Everything You N-Ever Wanted to Know About Chicken Poop!

So, as you may have read in my previous posts about our chickens, I’m all about having the cleanest chicken run and coop possible. Evidence: the Purell hand soap dispenser that I recently installed in my workshop for hand sanitizing.  IMG_4022.jpg As the chicks are growing, I have also been scooping unbelievable amounts of poop from the sandy areas both indoors and out that these darling hens inhabit. I knew this would be the case but I am always amazed at the amount of poop these gals produce! Most effective for this is a kitty litter scooper which I employ as much as thrice daily (’cause I’m a nut) to sift chunks of poo out of the sand.

But the best news is this – these brilliant (haha, chickens are not known for their brains!) hens have finally started roosting at night in their designated area on a roost above their drop board and the results have been spectacular! Here they are all lined up on the lowest roost as I found them this morning. They will soon loft up to the two higher levels but one step at a time. IMG_3997.jpgHere is the marvelous line of chicken poop they deposited on the designated drop board and left for me to clean up this morning.  IMG_3892.jpg Why am I so pleased? Because it is so easy to clean up after them this way! I merely grab my handy 12″ drywall blade and scoop it all up from the metal drop board surface in one quick motion, ridding the coop of this overnight waste with ease. IMG_3893.jpgQuestion from the crowd: Do chickens pee? Answer: No, they do not really but the white part of their excrement is the portion that is considered their pee. The ‘poo’ bit is a brownish to greenish color part. The ‘pee’ is the surrounding white bit which is the uric acid part. It is made by the liver and is not soluble in water. It requires less water to excrete than the water-soluble version, urea, that mammals make so chickens are actually more efficient in this way. Whew! I hope that puts everyone’s mind at ease about chicken poop as well as pee!

The girls continue to be spoiled in other ways…I give them modest amounts of treats but they certainly adore the greens I put in their outdoor run. Here is their recent favorite…grape vines which we have plenty of as they grow wild on the fencing.

And, they have made their dust bath bucket into a community hot tub! What a cute advertisement this could have been for on line dating sites using voice overs!!IMG_3881.jpgSpeaking of the hot tub, Coulter is enjoying the last days of summer pool time. Never without his Cardinal Baseball cap (thanks to uncle Peter) as well as some type of vehicle in his hand, he navigates the water at the local pool.



Pollen Aplenty in August

This is a rather crazy time of year at the farm since the fields are in transition as we pull up the remains from spent plants that are now going to seed to make way for the next cycle and simultaneously try to keep up with the processing. It is also hot as Hades with high humidity these days so we are pretty wiped out. It doesn’t help that I have my second bout with poison ivy so I’m very itchy and irritable!

Dave has finished digging potatoes with nice results at 171 plus pounds of Yukons and Red Pontiac combined. That field now needs to be tilled under since the weeds are trying to take over in the meantime and it is a battle royal that we hope to win! It doesn’t help that we have also spotted a couple of cicada killer wasps snooping around again. We had a year off from them last year when it was too wet for them to burrow and make nests in the dirt which is where they lay their eggs. Here is the previous blog about them:  Reprising Our Favorite Pizza…and the Return of the Cicada Killer Wasps!  We are intent on keeping them at bay since they are quite annoying. We have tried to douse them with wasp spray but so far they seem to be fairly impervious to it. Crossing fingers that nearly 2 inches of rain last night will deter this recent activity.

We have found that the most annoying weed of all time is nut grass or nut sedge that has been finding its way into our fields and creating havoc which is hard to control without herbicides. If you pull it out by the roots, it leaves a network of new starts underground. Ugh! If you don’t pull it, they go to seed and you get 100 fold in new weeds. Ugh, ugh! So this invader takes first place as my newest nemesis and I feel I’m on patrol at all times when it is concerned. yellownut

I intend to try my newest organic weed control on this one…I got this recipe from one of the chicken blogs that I follow and I haven’t tried it yet since I have concerns for the resulting acidity of the soil but I will try it in a small spot and hope it works.

