All posts by Selka

I'm a Canadian woman living in an off-grid tiny house on a small organic orchard farm in Nova Scotia, always aspiring to a "better"- more conscious, ecological, and organic- life. I blog to keep my family and friends up to date; to share things I've learned and discovered with difficulty so that hopefully, it will help others who internet research to proceed with less difficulty; to maintain a practice of writing; and to create an illustrated journal of the arc of my life. I try to post every second day. I write about my garden, my travels, Iceland, my chickens, dog, bees and other pets, books I read, and stuff that I build and make. My husband is passionate about bicycling and he sometimes pipes up with stories about bikes and bicycling. Sometimes I swear. You can follow on Facebook too, but all I ever do there is put up my blog posts.

A nice nest

One doesn’t think of chickens as being nest builders per se, but they definitely do nest construction.

Guineas, ground nesters like chickens,  craft quite beautifully careful nests, if extremely minimal ones, out of a few blades of grass.  It’s more of a saucer than a bowl – a slight bank to keep the eggs from rolling out, I suppose.

When I set the Silkies on eggs, I think I form a perfect nest in advance, but no.  They always clean it right up, to the point of leaving bare floor around the form of their nest.

When a chicken is working up to getting broody, she makes a lovely round bowl out of straw with a thick underpadding. In this case, there wasn’t a lot of material in the coop because it has just been cleaned, but some hen gathered up just about every blade of straw in there and pulled it into her nest purposes.

I wish I knew how this goes down.  Foot scratching?  Walking with beakfuls?  Beak raking?

Well they’re gone

I had a hive swarm yesterday (What is that roaring sound?  Oh.)

They went up in a big pine tree, and while they landed on a nice 3″ branch that could be sawed off, they were 40’+ up, and very much out of my reach this time.

I quickly prepared a bait box (inviting new home, move in ready), with that new hive smell (lemongrass, honey and old comb).  They ignored it. I prepared a second one, too, in another location.

Then they left.  I heard them leaving and tried to follow them, but they lost me.  They can fly.

I hope they found a nice place.  I won’t be able to help them survive the winter now, but if they do, perhaps the next split will return.  Apartment living with food included maybe not so bad.

I’m out here restoring the wild bee populations.  This was a huge swarm, too, twice the size of last year’s.  I took pictures but they didn’t save, unfortunately (memory card error?), so I’ll have to rely on the mental picture.  It’s actually the same split that swarmed last year and I collected (Pansy hive), that just split again.  And left.  They clearly lean to swarminess.

I’m disappointed to lose a whole hive’s worth of bees like that, but there was nothing more I could do.  I got the bait box out promptly, and I didn’t have a chance to have gotten them out of the tree, even if I had made the attempt, because they left so fast.  In less than an hour, they departed, headed northeast into the woods.  It’s like they’d decided on the new place already and just paused on the pine to regroup.  Or else the scouts worked quick, which means their new location is close, and there’s a possibility I will find them in the woods.  I’m not betting on that.

You catch some you lose some.

The first chick of the year

Let’s try this again.

I had a hen go broody.  Try as we might to break her up, she was determined.   Kick her out of whatever corner she was trying to warm eggs in and she’d march around in full turkey mode, every feather flared and growling, until she could sneak back in another coop.

Then Cheeks started making eggs again, and I could give this hen something to do.

Instant turkey

What does she do?  Halfway through the process, she jumps up off the eggs, bursting out of the coop one morning and not returning.  Done being broody.

Luckily, I had Silkies handy and I popped two of them in on the eggs to save them.  I didn’t know if either was serious about sitting, or just laying an egg.  One was just laying an egg (Why’d you lock me in here?), but the other stayed on the eggs.  For a few days.

I popped another Silkie on them.  Another one.  Finally, I got one serious about the job, and she stayed, flattened out in the broody trance they go into.

Then one morning, she nonchalantly hops up, determined to leave.   I quit.  And her eggs are hatching!!!  There’s a big hole in one and it’s cheeping, and there’s another egg also cheeping.  I do what I always do with infant bird emergencies – stick them in my shirt, and finish opening procedures.

