Chickens Seen

A scene that is both aesthetically theatrical and socially mundane…as it relates to a flock of chickens, of course.

 

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You can enlarge each photo by clicking on the image.

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Spring?

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That looks different.

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Let’s go check it out.

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J brought his infrared thermal imager to the scene and, as you would expect, there is a “warm” spot in the area that is not frozen. There is a relative difference of about 9 degrees F. in that area compared to its surrounding.

Here’s a theory. A little over two years ago, I started the groundwork for our orchard. We dug about 570 linear feet of on-contour berms and swales upslope of this little pond. Already, it looks so different with shrubs, trees, and perennial grasses, plants, and weeds growing there. It is, also, functioning differently, in that; water captured in the swales percolates into the soil much more quickly.

I’ve been observing this pond, almost daily, for four winters. I’ve never seen this “hole” in the ice before this year. I’m seeing the phenomenon every time the pond freezes this winter. We were informed that there were no springs on this property. This man-made pond captures runoff from the upper slopes. We fully expected that there was a seep here as the pond never dried up. It got low but never dry in the time that I’ve been here. Downslope from this pond is Rattlesnake Run.

I’m suspecting that this feature in the ice represents the emergence of an active spring where there had only been a low flow seep feeding the pond. That would be a nice surprise after such a dry fall season. If this is indeed a spring, if it is really “new;” Could it be related to the swales that I dug two years ago?

Swales capture water from the rainfall as well as run off from the slope above them. I have understood that when you build swales there is potential for new springs to emerge lower on the slope. The following well-written explanation comes from www.permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com.

 The purpose of a swale is to harvest water passively. Over time, this will establish a permanent growing system, storing moisture in the soil for long-term food and water security. They also help deal with storm water run-off, and reduce erosion by slowing down the flow of water. As water flows downward, the berm interrupts and collects it in the level bottom.  Water fills up the swale, the mound passively soaks it up, and forms an underground water lens of moist soil. This hydrates the soil and sub-soils below and boosts the effectiveness of horticulture and agroforestry. As the water percolates downward, it eventually hits the bedrock and moves horizontally, accumulating at the bottom of the lower slopes. Over time, this creates new springs, recharging aquifers and creating a natural water resource. 

 

The website goes into more detail about building a swale. The site, also, describes many other practical applications of permaculture design. It is definitely worth a visit. I’ll, certainly, be going back.

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Standing on pond ice, south of “spring” looking upslope toward orchard (top and upper left corner of pic) on 1/9/2017

As for the hole in the ice, we’ll keep watching. ..maybe some of us more closely than others!

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I’m interested in alternative theories! Send me a note!

Categories: Orchard, permaculture, Soil, Strategies, Water | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

So, what’s with the chickens?

This morning. Barn door is open. 9 hens, 1 roo meander in. J goes in barn to work. Dog (Ginkgo) follows. Freaky hen flies in front of dog’s nose. Dog “says” that she cannot take it anymore. J grabs dog, calls for backup. Treats and leash in hand, I entice the chickens back to the coop (excepting one hen.) J walks dog to the porch. We go back to the barn to herd remaining hen back to coop. Almost there and….she spins around; runs, helter skelter, back to the barn. We follow and begin round two. Almost there and she darts back toward the garden. At this point, Sarge (the roo), is fed up with our ineptitude. He trots out of the open gate from the coop with purpose, ’round the hen, and both scoot right back to the coop. What a pro! Cheers ensue!

And, in this way, we continue the experiment of raising Icelandic chickens for our homestead flock. We have hatched two rounds of fertile eggs purchased from reputable breeders in Virginia using an incubator.

The first flock lives in our mobile coop. They were 6 hens and 2 roosters but, now, 4 hens and 2 roosters because of hawk attacks. These chickens stay put in their poultry fence for the most part. The boys like to call to the morning from their rooftop from time to time. This is Pretty Boy.

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I, also, had good success incubating hatching eggs from Harvey Ussery this past spring. These chickens live in the old non-mobile coop. One rooster (“Sarge”) and 9 hens remain from this hatch. I lost two hens from this flock as well. One hen had severe prolapse with egg laying. She was quite young and it was terminal. The other hen was killed by Ginkgo. So far, they’ve dodged the hawk that lives in the woodlot across the road.

Though I intended to keep two roosters in this flock, and did for a while; one of them began to attack me. He was culled. These chickens have decided to be free range. There seems to be no stopping them except to contain them completely (which I will have to do during breeding time.) I could clip their wings but that would be a lot of clipping. These birds can fly! Far and high! No doubt, this serves them well in evading predators. Sarge tends to his flock beautifully. It makes me really happy to see Sarge fussing over, calling to, trying to herd, and tending his ladies. Sometimes, Sarge catches sight of me and he and the girls run in one big flock to reach me, hoping for something tasty.  Endearing and hilarious. They, so far, make the choice to go back to the coop before dark. That’s fortunate.

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I didn’t mean for these hens to be free range because I was afraid that predators, including my dog, would be a problem. And, yes, they are! Ginkgo is responding pretty well to coaching and seems to understand that they are to be off limits. I do have to, carefully, watch for conditions which spark her predator instincts (such as that described in the first paragraph.)  She, actually, does quite a good job with barking at and chasing off flying predators. She is alert to the alarm call of the chickens, the screech of a hawk, and the calling of crows which tells Gink that there may be a hawk in the sky. She’ll insist on checking out the situation. We’ll see if we can keep the dog-chicken peace. Crossing my fingers, expecting challenges, and watching like…a hawk?

The really good news about these chickens is that there have been no issues with disease as I have had in the past with other chickens. None. So far. I was concerned that not having vaccinated for Marek’s disease was going to be a problem. These birds are healthy, active, curious, entertaining, and beautiful creatures. They are on the small side laying medium eggs at maturity. They are not practical for raising for meat, though, a tasty meal is made from the young culled roosters. There is no way that I can see to raise a sustainable homestead flock without culling out some of the roosters. At least half of the fertile eggs that hatch seem to develop into roosters. Too many.

I could make three breeding clans from these chickens but I think that I will purchase one more batch of hatching eggs from a different breeder to allow for as much genetic diversity as I can. I’m hoping that, this time, we will be able to have our broody hens do the work of hatching and raising chicks this spring. Icelandics are reported to make very good, attentive mother hens. I’m starting to plan for a new coop that can accommodate isolation, mating, brooding, and chick raising functions as needed. With this set up and careful breeding, I should be able to keep our own flock going for a long time without bringing in chickens from outside sources. And, so, the experiment continues.

Note to self: Keep the barn door closed.

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