WEED SPRAY – Combine 4 cups vinegar, 1/4 cup salt and 1/2 tablespoon Dawn brand dish soap (apparently, only Dawn will do the trick!) Mix well and spray on a sunny day.

But….there is always a catch….as we recently worked on eradicating this weed in one particular fallow field, I noticed that the bees were delighted with the pollen from the “flower” part of the stalk. Argh! It is notably a desperate time of year for them to find pollen resources and I normally would hate to eliminate any they might find, but this is where I draw a line in the sand and will continue to eradicate this weed with a vengeance.

That said, I’m particularly pleased to offer the bees an alternative source of pollen since I planted 6 varieties of sunflowers earlier this year with seeds I bought from Seed Savers Exchange and they are now all blooming wildly much to the delight of the bees. IMG_1539.jpgWhat a welcome site here in the middle of August. Here is the shortest of the group, approximately 12-24″ tall, named Teddy Bear. IMG_3664.jpgThen comes Valentine at 5 feet tall. IMG_3641Then Taiyo, about to open here at 5-6 feet tall. IMG_3657Then Velvet Queen at 5-7 feet tall with Mahogany petals and a nearly black center.IMG_3645Autumn Beauty, ranging from 5-8 feet tall, has more than one shade, ranging from yellow to gold to dark burgundy.


And then strikingly tall, the Lemon Queen is supposed to range from 7-8 feet tall but some of mine are easily reaching 9 feet and displaying a real “come hither” signal to the bees!IMG_3668.jpgIMG_3650Do you see anything interesting about this photo? Dave noticed that the flower heads are facing west as the day wears on but they start out their day eastward facing. It turns out that they follow the sun with much drama and movement and this recent article in the NYTimes caught my attention gave me a better understanding of what is happening here.  Better yet, this also explains why I had such a problem growing sunflowers last year. I planted them up against an east facing brick wall and although they got a good amount of sun, their sturdy stalks were not able to keep the tall plants upright since there was no balance to their sunlight exposure.  Live and learn!

Joan came to visit with the chicks yesterday and showed her natural skill learned as a youngster who tended a flock of 30 egg layers of her own.IMG_3768.jpgThey don’t seem to care whose hand is feeding them when the goodies are leftover skins and seeds. 

Who has the bigger attitude here?  IMG_3784.jpgBut there was no attitude from little Coulter who had his first haircut this week. Kate managed a Rockwell-esque photo montage.

IMG_4296  IMG_4298

The rewards were high as we went for a visit at the park located between the farm and their house. What fun! First some tunnel time…IMG_3745.jpgThen the slide…IMG_3754.jpgAnd finally a cool off with a bit of breeze from the swing!!!IMG_3699.jpgWhat a difference a year makes when you are 15 months old!

First Apple Sauce from Seven Oaks!