I didn’t have any other broody hens!  The coop was empty at breakfast time – no one to adopt these eggs that are in the act of hatching!  Without a mom, these chicks have no future.  I could only hope that one would get broodyish in the same day.  After at least 6 moms keeping these eggs alive til now, it would all come to an end?

I held the five eggs against my skin and got a hot water bottle to put on.  Alas, the cheeping egg ceased to cheep without cracking.  But the cracked egg finished hatching.  In my shirt.

I learned that chicks don’t exactly peck their way out of an egg.  They push.  They peck a crack around it, the same line we would crack around the top of a boiled egg before taking the top off with a spoon.  But the coming out of the egg is a very physical, full-body effort.  They push their way out of the  shell with their feet.  Kicking and kicking, straightening themselves from the tight curl they were in, and very much using their legs to kick the eggshell away from them.  I had eggshell bits all over, falling out the bottom of my shirt, but the chick was this dynamic little thing.  Immediately active, pushing its way around with teeny soft toenails.  It dried out.  It napped.  It stood on my hand.  It flapped.  It peeped when it was cold.

By lunchtime there was a hen settled in enough that I put the unhatched eggs under her and hoped for the best.  I did not think it was safe to give her the chick (Surprise!  Instant hatching), so I kept the chick in my shirt all day, planning to put her under the hopefully broody hen at night, when she’s dreaming, to give the graft the best chance.

day old chick falling asleep
Hot water bottle nap

It was so much fun!  Fun you don’t want to have every day, and recording was out for the day, but  it was just a magical experience, to keep a chick warm its first day of life.  I put my bra on the outside of my sweater, so the chick couldn’t fall out the bottom of my shirt, and got on with my day, careful not to lean on stuff and to put a hand to the chick every time I bent over.

Hello

The chick was happy.  Sooooo happy.  Tiny, but a vigorous life, optimistic, fearless, trusting.  Just joyful to exist.  Nimble and very mobile. Quiet, until it got cold.  It liked best to be up in my neck, but would also burrow into an armpit, and I’d have to restrict movement with that arm for the duration of the nap.

So many problems that can be solved with a cowl neck sweater.

Chicks can last comfortably three days without eating or drinking, in nature allowing time for all the eggs to hatch, and not in nature, to allow chicks to be mailed around the country.  Happily for me on this day, this means they don’t poop either, until they start eating.  Eating starts their digestion up.

Happy outcome: the hen accepted the chick overnight.  Better not be a rooster:)

Knock knock?

Cheeks progressed to spending all day outside.  She started eating from the trough with the other hens, then started laying her eggs in the nest box of the coop!

I hardly saw her from the morning post-yelling eviction until the evening.

She would still come to the door of the house at bedtime, or if it rained heavily.  Hello.  I still live here.  And I’d put her back in her banana box for the night.I can’t reach the handle.Ah!  There you are. Do open this confounded door for me, would you?  I thank you.

I don’t know why chickens often get English “I say, old sport” accents in my head.

So funny!  Coming to the door like a cat in the evening:)

Tomatoes in

It’s that time of year.

The tomatoes are installed in the greenhouse (today), and now I have to scrupulously keep the chickens out (lest this happen again), let the guineas in at night but not so soon that there are marauding chickens still about, keep an eye on closed/open doors for air and heat circulation, and watch the forecast like a hawk for frost temperature dips.  It’s a nervous time, while the tomatoes are still baby plants.

I swear planting is getting faster and more efficient every year though.

This is the transformational stage, between chicken winter habitat and summer food jungle:)

How is Cheeks?

Cheeks is great!

Her brief supervised outings and chaperoned dates quickly turned into twice a day solo forays that got longer and longer.  At first she would come in wiped out, eat (or skip eating), drop into her banana box and sleep for hours.  You could see her building strength though, and she could stay out longer and longer before wanting to come in.

She was more of a solo chicken at first, as the other chickens still lived in the greenhouse and gravitated towards their food dishes over there, while she stayed very near the house. Jumping up on the sawhorse was kind of impressive for one good leg.

