Tag Archives: raising chickens

This Wouldn’t Happen in New England

Somehow, even though we aren’t the parents of the children living here, our home number has gotten on the county call list for school delays and closings.  Last night, first daughter’s cell rang, then the house phone  rang with a 2 hour delay notice, but we could already see that the inch of predicted snow was more like 3 inches.  At 5:55 a.m., a second call rang into the house that school was cancelled.  There must be a way to get off that list.  At any rate, the extra hour of bed lounging since there is no Monday preschool and a 2 hour delay plan was shot.  Three inches of snow wouldn’t even slow most communities down, but this is Virginia.  Now it does snow in the mountains of Virginia with some regularity from mid January through late March, but it doesn’t take much to close the schools. Daughter and SIL car pooled and had no trouble.  We have the kids home with us.



It is still flurrying, the wind is howling, but the snowpack is light and we need to venture out in both cars to take the Xterra in for an oil change, state inspection, and for them to try to figure out why it won’t start sometimes.

The dogs love the snow, even though it is only 22ºf outside.  The chickens not so much.  Even using the hay fork  to stir up the spoiled hay in their run so they didn’t have to exit into the snow didn’t encourage them to exit.  A bit of gentle prodding was necessary to get them outside so  the inside of the coop could be stirred up and the hay shifted away from the door for the day.


They quickly abandoned the food and water.


And popped back indoors. They win, their food was put in the hanging feeder and lowered,  some scratch tossed on the floor of the coop,  a bucket of water placed just inside the door and they were closed  back inside to reduce the drafts.  Today isn’t supposed to break 30º, but tomorrow will be 50ºf, so maybe they will go outdoors.

Because of the late summer predator loss of almost all of the pullets and 1 hen, consideration on  how to increase the flock before summer has been on the table.  Buying day old chicks now, and raising them in the garage? Not a desirable plan.  Waiting for chick hatch and keeping a few, but that cuts down on meat in the freezer if we have chicks. Looking on Craigslist, there are some pullets hatched in mid August, that should be laying in a few weeks and will allow a cull out some of the older hens after brooding season this year and still have a good flock in the coop if there are any chicks this year.  That seller has been contacted and notified that 7 pullets are desired and though the seller indicated that 7 are available, no arrangements have been made to meet and pick them up.  That will put 7 large pullets, 7 hens (only 4 laying right now), and Mr. Croak in the coop.  It will give him more company and more hens to chase around, so maybe they won’t get beat up quite so bad.  A dozen to 15 hens is a good number with 1 rooster.

A Week On The Farm

This has been the beginning of really harvesting from our garden.  The last of the beets were brought in today, the onions have been pulled and are curing.  The garlic is cured and needs to have the leaves trimmed, sorted into shallow boxes and put in the root cellar to begin to use.  Some of each will be held out to plant in the fall for next year’s crop.


Today I bought in the first of the tomatoes, two heirlooms and one paste.  Not a lot, but a start.  There were almost enough Jalapenos to pickled another pint.  And enough cucumbers to have some fresh and to make 4 quarts of icicle pickles.  I need to steam the beets, peel them, slice and freeze the remaining ones.  I pulled a good size chunk of horseradish root and used it to make a half pint of grated horseradish, I used a couple tablespoons of it to make a pint of Horseradish Mustard that is fermenting on the counter for 3 days.  That is my favorite mustard.


Earlier this week, Jim, daughter, and I went out one night after dark, when the 13 chicks all cooped up together and we sorted them into culls and keeps, keeping 4 Buff Orpington pullets to replace the one that died, Broody Mama Wannabe who has not proven herself, and to add two to the layer flock.  I will have 11 layers if they really prove to be pullets.

This week, we have had a series of horrendous thunderstorms.  The garden has been ok in this, but the newly graded, regravelled road to our driveway, and the upper part of our driveway really took a hit, with deep ruts crisscrossing the roadbed.

This is a very yellow time of year in the gardens with the Rudbeckia, False Dahlia, and Sunflowers blooming.  The Sunflowers in the corn, tomato, and pepper jungle are Hopi Dye Seed.  I am hoping to get enough of the seed to dye a skein or so of yarn the lovely purple that they produce.  There are also Russian Mammoth sunflowers and a smaller cluster sunflower that produces flowers about 7 or 8″ across.


Browneyed susan False Dahlia Jungle


We love our life on our mountain farm.