We culled quite a few apples from our trees in early June since the fruiting was more prolific than the young trees could handle. Some trees naturally do this on their own by just dropping some early fruits from the tree as if they are fully aware that they cannot support so many ‘mouths’ given their resources. But since the apple trees were obviously too laden down with fruit (even after the peaches had self selected) we went thru the orchard this year and allowed only so many to remain per branch. We did this when the fruits were a bit larger than golf balls but had we the time, we would have done it even earlier. IMG_1935.jpgNot too long after this, the deer discovered the back way into the orchard and began helping themselves to the lovely fruits which had grown well beyond golf ball stage. Arg! Not only were we greatly discouraged by this predatory activity, we knew that the deer were also nibbling the branches and doing additional harm to the trees. So we did a second culling and took all the fruits away so that the deer would no longer be attracted to the trees. We brought in a modest harvest of 25.5 lbs of small sized apples and just could not throw them away. These are a few of the green ones from the first culling. The second ones were much farther along and were turning beautiful shades of red. IMG_1648.jpgSo, after researching recipes and with a bit of time yesterday, I decided to make apple butter with these apples. No, I did not have enough volume to involve the lovely copper apple butter kettle that I purchased from a farm sale several years ago but I hope to use this item some time in the future! IMG_0356.jpgSo I started by weighing up a small batch of 6lbs of apples and quartered and cored them and popped them into a large pot on the stove to cook down and soften. IMG_3488 (1).jpgAs instructed, I added some liquid in the form of apple cider instead of water but either would have done the trick. IMG_3498 (1).jpgThese had to cook longer than the recipe indicated, mostly because they were less ripe, but when they were finally soft, I put them thru my food mill. IMG_3489.jpgHere is where I made a miserable mistake. I grabbed the food mill from the dishwasher after previously milling tomato sauce and never gave much thought about the size of the sieve plate in the bottom that I was using. Ugh! How dumb! Here are the three plates I had to choose from – since I was only separating the apple skins I should have used the largest one (on the left) instead of the smaller one on the right (which keeps tomato seeds from going thru!) – I would have saved my poor arms another work out! Live and learn!IMG_3496 (1).jpgSo, after the fruit was cooked and separated from the skins using the mill, I returned it to the stove top to begin the next stage of apple butter making which is to add sugar and spices and continue to cook. But wait a minute! I started to wonder why I was making apple butter instead of just apple sauce with this lovely fruit since that is what I saw before me!IMG_3492 (1).jpgI quickly reversed course and found out that I could just heat this fruit and put it in jars to can it (or freeze it) as is without all the extra sugar and cooking time. I decided on the canning method and after bringing the mass back to a boil, I put it directly into six jars with just a little left over for refrigerator samples. Here are my six pints ready for capping. IMG_3497.jpgI processed it as prescribed and viola, the first apple sauce from Seven Oaks apple trees!IMG_3501.jpgHere are the leftover scraps that I offered to the chicks that evening…they browned out a bit while awaiting delivery but the chicks didn’t seem to mind…IMG_3499.jpgAs they gobbled them up… IMG_3503I also offered the reserve from the food mill the next day and they much preferred those leftovers…I guess this is because the product is soft and cooked? Either way, it is a good use of scraps that would otherwise go into the compost.IMG_3553.jpgIn other news, the new deer fence project is going forward with a little help from a neighbor’s handyman, Tony, since we are in crunch time with other farm commitments. He has helped to pull off much of the overgrowth from the existing fence in the last couple of days so we will be better prepared for the installation of the new fence. We have nearly 300 feet of fence line to clear. Here you can see a long line of Green Giant Arborvitae trees on either side of the current fence which we planted a couple of years ago to promote a ‘green’ fence between us and the neighbors. We are looking forward to a seven foot tall deer fence soon!    IMG_3470.jpgIn other news, the bees are currently getting a treatment for Varroa mite control called Apiguard. Now that the honey has been harvested, I added this treatment to each hive on Saturday and they will get another dose in two weeks. It seems this is the recommended treatment for the mites that are causing such a problem with colony collapse lately. Crossing fingers for good results to keep our colonies alive!IMG_3568.jpgCoulter continues to enjoy visiting the chicks but is a bit distracted lately by the fun rocks he finds just outside of their run! He picks them up one by one and shares his collection with Nana before putting them back down, which is a game that can go on and on!IMG_3559.jpgOur little Cardinal fan! Stay tuned!



A Lesson From Helen and Grandma Sophie…

We’ve had such a fun week here at the farm! First of all, my presentation at the Missouri Botanical Garden is now behind me. Whew! I’m not a natural public speaker so standing in front of a crowd and talking into a microphone for an hour is not one of  my favorite things to do but in the end I enjoyed sharing my knowledge about the many ways to preserve the foods one brings in at this time of year. I suppose that when you feel passionate about the subject, you speak from the heart with greater ease and hopefully it came off that way!

