on the light bar, but there have been some bombs outside the paper perimeter, so I think that guy is scooting all the way to the end of the bar before dropping his bomb!)

The Lego people staring over from the table next to the box must have thought that a flock of terradactyls had shown up and they were on the edge of ruin.  I just hope the guineas don't decide they like Legos, because I'm not about to go sifting through guinea fertilizer for some Lego pieces!  We'll just have to wait until next year and then find them in the garden after the fertilizer has served it's purpose and released the Lego.

Since we knew it was probably the guineas that were dropping the bombs before this discovery tonight, on Saturday we figured it was a beautiful day for them to be introduced to their outside run.  We caught all the guineas, stuck them into an empty plastic dog house that we had available, since we didn't know how else to get them from the house to the run without them trying to "free ranging" early, and put them into the run for the afternoon.

The first one grabbed a leaf and the rest started tearing it apart, figuring that he must have something special.  They pretty much stayed in a huddle and walked from one side of the run to the other while our dog walked around the outside from one side to the other.  I don't think Fenix, our dog, has ever been so tired at the end of the day.  We threw a little feed on the ground but they didn't seem too interested.  I couldn't tell if they were eating any bugs or anything, but by the end of their time in the pen they were walking around pretty good and seemed relaxed in their new environment.  I even put that stick in the corner of the fence for them to roost.  I did see one using my contribution to their outdoor enjoyment by the end of the afternoon.

At the end of the day it was staring to get cool so it was back into the plastic doghouse for the ride back to their box in the basement.  When we got back to their box, the chicks seemed so peaceful.  I think they were finally relaxing without the nervous guineas there.  But they were all back home together again.

This event has just confirmed my hunch that I need to get them outside and into their permanent home sooner than later.  If it ends up being later, they make decide to roost on the bookshelves and fireplace, and I wouldn't want to have to clean up that mess!  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rain Barrels

Living in Goochland County, VA it seems that rain barrels are as common as spiders.  They are sold on Craigslist, shown at the farmers market in the summer, and even sold at Whole Foods in Richmond.  It seems that the most popular style is the one made from old 55-gallon plastic barrels that were originally used to import olives.  For the record, I can't stand the smell of olives ever since I went through an olive market in Morocco many years ago on a warm summer day and smelled all the varieties of olives and saw all the flies hanging around that open market!  But that is another story.

Being the type of person that is always looking for a project, because my list isn't long enough already, I figured I could build my own and save a few dollars.  I was able to find a guy on Craigslist selling the plastic barrels.  Then I went to Home Depot and asked my friendly neighborhood plumbing specialist what I needed.  Everyone online had talked about 3/4" spigots, but he recommended a 1/2" spigot.  (I later compared the two and the throat opening on both are the same size, and the 1/2" is a couple dollars cheaper.)  After thanking him for his advice, I took the parts home and built my first rain barrels and installed them at my home.

Empty barrels, ready to be filled at the next rain.

It seemed to work so easily that I made another set for the other side of the house.  The real goal with these was to use them to water my new fruit trees that we planted last fall.  We don't have a water spigot from the house on that side, so figured this would make it easier.

Full barrels ready for use on my fruit trees.
I used a simple flexible gutter connector and cut a section of the gutter out so that when the barrels are full, I can redirect the rain down the gutter and away from the house.  I put a simple gutter connector into the top of the rain barrels and put a screen over it so that the rain barrel doesn't become a mosquito breeding ground.

It doesn't take much rain to fill both barrels.  With the connector hose at the top, a nice average rainfall overnight will fill both barrels.

My oldest son is taking a class in middle school called "Make it My Business" as one of his electives.  He questioned if we could sell these rain barrels on Craigslist.  I thought, why not give it a try.  There may be some people out there that aren't so handy and would rather buy them.  So I threw up a quick ad and within a few hours, had our first call!  She wanted two!  She ended up only buying one, but I thought, this is easy.  The next day I got a call from a guy that wanted three.  I told him he could stop by the next evening after work and pick them up.  I went and drained my two full barrels onto my fruit trees, which didn't need it since it had just rained, and got them ready to go.  The next day came and went and he didn't show.  I had his number on my cell so I called him back and he rethought about it and decided to go a "different direction".  Easy come, easy go.  Now I have three extra rain barrels sitting on my driveway, waiting for a buyer.  I think once I sell these, I'll get out of the rain barrel business and stick with my day job.

This whole rain barrel situation got me thinking.  Do they really make sense for me?  When I lived in Phoenix it would have been great but it only rains about 4" a year there, and it usually comes in the span of a month or two.  I had to constantly water my lawn to keep it alive and it always greened up better when we got the ocassional rain water rather than "chemically treated" city water.

