Monthly Archives: September 2012

Critters – good and bad – and vice versa


Long absence from writing, it seems. 

Odd that I set up this blog to record the happenings at the farm, to go through the steps methodically and with care. Well, we all know how that kind of plan turns out, huh? 

It seems that when ever I get to doing, the recording of the doing gets lost. I must vow to do better if I am ever going to be able to look back to see where I was. 

The trip to the farm this year was both less than expected and more. On one hand, the weather was beautiful all the way there. 7 days on the road and each of them spectacularly warm, clear and heavenly. Once we arrived, the weather was warm, clear and heavenly, also.

Our drive up to the farm from the main road had the last of the spring lupins covering the ditches, and finally, after years of looking for it, Queen Anne’s Lace bloomed everywhere! Black Eyed Susan’s, Wild Echinacea, Wild Strawberry, Chamomile, all over the meadow…. and the Lavender I planted last year is three times the size it was. All buildings looked intact and untouched. The paths from last year, grown over. My make-shift clothes line, still hung where I left it, paler but strong enough to hold. 

On the other hand, the trip had its challenges. We were driving in two trucks, pulling two trailers. One carrying two Seadoo’s (for exploring the St. John river – yeah!) and the other carrying furniture, a painted mexican sink bought at a flea market to add to a cabin yet to be built, bicycles, boxes and suitcases. 

The first truck’s engine blew about 400km out, and with 3600km yet to go. I had to turn back, drop the trailer I was carrying and head back to pick up poor stranded hubby, two great danes and the other trailer. Then wait the better part of a week until we figured out what to do. Repair the broken truck or start fresh with another? Okay, another. 

Once at the farm, although all looked okay, we quickly discovered mice. Lots of them. Everywhere. They had cleverly migrated an entire 10lb bag of birdseed through a hole in the bottom of the bag and off the shelf where it had been placed, down two shelves, up under and through a hole in the underside of the 35ft travel trailer where we live when at the farm. That hole lead into the cupboard under the bathroom sink and they had stockpiled all that birdseed. There the babies were born. I’m guessing hundreds of babies.

New nests were started throughout the trailer – in the master mattress, under the oven, directly under the kitchen sink, and in a side cupboard. It looked like several sites were tested and abandoned as well, atop the bunk in the back of the trailer, each kitchen drawer, the tub. 

That first night was spent at a hotel. The next morning the work began. Everything had to be pulled out of the trailer, washed, disinfected and put back. We bought a washing machine to hook up in the barn, the mattress was replaced, all bedding, towels and wash cloths were laundered in very hot water. Days were spent cleaning and organizing. The smell of the damage was unending. 

Back to the good, though, we had babies. Not the mice! Heaven’s NO!  Baby chicks!

We have had a longstanding relationship with our builder, who started out as the builder of our workshop, became a friend and the builder of our barn, and now a dear friend of our family, and his family will come to visit while we are there. His young wife, Christy brings brownies, or cinnamon buns when she comes, and I always offer tea or cookies for her kids. Christy has been trying her hand at raising chickens for her family (they have 4 children) and has had a bit of bad luck this year when some kind of animal got them. She came home one day to find all her chickens dead, and her rooster pulled to bits as what ever it was tried to drag him out from under the edge of the coop. I’m guessing it was a weasel or a fisher that got them as a fox will take one chicken and leave, usually. Weasels and fishers tend to kill for sport. 

Christy replaced 6 of her chickens with some from the feed store but was left with whatever had not yet been picked up with an order.  She had one leghorn, a few red stars, and another few hybrid chickens bred for meat. All were okay, and healthy but not really meant for free range foraging, as that instinct had been bred out of them, and not likely to sit on eggs to hatch them – another instinct bred out of them. So she was looking for a breed that would go broody and hatch out a few eggs so she’d have babies next spring. We discussed a few breeds that might work for her. 

Later that day I was thinking that the likelihood of Christy being able to find a specific breed was not high. Christy and her family are Mennonite and don’t have access to internet, so unless one of her brethren raises that specific breed, she’s out of luck. 

I got on to and started looking. I found a man not far from us, in Hartland (home of the worlds longest covered bridge) and called him to see if I could stop by that afternoon. His chicks were beautiful, bright eyed, buff orpingtons, a heritage breed that forages well, lays well, and occasionally go broody to hatch eggs. They were about 6 weeks old, and at that stage, it’s almost impossible for an unskilled person to tell the difference between girl and boy chickens. They can be sexed by checking the shape of their vent (again, to a skilled eye) but it’s not as simple as one is female and one is male. There are 15 vent shapes and I have no clue which belong to which sex. As they get older – say about 3 months old – you can usually tell the sex by the shape of the feathers. Males have longer pointer feathers, while females have shorter rounded ones.

These were good looking chickens, though, and I took 9 of them (expecting that roughly half would be roosters), with the intent of handing them over to Christy after a week or so of quarantine so I would not inadvertently infect her flock. I set them up in our coop, with lots of dry timothy grass on the floor (about 5″ of it) and a few branches for them to use for a perch and they were snug in no time. Each morning I soaked their feed in warm milk and brought them fresh clover and greens from the yard. These were happy, happy chicks and Christy was thrilled! Maybe next year, when we are back at the farm, Christy’s chickens will have hatched their own babies, and I’ll get my chickens from her. 

I loved having them there for those two weeks, though. At night, I would take a flashlight and go peak at them sleeping. They would be all huddled together in a pile on the floor, peeping quietly in their sleep, like little chick snoring. It was adorable. During the day I opened the door wide and allowed the small fan to gently circulate the air above them. They would chase each other, stop, lower their heads as if about to charge, then fly up at each other with their claws reaching for each others. I know they were play fighting but it always just looked like a chicken “high five” to me. 

Those chickens should start laying their own eggs sometime in November.