Thanks to the many buddies who came and made the audience feel so friendly and welcoming! Also thanks to Joan and Dave who helped carry the equipment that I lugged out for the ‘show and tell’ part of the program. Dave snapped this quick photo of Joan and me as we started setting up in advance…my first slide was already up on the big screen! Yikes, so much larger than it looked on my computer screen!IMG_1385The excitement is over so now I’m back to focusing on the abundance of produce being harvested here as well as processing it all. So far we have brought in over 940 lbs of produce and I feel we are barely in the middle of the season with lots more to go. This bodes well so far but my dear Aunt Helen (who would have celebrated her birthday today and is ever front in my mind) related this story to me not long ago. She had witnessed her mother picking up the fruit from the ground beneath the trees on their farm and saw that she was seriously taking all of it in to preserve in addition to the best fruit that had already been picked from the tree earlier. Helen said she wondered why Grandma Sophie was bothering with the “drops” after such a fruitful and plentiful year. The lesson was that you never know what the future will bring so you need to preserve all that you have so as to be prepared for what might come next season!

As you might remember, we extracted our honey last weekend and I was waiting for some free time to put it into jars. With yesterday’s morning rain, I found time to do this after first putting up 6 pints of tomato sauce and 10 of sweet pickles. Here are the honey results. I managed to get 66 precious jars of honey which are rapidly walking out the door as fast as I can get the labels and ribbons attached.  Sales of these will go toward the purchase of an extractor of our own for use in the future. I have to keep reminding myself that this was pretty good for a first year hive that didn’t arrive here until late April! Crossing my fingers that the new queen in the “boy hive” is turning that colony around so that there will be much more honey in our future! IMG_3365.jpgAside from being with Coulter, my favorite time of day is any time I get to spend with the chicks. I’m thinking they enjoy my visits as well since they follow me around and now enjoy perching on my “limbs”! Perhaps I sneaked my way into their lives through feeding them treats which they can only have in small amounts but which rapidly get their attention!

This routine as well as my daily presence in their run has led them to a greater comfort level and familiarity. I managed to successfully train them to the larger outdoor water fountain after sitting on the wooden stand in the middle of the two sides of the fountain and flicking water their way from the red nipples. I’m so glad they now have the hang of this routine since it is too hot to play around with their lack of an alternative water source. It seemed that as long as they had the other waterer in place, they preferred that one so I had to take it away to train them to this one. When they grow larger, I will also be able to take the stone ‘step stools’ away.   IMG_3368.jpgSo now when I visit the coop, they expect me to bring some treats and they fawn over me in ways that only young chicks can. Of course this puts a huge smile on my face! The Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds are particularly interactive as are the Barred Rocks. This all started several days ago when I was sitting down observing them and felt one hop up onto my shoulder from behind. Having previously raised parrots, I was not terribly startled. Since then, they have been more comfortable doing this and I couldn’t resist recording some of this activity today even though I’m not ‘coiffed’ for a photo session! Here you see one on my elbow, one on my shoulder and one on my opposite arm and looking at the camera!IMG_3400This Buff Orpington just wanted to nestle on the crook of my arm as long as I would let her! I love the look she is giving into the camera! A little attitude, as if “what are you looking at?”IMG_3442Not to be outdone, this Rhode Island Red had to investigate too!IMG_3407.jpgAnd was joined soon after by a friend…IMG_3372They say that talking to the birds is helpful so I manage to blabber on in a nonsense way to them the entire time I’m out in their coop.

I’m not the only one fascinated with the chicks. As I said earlier, Coulter likes to investigate the coop whenever he visits. IMG_3362.jpg

But given a chance, he mostly loves to play with the hose on these very hot days! He starts out helping Nana water her flower pots…IMG_3131.jpgAnd he ends up soaking wet…IMG_3133.jpgso we strip him down and soon after he is ready for his kiddie pool…IMG_3156.jpgTomorrow we start the first day of our newest project…an official, 7 foot tall deer fence that will be installed in the rear property line. Yes, the deer have finally figured out that the faux fencing we did on the north and south border sides isn’t the only obstacle to the farm and they have been voracious this year which is much what we hear from others as well. Since the deer have traditionally traveled north to south, we didn’t worry so much about the east side until recently and the only way to conquer them on that front is with an official fence. Stay tuned for updates on that project! LOTS-O-WORK!