Archive for June, 2012

Chick-A-Palooza!!

Our latest batch of chicks arrived, not in the mail, but right out of our very own eggs! It was my first experience in egg hatching, and it was straight up fantastic!

Home made adorable!

I had found this high-end ($400 range) incubator under a pile of junk in the milk room loft last fall, but had no luck at all getting it to work. After a couple of weeks of fiddling and watching thermometers, and oh maybe one or two well deserved thumps, I condemned it back to its dark and dusty corner.  Peter’s a bit more savvy and much more patient with mechanical things, and bravely took on the challenge of diagnosing and repairing all the broken parts to get it running again.

Hoping for some purebred chicks and desirable hybrids, we separated out a half-dozen of our best hens for three weeks to give all genetic material from previous rooster encounters a chance to clear their systems (hope you enjoyed those reproductive euphemisms).  We added our most robust Rhode Island Red rooster, Stumpy, and waited patiently. Although their breeding pen was clean and spacious, bright but shady, and equipped with all necessary chicken accessories, separation from the flock in an unfamiliar area was enough stress on our delicate free range ladies to send egg production tanking. By the time three weeks rolled around, we were only getting one or two unreliable eggs per day from the whole group, and could rarely get to them before they got stepped on or pecked open by the restless birds. I’d like to point out that most American hens crank out eggs while too cramped to stand upright or spread their wings, breathing ammonia fumes under 24 hour fluorescent lighting. Our little princesses go on strike without the freedom of horizon-to-horizon blue skies, natural running water, and the exciting hubbub of flock politics. Aspen girls are just that high maintenance.

As you well know, I’m certainly not one to question the wondrous mysteries of the chicken mind, but I was pretty bummed that they’d foiled our plans after a month of extra effort.  Plan B was to separate out all roosters except for our desired father bird for a month, and then hatch out the resulting eggs for at least a portion of purebred chicks. Since we don’t have the facilities to individually house seven roosters, Plan B also entails some extra income off cock-fighting. As my antagonistic friend Napoleon was always eager to prove, ferocity shows no correlation to mass amongst roosters, and I think I’d make good money betting on our feisty bantums!

We opted for Plan C: collect some mutt eggs and hatch out some mutt chicks!  Actually, it’s a bit more exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the breed combinations look like!  I have to admit I was not expecting chicks to actually hatch. After my previous experimentation with the incubator and attempts to get three of our hens and two of our turkeys to brood, I had resigned myself to the belief that poultry reproduction is a delicate art best left to the professionals. (And to the school teachers, whose supernatural ability to endure small children apparently enables them to effortlessly hatch out chicks and ducklings, presumably to distract themselves from their unfathomable suffering)

 When I came down from lunch Wednesday afternoon and everyone was gathered around the incubator, audible peeps resounding around the hushed room, I was over come by a hopping squeal of totally unanticipated delight!

Hatching = cleanest fun ever!

For several hours the eggs twitched and chirped, and then suddenly a little black darling tumbled out of her shell, gooey and confused.  Within an hour she was a perfect poof ball, lurching around on her giant dinosaur feet, navigating the other eggs as she searched noisily for a mother.  Over the next two and a half days, twenty-two more chicks fought their way out of their shells, half black, and the rest a combination of browns and yellows. These robust little chickens blew my bleak expectations out of the water, and I can’t help but treasure them as such unmerited gifts!

The first chick to hatch!

I was so overtaken with the excitement of hatching that I actually carried the last one hatched upstairs with me to sit in my shirt pocket while I ate breakfast. I named it Pat and spent many minutes admiring its adorable stripes and melodious peeping.  I realize that this is an uncharacteristic burst of love for the chicken species, but don’t worry, it will quickly fade as our little miracles start shitting up a storm, spilling food and water all over, and smothering their siblings to trample them flat by morning!  Still, I cannot wait to see what they grow up to be, and am so excited to try out turkey eggs next!

“Pat”

We’re Not in Denver Anymore

The bustle of spring farming and my determination to pursue too many hobbies have taken a toll on my recent blogging regularity. Oh, and my sporadic weakness for trashy fiction.

