Monday, June 29, 2009

Something evil this way cometh...

We've had our share of poultry mishaps.  In six years, we've had dogs, rodents, disease, a marten attack, and even human callousness take some of our flock.  But something is plaguing our barnyard this year, and I can't figure out what it is...

I'm pretty sure a skunk took the 14 turkey eggs from their nest.  But they were on the lower property, and we don't monitor that plot for wildlife like we could.  But up near the house is the layer flock and the goose, with housing for chickens, chicks, bantams and the like - all within 25 yards of the house, and all secured - or so we thought.

It started two months ago when something ate the wing off our bantam hen.  Yeah, the whole wing.  I wasn't telling you about this one, because I thought maybe it was too much...but now is the time to come clean.

I went to the bantam house in the morning to open them up, and there was the hen, with a big patch of blood on her side - way too much for the usual pecking or pestering of fellow poultry.  Not actually bleeding anymore, but bloody.  Upon closer inspection, we realized her wing was bitten off.  Gone.  We can only figure that she fell asleep in the laying box and her wing dipped down through the 1" ventilation slot on the side, and something got her.  They left only one small drop of blood on the wood, and nothing else.  At a loss for what to do, I slathered the wound site with Super Salve, and housed her inside the small poultry barn to give her time to heal and be away from the bugs and sun.
This is a picture of her right side, showing the feathers growing back over her stump.  She was posing on the top of her coop, and was actually so "recovered" that she struggled to get free and consequently moved her pretty little head right out of the shot.
As you can see, she has recovered.  Having one less wing doesn't seem to hinder her, and so I have dubbed her "Lefty".  (Madison does not share my dark humor, BTW and still calls her Jelly.)   

As soon as she was recuperated, I returned "Lefty" to the bantam compound, and to lessen the cramping in the house, I moved another broody bantam and her five eggs to the indoor cage.  Everything was fine for a few days, and then I went to check on Ms. Broody, and all the eggs were gone but one.  Gone.  Overnight and they just disappeared.  No shells, no mess.  She was totally over the idea of sitting on the remaining egg unfortunately, and I returned her to the bantam house.

Two weeks ago, I was doing the evening chores and I spotted a baby grey catbird, hopping about after Candy the goose.  No parents were anywhere around, and it was too young to fly.  I didn't want to leave it to the after dark predators, and it was peeping desperately, so I scooped it up and brought it to the barn.  I locked it away in a small poultry cage with some straw and Candy to watch over it, and thought I would figure out the next steps in the morning.

Well, come morning it was gone.  Gone.  No sign of a struggle, no apparent opening large enough for the thing to escape.  Just gone.  I told myself that it must have squeezed out and found another small way out of the poultry shed overnight.

Now, two nights ago, I "graduated" two of our largest turkey poults (2 and 1/2 weeks) to a cage on the floor with larger mesh, (but none large enough for escape) and put the lone 6-week-old bantam pullet in with them for company.  It was the same set up I had used for the wounded bantam as she was recovering, and for our broody bantam.  They seemed to like the arrangements, and did well for 36 hours.

Last night, it struck again.

All three are gone.  Gone.  No feathers, no bodies, no sign of a struggle.  The littlest Narragansett poult and the Bourbon Red poult next to them in the smaller mesh cage were untouched.


I have set the trap in the barn.  But I don't expect we'll get an answer...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Testing, 1, 2, 3...(er..4)

Rose, one of our two Bourbon Red hens, sat diligently on the nest of eggs for over three weeks.   There were 14 in total; mostly hers, but with a few from the Narragansetts snuck in for good measure.  Well, despite what we (humans) felt were adequate security measures, the skunk (s?) got them all.

Having a healthy skepticism for natural hatching, I had tucked away several in the incubator, even though nothing had worked so far.  Over three incubators and four different thermometers, we had failed with almost thirty eggs  - none hatched.

Success at last - thank goodness!  (I was beginning to drag out all my tofurkey recipes that I had accumulated over the years...)
#1 and #4 show the difference in plumage.  #1 (on the right) is a Bourbon Red; the Narragansetts are darker,  duller browns with a bit of black.

Despite the claims by numerous sites that the incubation period is 28 days (don't believe all that you read - it can cause traumatic boo-boos) our poults have widened the hatching window...#1 and #2 came on the 30th day, #3 on day 28, #4 on day 29.

And not to be outdone - precocious #5 is announcing his/her arrival on day #27:
Turkeynomics 101
Last year we bought the poults (11) from the local feed store at a base price of $8.75 each.  Add organic game bird starter, at $16.95 for a 25 lb. bag, and we were starting off pricey.  We lost three to various ailments of baby poults.  

They arrived the third week of May, and we let them free-range for a lot of their lives, with minimal supplementation of organic turkey grower.  The decision to let them range was part kindness - our chickens free-range, and seem much happier and healthier for the experience, and part financial - we had to be able to sell these at the end of the year, and could not afford huge use of organic feed at $21.95 for a 50# bag.

By November, they were not as large as we would have liked, averaging around 8 pounds from the processor.  (Who charges $10 each for processing, BTW.)  This was due, in part to the fact that heritage breeds naturally take longer to put on "Thanksgiving weight", and in part to the leaner range diet.

By Thanksgiving, organic, free-range, heritage turkey was selling for $4 -$7 a pound.  New York City (three hours away) was going for $8 and more, but our customers were local, and we wound up charging $4.  We kept breeding pairs of both Narragansett and Bourbon Reds for this year.  We ate two ourselves, and sold the rest.  It was not a money-making success.

With all the difficulty hatching our own poults, we are getting started three weeks later.  So, like it or not, there has to be more grain supplementation.  We want to exceed 10 pounds for all the birds; hopefully some higher.

Free-range has to be greatly limited, due to the proximity to the enlarging food gardens and my neighbor's reluctance to host turkey pool parties again this year when the poults discover the fun of his yard... (did you know cabana chairs make lovely roosts on hot afternoons?)  

So, we shall see if we can turn this turkey business around this year...


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Well, it was finally time to check on the bees...
Looks like they've been busy building comb, and we pulled a few outer frames to look closer...

And so we added the second hive body to give them more room to build and expand.
They were still very mellow and not too concerned with us humans, so long as we moved slowly and didn't shake things up.
All good for now...until the honey super goes on in July...

Plus, yesterday the cat and I found a little friend in the cellar, hiding amongst the Market stuff:
Little Miss Garter Snake was trying to hide, but we got her and found her a more appropriate place to hang OUT...

And have you seen that show on television that chronicles what would happen to the Earth once the humans are gone?  Well, the plant growth would be swift, immediate, and engulfing for one we spent a little time battling back the beast:

Bill's green concord grapes were sucked under a year or more ago, and we liberated them!  Always important to keep the DH happy...