...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


selecting baby chicks

Now that the ducks have moved on to greener pastures, 
we're thinking about getting a few new baby chicks this spring.
Our flock of 7 dropped to 5 this past year...

It's one of the sad realities of loving creatures and being their guardians.
If a predator doesn't get them, disease or something else will, eventually.
Dommy had an inherent weakness in her lungs,
but at least she enjoyed her life for as long as she could.
And Buffy, our star layer,
had an impacted oviduct (i.e. eggbound syndrome)...
had we known sooner,
we may have been able to save her, but being eggbound is often fatal.

While I sincerely hope that our 5 gals live long into their golden years...
the problem is that geriatric hens don't lay that many eggs.
This might be their last year of good, steady egg production,
or it may even really drop off this year.
We'll have to wait and see how they do. 
(They're turning 3 in May!)

Basically, if you want to have a continuously productive flock,
you have to keep adding new young hens. 

We've been in a bit of a conundrum about the best way to go about this.
I've thought it all out and I'll list what I see as the pros/cons here:


Method 1:
Acquire some fertile chicken eggs and place them under a broody hen.

- Low maintenance.  The broody hen does all the work!
- Integration into the flock is handled by the mother hen.  She'll protect them from older hens until they're able to fend for themselves and possibly even after...  
-The chicks will see the hen as their mother... and in our experience, 
the chicks will be less likely to bond with us people / human caretakers. 
- There's no way to 'sex' an egg so you could end up with a bunch of cockerels (i.e. baby roosters).
- If you care about getting a variety of breeds, you generally would have to go through a lot of different sources to get a clutch.  And most places will sell no less than half a dozen eggs.  This gets time consuming and expensive and you'll end up with way more eggs than you need.

Method 2:
Acquire some day-old chicks from a reputable place.

- They'll totally bond to you!  You'll get to lay the foundation for a sweet, trusting relationship with your soon-to-be hens
- Did I mention how totally adorable they are?  

- Takes time, obviously, and some work.
- Integration into the flock is trickier.  Some sources say you shouldn't integrate them into the flock until they are of laying age (5-6 months) and can adequately protect themselves.  Others say to introduce them to the coop at night and it goes more smoothly...  we have a back-up coop we found on Craigslist for all of these scenarios. 

Method 3:
- Acquire hens of prime laying age
No waiting for eggs...
- the possibility of bringing mites or something contagious into the flock...
- lack of bonding
- tricky flock integration
- no cute baby phase!


Soooooooooooo we decided to get baby chicks.

I've only found two sources where a small backyard flock owner can get only a few baby chicks (as few as 3!).  Other places require a minimum order of 15-25, so unless you really want that many or unless you're going in on an order with some other folks.  And you can get only one of each variety.  So you can totally tell your hens apart. 
(as opposed to getting them from a local farm/garden store 
where you have to get at least 6 of a variety...)

Check out these links:

We decided to go with My Pet Chicken this time around because they had more of the varieties we were looking for available on the dates that we'd like.

Some other things to think about:

Don't succumb to temptation to get chicks earlier in the spring -- or you'll need to keep them indoors longer or maintain a very reliable heat source when you transition them outside.
Your baby chicks will be indoors in a brooder for about 4-5 weeks. 
For our area, an optimal time to get chicks is really May through June. 
As the chicks start to feather out, you can gradually expose them to the outdoors until they're fully ready to transition and can tolerate the fluctuations of mother nature's thermostat. 

Select breeds that are appropriate for your climate, space, and interest.  Chickens for Backyards has very helpful tables to take into consideration a bunch of factors like:  broodiness, cold / heat tolerance,  temperament, egg production, etc.

Some people don't care about egg production and opt for very ornamental birds, or even the cutie cutie little bantams...  I'd love to have them sometime, but they might not survive in our flock - bantams are really tiny!  

As a general rule, we look for hens that are:
- cold hardy
- docile and friendly
- good to excellent egg producers (4-6 eggs per week), or who have an interesting color variation for the egg basket
- not super broody (broodiness causes a big drop in egg production, and is a major nutritional stress on the hen, and since we have no roosters, there's absolutely no point to getting broody around here!

All of our hens are happy to forage and do what chickens do, but are not SO active that they can't  tolerate confinement for some periods of time without pecking each other and going coop-crazy.  It also helps that we don't have a large flock.  The larger the flock, the more likely there are to be "issues."