If you are on city water here in Richmond, they would be a good thing because I think there are more nutrients in rain water than the "nutrient depleted but safe for us" city water and it would be free water.  It also rains enough to keep the barrels full on a regular basis.  But where I live, I have a well.  So am I gaining anything by having rain barrels?  Is it better to catch the rain water right away and use it, or let it soak through the earth and filter itself naturally before going back into the ground where I will pump it up as well water for my house?  Why not just pump it up and put it on my trees and plants?  Am I doing this just because it seems to be the "right thing to do" for the environment?  Or did I just need an easy project for the weekend because I didn't want to do any of the tough jobs on my list?

Let me know what you think about rain barrels.  Do they make sense for you?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The little balls of fluff are growing up.

It seems like just last week we got the chicks and guineas.  Oh wait, it was.  They are growing up so fast.

This is one of the Barred Rock chicks.  She has gotten her wing feathers and is starting to seem more sure of herself around the box.  One of them seemed this morning like she had grown an inch overnight.

This is one of our Ameraucanas, or as they are also known, Easter Eggers, because they lay green and blue eggs.  I am anxious to see their first egg.  You can see that this one is losing a lot of the fluff that she used to have and is getting feathers all over her body.  These two will run and flap their wings as they move across the box.  Luckily it is a BIG box!

This is one of our French Guineas.  They have grown the most.  They along with the Ameracaunas, are actually a week older than the rest.  They have most of their feathers coming in but still seem so awkward and gangly with their long necks.  You can notice on the two pictures above that I put a couple  natural stick perches into their box.  They love sitting up on them and even sleeping on them.  The guineas look so funny when they sleep on the perches because their heads hang way down in front of them, almost touching the pine shavings.

Since they are getting bigger real quick, I need to make sure their permanent home is ready for them.  I have already made their coop, which will be another post.  (Lets just say, I like projects where I get to build things!  I may have gone a bit overboard for some chickens.  It has been sitting out in the yard since November, through wind and rain, sleet and snow, and it is still perfectly dry inside!) I bought an old dog run on Craigslist and need to get the two connected together and make them varmint proof.  I don't want to be raising dinner for the foxes, possums, and raccoons!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pro Energy Consultants Giveaway Winner!

There is a blog that I have been reading called Crunchy Chicken, Putting the Mental in Environmental.  It is written by Deanna Duke who lives up in Seattle, WA.  She has really good posts that have a unique and unusual twist, she almost always ends her posts with a question or two. (Of course I looked at the last two posts and there were no questions.  But in her defense they were more general information.)  Those questions always make you think, and usually make you take action in some form or fashion.

Anyways, she had a giveaway last week that consisted of a Pro Energy Consultants energy audit.  That is a $350+ giveaway!  The best part...I won!  I can't remember the last time I won anything.

My wife had just gotten information on the company at the Richmond Home and Garden show two weekends ago.  We had been talking about doing the audit and how it would be worth the money.  Now it will definitely be worth the money.  I will be sure to let you know how the audit goes and what steps we  take to help reduce the amount of energy our house uses.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not a Good Weekend for Chicks...

So if you are keep score with us, we are down 1 French Guinea and up 2 Black Australorps, 2 Buff Orpingtons and 2 Barred Rocks.  (Doesn't the flock just sound colorful?)

After coming back from church on Sunday morning, I went down to take a look at the chicks and see how they were doing.  I was so nervous after everything that happened with the Stripeless.  Right when I looked into the box, something didn't seem right.  One of the Buff Orpingtons was...  trampled flat into the ground.  It looked like it had been run over by a steam roller in the pine shavings.  I was amazed that could happen to a chick, especially since there were only other birds in there.  I quickly grabbed a couple plastic grocery bags and put the little lady in the bag.  I wasn't ready for another round of drama like we had Thursday night.  And I didn't have another pretty rock like we used for Stripeless.  Home Depot plastic was going to have to do.

Well, Sunday evening I was down in the basement with my oldest son who is 11.  He was noticing that Tiny, one of our Black Australorps seemed to be just standing around and not eating or drinking.

He also wasn't moving around as much as the others.  We called him Tiny because he was smaller than the others.  You would have thought that we would have figured it out at that point that maybe something was wrong with him.  But we were chicken novices and had no clue.  Later that evening I hear yelling and screaming from the basement again.  The boys are yelling that the other chicks are pulling Tiny around by his leg and his wing.  I pick Tiny up and hold him in my hand.  He isn't doing very good.  He just lays there breathing hard.  I figured I should put him out of his misery, but I don't have the intestinal fortitude to do it.  I just try to make Tiny comfortable.  While I am holding Tiny, my oldest, the other two have gone upstairs, notices there is only one Buff Orpington in the box.  I tell him that one of them died earlier, but don't tell his brothers.  I figure that Mom can get back down to Hertzler's and pick up another before the others notice.  I put Tiny into a separate shoe box in the bigger box with some food and water and go upstairs.

Before I go to bed, I go downstairs to check on Tiny.  As I go back upstairs to get two more Home Depot grocery bags, my wife looks at me and asks me what I am doing.  She sees the bags and just smiles at the novice chicken farmer.  I can tell inside she is saying, "Good luck with that."