The Garden

The week has been cooler and mostly drier at least during the daytime, but it really hasn’t dried out enough to mow, at least not with the tractor. A few evenings have provided pleasant weeding weather with armloads of greens for the chickens and chicks and an endless supply of flea beetles on the amaranth being pulled for them.  The weeds are still winning this year, but I am striving to keep them out of the beds of beans, tomatoes, peppers and asparagus. The squash have spread out so much they are shading out most of the weeds in their bed and the pumpkins are beginning to do the same in the three sisters bed. The paths are a mess and the harvested beds also. They must soon be cleared for fall veggies. The paths are a dilemma, most have weed cloth down but enough soil has accumulated on top that the weeds are prolific.  Prior years of piling pulled weeds as mulch and laying down spoiled hay as mulch have created several inches of soil. Some weeds pull easily from this, but the weed cloth is deteriorating and some weeds go through it. There are also the rocks that have been tossed out of beds as they were worked, before I started collecting them to put on the rock piles. I would love to remove the weed cloth and everything on top of it, but it is so heavy when you pull it up and then what do you do with it.  Occasionally I just weed wack the growth down.

The garlic has cured on the screens in the garage and was trimmed of stalk and roots to take to the wire shelves of the root cellar. The onions didn’t do well. There was only one spoiled garlic, but few sound onions. I wish I had brought them straight into the house to chop and freeze. We have enjoyed a few of them, but I guess I will be buying onions this winter. The squash plants are over whelming. We are eating them fried, roasted with other vegetables, baked with cheese, added to stir fries and curry and quart bags frozen for winter use.


The year’s harvest of garlic and a day’s crop of squash.

The cucumbers are full of blooms and tiny little cukes are showing, so soon there will be pickles. Bush beans are blooming but not the pole beans. Hopefully we will add beans to our meals as well. The pole beans are climbing the popcorn stalks and tiny ears are forming on the stalks. The peppers are loving the cooler wet weather, the tomatoes not so much. It may not be a good tomato year unless it dries out a bit.

Each evening as I go out to secure the chickens for the night, I enjoy a small handful of raspberries. Because of destroying their bed and transplanting a half dozen plants, there won’t be enough this year to make jam or to freeze, but they will volunteer themselves and the bed will be more prolific next year.

We may have chicks today or tomorrow, though I am doubtful. Momma let herself be driven off the nest by a broody hen who has taken over the clutch. I didn’t see any activity when she left to feed this morning.

Loving life on our mountain farm.

Late Winter

Skeletonized trees frosted with snow.


Cedars wearing white cloaks.


A smelting furnace from 1872, the remains sitting beside Sinking Creek.


Yesterday, we hunkered down and watched it snow again.  The predicted amount did not materialize, fortunately and we only received about 4 inches.  Last night it turned very cold again, but is slowly warming to above freezing and not dropping too low tonight.  With a bit of straw turning in the chicken run, they were coaxed out to their food and water this morning and the coop opened up to air out.  A bit ago, I found a supply of Buff Orpington pullets, so now a short road trip is in order to collect them and a harvesting date needs to be set with son, to cull out all of the hens of other breeds to allow us to have a self sustaining flock of heritage birds.  I may still sneak an Easter Egger or two in the coop just for the fun of finding their colored eggs.

Egg hunts

Do you remember the excitement of an Easter Egg hunt? Each morning brings that momentary thrill when I walk over to the chicken’s coop area, laden down with a bucket of water for their dish, another of feed pellets for their feeder and whatever leftovers they are getting as a treat, today it was sauteed cabbage and a few green peas with the last piece of cornbread crumbled into the dish.  Once the waterdish is filled, the feeder hung outside the coop for sunny days and under the coop on bad weather days, the treat dish placed somewhere in the run, just for variety, I open the pop door and greet each hen with a back scratch as they exit and a good morning. Cogburn only tolerates being touched when terrified like the day recently when the dogs charged and everyone scattered amid yells and barks.

After the feeding and greeting chores are done, the straw in the coop must be forked over and freshened with new straw on top about twice a week.

Then, I get the thrill of peeking into the nesting boxes. There are 6 boxes, but generally the hens only use one, adding their egg to the clutch that has been started. Sometimes a hen can’t await her turn and will use the next nest over, or lay her egg just outside the boxes, probably while the box was occupied. Some days, there is only one egg when I let them out, or none, but as the day progresses, several more will appear, always in the same nest. Last thing at night as they are being closed up, one last check is done and sometimes there is a late treasure.

This time of year, there are generally 4 to 6 laid during the day, one day last week there were 8 and yesterday after being on strike since October then molting in late November into December, the Olive egger left us a green egg (no ham on the menu today.)

The hen gems are all varied in hue and shape. One hen lays a nearly round egg, one hen’s eggs are sharply pointed. One hen lays eggs that are lightly speckled with darker brown confetti, one hen’s dyer is faulty and she leaves a darker brown spot on the wide end. One hen’s eggs are rough textured and others so smooth that they are difficult to remove from the deep reusable cartons they are stored in once the counter bowl gets too full to use in a couple of days. I have tried to figure out who is laying what so that this spring when one hen gets broody, I can tuck a collection of Buff Orpington eggs under her and raise babies the natural way and not have to buy chicks this year, but I just can’t be sure. Perhaps I will have to buy pullets this year, then next year when all I have are Buff Orpingtons and Easter eggers, I will know. Until then, the egg hunt continues to delight me each day.

Life is good on our mountain farm.