So without further ado, this spring, we've chosen: 

Silver Laced Wyandotte
Ain't she purty?!
Gentle, beautiful girls who are faithful layers...
and able to withstand the winter weather,
what more could you ask for in a chickie?
Americauna / 'Easter Egger'
We already have Specky, also an Americauna,
but they're often in very different colors and patterns
so we should still be able to tell them apart
and hopefully our new girl will also lay a blue or green egg.

Silver Cuckoo Marans
These girls lay an egg as dark and chocolatey looking as a Cadbury!
Barred Plymouth Rock

 - often touted as one of the very friendliest
and very smartest of hennies...

They look a lot like Dominiques, but their comb is different.

These little gals will be heading our way in mid-May.
Stay tuned for a blog-umentary of their arrival and development.


there go the ducks...

 We just said good-bye to the ducks...
watched them go down the driveway
in their new family's truck. 

It was a tough decision, but after some soul-searching, 
we knew the ducks had to go. 

The chicken-raising-ducks 
adventure / experiment 
was definitely an interesting one 
and we learned a lot along the way. 

I don't regret it at all, 
but the next time we get fertile eggs for a broody chicken to sit on,
they'll be chicken eggs, for sure. 

I only wish that adult ducks could co-exist better with the chickens,
or that we had a bigger property 
where we could fence and shelter the ducks separately.

For months it was great fun...!  
quirky and entertaining...
The ducks added some lively excitement 
to our backyard flock.

But this winter with the ducks has been tough.
They reached sexual maturity in late November, and then winter came,
and they've been all cooped up with the hens
except for a few warmer days here and there.

They haven't been good coop-mates for the chickens.
They've been pestering the hens,
and it was the last straw 
when we saw them being mean to Commie, 
their chicken mamma.

 On multiple occasions, 
we saw her trying to get up on the perch
to get away from them.
She's gotten really thin
from not getting enough food
because the ducks bother her so often...!

That just isn't okay.
The ducks are a lot bigger than the chickens.
And they're noisy.
And messy.  
 Super messy.  

So messy
 that the whole inside of the coop 
is basically a frozen mountain of water-infused-bedding
from their continuous splashing and spilling and dribbling.  

All of that bedding gets damp and cold and the hens don't like it
and there's hardly anywhere for them to walk in their coop.

And they don't like the way the boys nibble at their necks 
and you, know...  the other things they try to do. 

For us, it had gotten to be high-maintenance.  
Multiple water changings and bedding additions per day 
(thank you, Boo, who did this far longer than I would have)...

But the real stress was worrying
about the safety of the hens
and their health/happiness 
because of the ducks pushing them around
and making the coop so damp.  


It was going to be a very sad good-bye to the ducks
 and we were feeling so heavy-hearted about it.
(our friend Wendy was going to give them a fast death,
Henry VIIIth style, and then a place in her freezer...)

it was feeling like too much to bear.

 So I said, UNIVERSE, do your thing.
If there is a way, make it work.


Thanks to the Universe, and Craigslist (!)
and a friendly elderly grape farmer on Seneca Lake --
the ducks have found a new home to live out their days.


The ducks have been spared the hatchet,
and we the pain of knowing their fate,
and the mental images of that.

(even though we wouldn't have watched)
Oh no.
Not these girls.


I can't look at any pictures of the ducks right now
 or it just turns me into a big cry baby...

It feels even sadder than I thought it would
for them to be gone.
And so quiet.
Lizzie, the girl, was the noisiest quacker, 
from before dawn 'til after dusk.
Dash and Virgil, her amorous suitors, 
following her everywhere.

We're hoping that the guy who took them
was really honest with us, and that he'll take good care of them.
He promised that they wouldn't be for eating,
that they will be loved pets.

If it's anything like he says it is, they'll love their new life!

  On the farm they went to, 
I guess there are about 100 free range birds...
many types of ducks and geese. 
(they'll get to be with their own kind... not just crazy chickens!)

And a pond.

Come grape harvesting time, 
they get to eat loads and loads of grapes, which they ADORE. 
Not to mention that they'll get to roam a bunch of fenced in acres. 

But even if that's not the real story
just about any life would have been better than 
the big freeze in our friend Wendy's Frigidaire.
As long as the ducks have each other,
and food, and water, and shelter
they should be 
happy as ducks.


I'll really miss them
even though they've been a real pain
the last few months.

I'll miss watching them do their splash dancing in the pond,
and the way they nibbled with their bills at the earth for bugs and things.

I'll miss their synchronized curiosity...
the way they all turned their heads in the same direction at once
with the cutest look.


Good luck, dear duckies!  

Many blessings to you,
our little quacky friends.