Now I figure my wife needs to get a replacement Buff Orpington and a replacement Black Australorp.  She can get it done Monday morning.  Before school on Monday, the boys go down with me to look at the chicks.  The younger two ask about Tiny and I tell them that she didn't make it.  All of a sudden they also notice that there is only one yellow chick in the box and ask about the other.  I can't hide it any more and let them know.  They question why we keep getting the defective chicks and vow not to get attached to any more chickens until we know they are going to live.

Monday morning my wife went to Hertzler's and got two more chicks.  We now have our full flock and everybody seems to be eating, drinking and getting along just fine.  It looks like we may be out of the woods as far as chick survival.  In case you lost count, we have 7 French Guineas and 8 chicks, 2 each of Ameracauna, Buff Orpington, Black Australorp and Barred Rock.

Now if we can just get the dog to look at them as friends, not food...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chickens & Guineas and a Whole Lot of Emotions

Last Wednesday we started our chicken and guinea adventure.  I had been looking online for quite some time to find some chicks and guinea keets. (How cool is the name of a baby guinea? Keet!)  I had hoped to find a local source, but most weren't going to be available until later in March, and the boys were anxious to get started.  Most of the local sources also wouldn't 'sex' the chicks, which means I would be getting "straight run" chicks.  (For those of you that were like me a few months ago, that means that they wouldn't sell me only boy or girl chicks, and I would have to take what I got.)  Not wanting to have to cull the flock in the near future to get only hens, and wanting to be able to control how many hens I ended up with, I kept looking.  Some more searching online brought me to Hertzler's Farm and Feed down in Powhatan, VA.  Mr. and Mrs. Hertzler are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  This was the first time I had been there, and it was a great little shop, with anything you could possibly need for an urban homestead.  We ended up buying 6 French Guinea keets and 2 Ameraucana chicks.  The rest of our chicks hadn't arrived yet.  We would have to come back on Friday.

Here they are in our brooder box when we got home.  Six little balls of fluff.  They sure can make noise, even at this age.  They didn't like being separated from each other and were very skittish, except for one.  He was really calm and didn't mind us picking him up.  He seemed a little smaller than the rest, but we thought he was the runt.  (It works that way for dogs, so we figured it was the same with keets!)  We named him Stripeless because the stripes on his back were much less prominent than the other keets.  The boys were enjoying their new friends, and the keets seemed to be getting used to them.  Everything seemed to be going great...until Thursday evening.

I was upstairs doing something, and all of a sudden I heard the crying and wailing of the boys down in the basement, where we are keeping the chicks and keets!  I went running down as they were coming up.  They were saying something about Stripeless.  I looked into the brooder box and there was Stripeless' lifeless body, laying there in the pine shavings.  I'm thinking to myself, "What have we gotten into?" We couldn't just throw him away.  He had become a part of our family.  I reached in and put him gently into a paper bag.  We decided that we had to do something special for him.  We went to the garage, got a shovel and went outside to find a suitable spot for his final resting place.  In our turnaround amongst the trees, there was an opening that seemed peaceful and quiet.  We dug a hole, and buried Stripeless.

We grabbed a nearby rock that seemed very ornamental for the occasion and placed it on top of where we buried Stripeless.  (In my mind I am thinking, "This rock should help keep the dogs from digging him up.")  And so Friday after work we went back down to Hertzler's to pick up our remaining chicks that had come in, and we ended up buying 2 more French Guineas, named Feathers and Stripeless 2.

But the weekend was just beginning...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Morning art...ice crystals

This morning I went out to the driveway to get into my truck and go to work.  However I as amazed as I looked at the hood of my truck.  There were ice crystals in all sorts of flowery shapes on the hood of my truck.

We had some good rain last night, along with some high winds, and then the temperatures dropped and it was below freezing this morning when I went to work.

The really amazing part is how large these designs were.  The photo below I took while holding the camera up in the air shooting down so that you could get a perspective with part of the windshield and wipers in the picture.  These were huge ice crystal designs.

It is too bad that they were just a thin film on the hood of my truck as they disappeared quickly once the truck was started and warmed up.  On my drive in to work I watched as the crystals slowly melted away, jumped onto the windshield as water droplets and slowly said good bye as they went up and out of sight.  A nice surprise to start my morning.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Since I moved from Phoenix to Virginia, I have been saying that I was going to start a blog so that all my friends could keep track of what I am doing.  I have talked a lot about it, but not much action has followed.  Now that Starr says, "I am embracing my country lifestyle." I figure I better get going or I will have too much to say at once.

I have always said that I am a "Jack of all trades, master of none."  This shows up in my diversified list of interests, from bee keeping to dirt bikes, raising chickens to photography, sustainable living to wakeboarding.  This blog will be a place that I can talk about all my interests, and immerse you in my thoughts. (Don't worry, they aren't that deep, so you shouldn't drown.)  This will also be a place to show you the projects I am working on and what I have learned from them.  It will hopefully be informative, and at least be entertaining.

This is the continuing saga of how I am becoming...The Haphazard Countryman.