Then Cheeks started to make the walk over to the greenhouse!  She chose a rooster (Chris is the lucky guy). 

And then…she started to stay outside mostly all morning, and all afternoon.  Back in to drop an egg, or eat, and then, she would announce she was ready to go back outside by yelling.  In the morning as soon as she saw the other chickens through the window, cue earsplitting yellllling! with a prelude of whining.

That would earn her a prompt toss out the door for the morning (at 42 sec).

When she was in, she made it plain room temperature was too hot for her now too, by doing airplane impressions.  She’d acclimated to the cooler outdoors.I’m hot.  Should I start yelling or am I making myself clear?

All in all, she progressively spent less and less time as a coddled house chicken, and started her transition back to normal chicken.  I’m so proud!

Nosy guineas

I was sitting on the sill of my open front door, a convenient place I’ve found for potting up starts, my dirt and trays arrayed in front of me, when the guineas wandered up.

They arrived quite suddenly, maintaining their constant twittering conversation about everything, and they came right up on the deck to see what I was doing.   Whatrya doing?

I was so glad I was in arms-reach of my camera.  I thought they were after the green stuff, but they didn’t make a move for it.  Then, they apparently reached a conclusion about what was happening here, and, inspection done, they turned and left just as quickly, still ceaselessly conversating.Carry on. You passed. I’ll be checking up on you later, Cheeks.

Notice Cheeks was with me at the side of the deck, and she was subject to inspection too.  She looked a little nervous- she froze and her eye got big.

Guineas are so funny.  Strange, and funny.  They’re different.  I’m so pleased with this bunch.   They roll around like friendly patrol cops on a beat, keeping tabs on everyone, including me.   Oh, gardening?  That’s acceptable.  Hi again, how’s the job coming? I haven’t seen them on the deck before, but it’s great that they come around the house so close, instead of insisting on being cagey distant wild animals.

May Day resolutions – So much has happened in April (a three season month), and I took bunches of pictures, but I wasn’t posting much.  I’m going to make a stab at catching up with all the fun happens this month (although events may have occurred earlier than they appear).

Saturation point

It’s been raining for almost ten days straight.  It’s just unbelievable.  No more water can be absorbed.  It’s just puddles and standing water everywhere.  The ground is so soft you can unexpectedly plunge in the ground over your ankle walking along.  then it tries to pull your boot off.

The chickens have had their coops outside for several days, but when the rain come hammering down, they run into the greenhouse, which remains empty, to shelter.

It was ok for awhile; rain is important, but today, I was done with it.  I had to start a fire, because I was chilled.  Luckily, it’s over now for a week!  A whole week of sunshine.  The bugs will almost certainly start up, and everything will begin to grow.

I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging.  In the meantime, THIS!:

The man who sailed around the world with a chicken

There’s more to chickens than they are generally credited :)

The return of winter

Winter was back for a few days.  The wild birds descended in clouds for something to eat, including a few new birds.

There was a purple finch.  This is sad because it’s the first purple finch sighting of the year, when normally there would be many of them all winter.Here’s a sad robin. I don’t eat seeds.  

Now that the rain has come and washed away the snow, she’s eating well, if she survived her three day fast.

There was a red-breasted nuthatch, tiny and adorable in a little badger mask.  I’d never seen one before.

And then in swooped a small hawk, who perched on the pile of sticks, right in the middle of everything.Instant ghost town.

It’s a tough life being  a hawk.  You show up to hang out and everyone leaves.

She patiently sat around.  I took pictures, looked her up in the bird book. A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk, I think (feeds on song birds).  So small.  She stayed.  No one else moved.On the small bird feeder, one chickadee stayed motionless, locked on the raptor.  Many minutes passed.On her usual perch, the squirrel was also stock still, staring at the little hawk.

Finally, she swooped away, and the raucous bird shouting and activity resumed.  The chickadees recovered first.

I’ve been using the “roofs” of the beehives as bird tables, for the wild birds that would rather eat on the ground.  The chickens come moseying along and frustrate them, so they’re happy to use the tables. They’re learning to share.