May you live long and prosper.
May you be safe and loved.

Valentine's playlist

Some Valentine's playlist highlights:
Getz / Gilberto 
'Vivo Sonhando' (I Live in My Dreams)

Charlie Byrd 
'Jazz 'n' Samba' (So Danco Samba)

Lennon and Maisy Stella...
These super talented sisters who star on Nashville 
have such beautiful harmonies together.
Check them out here at The Opry
singing a cover of The Lumineers 'Ho Hey.'

Tracy Chapman
'You're the One'

Amos Lee
 'Baby I Want You'

Van Morrison 
'Come Here My Love'

Tom Waits 
'I Want You'

Yo-Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone
Giuseppe Tornatore Suite: Playing Love from the Legend of 1900

Emile Vacher
'La Vraie Valse Musette'

Fanny Ardant
Quoi Sert de Vivre Libre (from the 8 Femmes soundtrack)

 The Beatles
'When I'm Sixty-Four'

The Alphabet Song (originally by Perry Como)
performed by Sesame Street


on the difficulty of naming a dog

After losing two dogs last year, our pack has changed a lot.  

After thinking long and hard about it, 
we decided that our big girl Clara would benefit 
from a playmate and a companion
close to her size and age.
When we got her, our pack was geriatric, 
and only Tucker was ever able or interested to play with her a little.

With Tucker and Bella gone, 
and Calvin, our little alpha boy, 
weighing about 100 pounds less than Clara...
(and at 15 years old with arthritis, he's not exactly a playmate...)   
 we knew it was time to find her a friend.

After a lot of searching, we found a boy who seemed like a really good fit 
 We brought him home last Saturday.

After a rough couple of days 
(and my 48 or so hours of wondering if we did the right thing,
and Bootsy being her usual positive self - thank goodness for her!), 
he's now settling in like a champ 
and seems to have found a nice place in our pack.

The name he had been given by the Rescue group was Tiny Tim / Timmy.  
He knows the name and responds to it.

We didn't particularly love the name, but we could have lived with it.
 It felt like a dilemma -- is it right to change his name 
when he's had to get used to so many changes and new things... 

Ultimately we decided it was okay 
and that he could have a new name
for his new life.
So, the name games began.
Almost every conversation we've had this week 
has been tinged with the name-dilemma.   

Normal conversation, followed by... 'What do you think of xyz?"
Driving somewhere, seeing a sign, "Hey... that could be a good name..."

Mostly it was me.  Doing my usual...
(i.e. over the top, obsessively thorough exhaustive searching and thinking...)

I spent hours combing through websites to find the right name.  
I looked at star names, flower and tree names, mythological names, 
and characters from favorite novels
while Bootsy looked at
favorite artists, writers, composers, etc.

We've been drowning in a sea of possible names. 
I've asked friends to take a poll with their families to come up with names.
I've asked kids at my school to think of names.

I made big lists and then medium lists and then smaller and smaller lists,
spanning from Albert to Zola.

( Yes, clearly I have traits of obsessive-compulsiveness.)

I've asked him ("Timmy")
 to give us clues about the names he liked --
to look up, stand up, give his paw, some kind of sign...

Mostly, he didn't seem to care.  
He would blink his eyes 
or just go back to sleep. 

So much more easy going than moi.

I've looked at him and said the names over and over
to see what fits him. 
Maybe I'm just over the top, but I think names are a big deal.  
There's a lot in a name.  You want it to fit.
You want it to sound right.
You want it to feel right.
You want it to represent the essence of the being as much as possible.
In the end, it feels like such a tremendous responsibility and honor.
To give a name to a being.

And there are so many good names to choose from.
But which one is he

Bootsy, in all of her wisdom, 
said that naming can feel forced or unnatural at first
but then it just becomes normal.
The name will fit him and he'll fit the name. 


It helped to get to know him a little bit more this week...

In a week's time, we've come to see that he's devoted.  
He follows us everywhere.  
He's loving and playful...  clumsy and goofy, too.  
A shaggy joker.  Sometimes it really looks as if he's smiling.  
He's very, very sweet.  

You can tell he's been through a lot, 
and that he has some healing to do,
and he's already doing it.  
So, after all of our laboring, 
Timmy finally got his new name this morning.

Without further ado, a hearty welcome to our new boy, Huck!

Knowing our preponderance for creating oodles of nicknames and terms of endearment
Huck probably won't be just Huck for long.
He'll be Huckie.  Huckie Bear.  Huckleberry.
Huckster.   And who knows what else...!

Hooray for Huck!