I just finished the first Game of Thrones, which was definitely a page turner, but one that leaves you feeling like you just wasted six hundred something pages of your life. And that just after I’d polished off all three of the Hunger Games books. Because one book’s worth of repetitive, angsty, outrageous fantasy just wasn’t adequate, apparently.

In the future, I must remind myself to always choose fiction with at least a dash of relevance, perhaps even a little real history.  Also, if I ever write a book, I’ll do my best not to fabricate nonsense about subjects in which I’m completely ignorant.  If my characters simply must discuss fashion accessories or encounter nascar racing, I hereby promise to consult an expert.  Of course, if I do publish anything, it’s just going to be a massive tome of spooning cat pictures.

One of several hobbies which I pursue with terrible constancy is rollerblading. On roller blades I travel the perfect speed for Wilbur to get exhausted but also have a chance to sniff all the scats and chase a few squirrels. It’s delightfully breezy as compared to running, yet rarely results in the headwind-induced rage that sours so many bike rides. Furthermore, as long as you avoid very steep hills, there’s very little slogging involved.  And who could argue with less slogging?

Unfortunately, Wilbur can only maintain roller blading speed if it’s cooler than 55, and I can only manage if the trail is snow free, so we’ve got a pretty short window. I also wouldn’t hazard roller blading with Wilbur on a leash, what with all that scat sniffing and squirrel chasing, and he can’t be off leash on a bike path filled with cyclists and really authoritative All Pets Must be Leashed signs. So, as delightful and invigorating as it is, we roller blade rarely and sporadically.

Last week I got lucky with a nice cool rain storm after work, clearing the path of all cyclists and finally cutting through the dry heat that we’ve been enduring all “spring.” After rolling east for an hour, we hadn’t encountered a single soul on the path, and I decided to take my unleashed pet into the Absolutely No Dogs zone west of the ranch. Shhh. The restrictions are in place to protect wildlife, and while I certainly wouldn’t let my dog harass respectable animals in a wilderness  area, I’m not going to miss out on all sorts of fun just so the damn ungulates have more peace and quiet.  Presumably, most wildlife doesn’t spend much time hanging out in the middle of bike paths anyway.

I have to say, it was heavenly down that forbidden stretch of trail.  The rain was keeping us cool, and the river was singing our favorite song. I was planning on turning back at the 16.5 mile marker, but couldn’t resist one more half mile in spite of the encroaching dusk.  Looking up from a patch of treacherous pebbles, a trundling bundle of brown fur caught my eye from the shrubbery ahead.  It caught Wilbur’s eye moments later, and he streaked off to investigate, perhaps hoping for a smelly raccoon to pester.

Within a few feet of the fur blob, Wilbur torqued in a sudden effort to reverse his reckless momentum, lurching left, leaping into the air, and skidding backward.  To my udder disbelief, the brown bundle spilled out of the brush, uncoiling into an adolescent mountain lion.  Once free of the shrubbery, she crouched in the middle of the path, left eye on the incoming human, right eye on Wilbur, who had frozen mid-flight twenty feet down the path beyond, every muscle taught as a spring and every last hair standing at attention.

Finding my roller blade “brake” as ineffective as ever (am I really expected to rapidly decelerate by dragging a plastic stump?), I dove onto the weedy gravel to my left, landing in a tangled squat.  Thankfully, the lion’s surprise was not resolving into aggression, and she decided caution was her best bet when flanked by two such bizarrely behaving creatures.  She bounded across a clearing and, without breaking her bouyant stride, bounded straight up a slender cottonwood. Though the tree was small, she was invisible when tucked amoungst branches on the other side of teh slender trunk. Wilbur’s chase-moving-objects drive kicked into gear, and he burst into an diagnonal pursuit,  punctuating his uncertain hops with some very chivalrous woofs.

My adreneline began fading into exhilaration. My first mountain lion encounter, and such a close and harmless interaction!  I regained my feet and got my skates pointed homeward, delighted by my good luck but ready to get out of the lion’s domain. Though I kept a close eye on the brush around me and the trail behind, it did not occur to me until I was safely home that small mountain lions like that one, who was probably 50 pounds, are generally still with their mother and possibly a couple of siblings as well.  I also wondered how the day would have ended if I had come upon that brown bundle before Wilbur had startled it out of the brush. He very well may have saved me from a terrifying and dangerous situation with his courageous charge!