Hello, 2017!

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There has seldom been a time in my life when I’ve so welcomed the dawning of a new year. Don’t get me wrong, 2016 could’ve been worse by far and I thank the crazy workings of happenstance that it wasn’t, but I am so glad to flip that calendar page.

The last several months of 2016 have given me much to think about and many reasons to ponder my life and circumstances. They’ve given me resolve to tackle some issues that I’ve been living with, but not dealing with.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I made a resolution many years ago to make not more resolutions and I’ve stuck with it. This year, however, will be a year of personal growth and change for the better.

I’ve accepted an invitation to a fitness challenge team (and Hubby has volunteered to join, too). Our goal is not to lose weight, but to regain strength and health.

I’ve started using guided meditation to quiet my mind and participate more fully in this life. Through this practice I’m learning to let go of a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of hanging on to.

This will be a year of doing. No longer will I be content with thinking it would be a good idea to do something, then letting the opportunity pass me by.

Is any of this going to be easy? No. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want it to be easy. I used to thrive on challenge and proving that I can do things to myself and others. I want to thrive on that again.

Bring on 2017!

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Molting Season or What the Heck is Up with These Chickens?

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These birds are hiding a secret!

For some reason, molting season always catches me off guard. I think that maybe the chickens are conspiring against me and have moved their nests to exotic locations such as between the big round hay bales or in the grass behind the corn crib. Maybe the dogs have decided that their usual “cut” is too small and they’ve taken it upon themselves to increase their protection payment. Then, one day, it hits me: the chickens are molting!

You’d think I’d notice that the girls are starting to look a bit rough and have cut down on oyster shell consumption. Oh, no! I don’t notice until I’m down to a dozen or less eggs per day (from about 40 hens) and feathers are drifting in the corners of the coop.

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Pretty obvious, right?

Molting, the annual loss and regrowth of feathers, is an entirely natural process that seems to vary in degree from year to year. Some years I don’t notice a marked decrease in production and there aren’t all that many feathers floating in the air. Other years, such as this one, there are feathers EVERYWHERE, not only in the corners of the coop, but under the lilac bushes, around the water hydrant, and in my hair. Egg production has gone down from 18 – 20 eggs per day to 6 – 10. This is not helpful when I have a large order to fill by the end of the month!

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Decreased egg production is a hallmark of molting season.

Feathers are 85% protein, so chickens’ nutritional needs really increase as they go through the process. I give a layer feed with increased protein, vitamins, and minerals to make sure they stay healthy throughout the molt. It’s no wonder they stop laying while molting – an egg contains about 15% protein, so is much less demanding on the bird than growing feathers.

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This Barred Rock is getting new feathers on her neck and back.

Even the young birds go through a kind of mini molt as they mature from non-producing juveniles to productive adults.

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My spring chickens are shedding feathers, too. They’re losing their soft “baby” feathers in exchange for more durable “adult” feathers.

Molting takes anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the chicken. It is tied to day length, so usually happens in the fall, but sometime occurs in the spring. Their nutritional needs go up, they’re stressed, and are super sensitive to touch. Although it’s inconvenient for me, I’m sure it’s much more so for them!

Sub Zero Chickens

It’s cold. Not whine about it weatherman cold (which seems to be anything below 65 degrees Fahrenheit), but single digit to sub zero air temp with minus double digit wind chill cold. Welcome to winter in Iowa!

When it’s this cold, I try to fortify the chickens as best I can. In the past, that meant making sure they had plenty of balanced layer feed, clean water in heated containers, and well lined nest boxes. A couple of days ago, I decided to give them a little ground corn to give them something to do while they’re cooped up. Chickens get bored, you know.

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They cleaned up a whole 5 gallon bucket of ground corn by afternoon chore time! I thought that maybe it was just a novelty thing, so the next day I gave them the same amount with the same results. Today I gave the barn chickens a whole bucket to themselves and the coop chickens part of a bucket of corn and an elderly butternut squash.

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Coop chickens enjoying their heat lamp.

I’ve always read that if your hens have a balanced feed ration you shouldn’t feed them supplemental grain. The thinking behind this is that they’ll go for the new and different rather than what’s best for them. Sound familiar???

Anyhow… my barn hens (older flock) have not been laying worth a darn this winter, so I figured adding corn couldn’t hurt anything. Amazingly, yesterday (with a high of 14 degrees F) they laid twice as many eggs as usual. Crazy! I’m eager to see how many I get tonight. Wish me luck!

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Merry Whatever…

I get totally confused about people being offended when told Happy (insert holiday here). WTF??? I was always taught that when someone was being nice, you should be nice back. Seems like common sense, but maybe it’s not so common. I found a flow chart on http://www.viewfromthejeep.com that says it all so well:

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So, thank you for reading my blog and Happy Non-Specified Holidays! See you after the New Year!

 

Garden Dreaming

Every year I go into garden season with a sense of excitement and foreboding. Excitement for all the new vegetable varieties chosen in the depths of winter when the seed companies know you’re dreaming of warm weather and green growing things. Foreboding… well, foreboding for all the vegetable seeds chosen in the depths of winter. Let’s face it – who’s not tempted by twelve varieties of lima beans when it’s below zero and dark outside? Of course 25 tomato plants sound great when you’re knee deep in snow.

This past year was no exception. I happily sat down at the computer and ordered seeds and plants. I felt a little trepidation when box after box arrived at the door. (I was on a first name basis with the UPS guy by this time.) The days became longer, the snow melted, the ground warmed… Suddenly I was feeling a cross between wild joy and full-on panic. I had three kinds of radishes! Four kinds of cucumbers! Seven different varieties of tomato plants that all came before my last frost date!

As always, everything got into the ground and none of my cucumber trellises or pole bean teepees got built. My fancy tomato tying idea was still just an idea. The companion plantings, carefully orchestrated diagrams, and precise crop rotation went flying out the window in the excitement (panic???) of getting everything in the ground before it died or was forgotten in a corner of the box.

How did it go? It was a very successful year for squash and pumpkins. Cucumbers came on late, but produced well. Tomatoes, not so much. My swiss chard was a forest of deep red stems and dark green leaves. The parsnips (I don’t remember planting parsnips…) were delicious.

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I finally had time to take garden pictures at the end of the growing season. The swiss chard and some crazy gone-to-seed radishes took center stage.

Every year I tell myself to cut back, take it easy. There’s no reason to buy seeds in late December/early January. They’re not going to run out any time soon. But… But… There’s always this niggling voice in the back of my mind, “What if they do run out of Fordhook 242 lima beans??? What if it’s mid May and there are no Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes to be found???” So, of course, I overbuy and dream that this will be the year of garden bliss. This will be the year of cucumber trellises, pole bean teepees, and fancy tomato tying.

So, bring on the catalogs and the emails! I’m ready for you this year. I’ll be careful. I’ll be cautious. Oh, who am I kidding??? Bring on the limas!