Friday, March 26, 2010

Chicken update

A few more chicks died, but the rest look great. I think we are in the clear. Murray McMurray has credited us the cost of the lost chicks, and we will be getting replacements at the end of April.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chickens are home to roost

The first domestic animals of Cairncrest farm arrived today. Back in January we hemmed and hawwed over an online poultry cataolog and finally ordered chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa. For those of you who have yet to experience the wonderful world of backyard poultry I will explain a little about the market for chicks these days. Virtually all urban, suburban, and rural chicken fanciers order their chicks in the mail. Most small farms even purchase their chicks in this manner because it is quick, cheap, easy, and usually effective. The USPS generally handles the chicks first since it is quite clear that something is alive inside the box and needs to get to its destination promptly. Also, many hatcheries do not allow people to drive up and collect their own chicks on hatch day because of concerns about imported pathogens. Chicks hatch out with a yolk sack still attached and can survive up to three days without food and water provided it doesn't get too cold or too hot in transit.

I've bought chicks from Murray McMurray a number of times and have never had a dead, or even a weak chick arrive. Every other time I've been called on Sunday by the USPS to get my chicks. This time, unfortunately, was different. I waited by the phone Sunday without results. I called the post office but no one answered. Yesterday I called again and spoke with a person, but alas, no birds in the mail. Today at 7:22 am the post office called to say our chicks had arrived so off I went to get them. When I got home and opened the shipping box I found 54 live chicks and one dead. I put them out into the brooder Garth and I arranged two days prior and promptly watched another four more chicks drop into the great beyond. Most of the chicks seemed pretty perky, but a few were still lethargic. We tried to revive the weakest birds with water by dipping their beaks and tilting their heads back with little effect. Finally, in desperation to save the three fading chicks I went to the house and scavenged some supplies I'd inadvertantly brought home from the ER a few days ago. As you can see in the photo we nursed the two of the three chicks back to operational capacity with a touch of sugar water from a big syringe and an IV catheter. And later in the day one of the formerly spry guys keeled over and refused to revive. At this point we've lost seven chicks. We can't identify any more that look ill, but we'll find out how accurate our assessments are first thing tomorrow morning.

Our original order contained 25 Cornish Crosses, which are the mutant white chickens that grow like radioactive mushrooms and are found in any grocery store in America, 25 Dark Cornish, a heavy breed we will raise for eggs (hens) and as a carcass weight and flavor comparison (cockerels) with the Cornish Crosses, and five Silver Penciled Plymouth Rocks, which are in my humble opinion the most beautiful, awesomest, most supreme chicken breed I've ever seen. I first saw them at the Pennsylvania farm show in January 2006 and promised myself on the spot I would one day have some in my flock. Today that day arrived when the SPPRs came home to roost.



Five more Dark Cornish and one more Cornish Cross died overnight. Another Dark Cornish died just after lunch, and two more appear to be on their way out. I hope that will be the last of it - all the rest are active, eating and feeding.


Monday, March 22, 2010

A 6' Hole

The weather here has been unseasonably warm which has permitted us to move forward with some of our larger goals. I had called the county soil and water department to talk over a perc test a month ago (for the houses) and they had warned me about saturated March soils and tests failing that would have passed a few weeks later. But there was just something so enticing about digging an enormous hole, seeing if it would perc and then if it did, getting to proceed weeks ahead of our best case scenario schedule. The weather had been so compelling I called the county on Friday and the guy called back and spoke to Garth. When he heard we had no tractor he encouraged Garth to wait. When I heard that, I went inside and called him back and told him that we had nothing better to do and asked if he could come by in the afternoon. It was around 10:30 am and he told us, 'Just dig it big enough to get my chubby body in there. If you can't get more than 5 ft, don't worry about it. If all you can get is just 4 ft... if you can only dig 3.5 ft... just dig until you're angry enough and give it a rest.' His expectations were not very high. Well, dig we did. We dug for about three hours before getting in the neighborhood of a 6 ft hole. He came by in the afternoon and began by asking Garth if I was as persistent in every area of life. Garth replied in the affirmative through a grin and we went straight to the hole with the guy's scientific implements in tow (two wooden sticks with two nails in each, a timer, and about 30 gallons of water). Well, he was so impressed with our hole. He said that the guys with the machines never leave him a step, let alone two, and lots of them don't even get as deep as we did. What made us even happier though, was that our land dazzled and amazed him with its middle of March perc-ing ability. Hallelujah! NO effort was lost! To the septic engineer!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fun Chores

We are blessed with lots of friends, and so far this year we've had visitors almost every weekend. For a while I felt bad - all these people were coming to see us and the farm, but in the middle of the coldest, grayest stretch of the year. I wondered why those nearest and dearest would be clamoring to come for a visit at a time when the most exciting possible activity would be sledding face first into a burdock bush. I told myself it was just that, that the sheer force of our four personalities and the nascent enterprise were together an irresistible draw, weather be damned.

After the past couple days, however, I have decided that there may have been a slight self-serving aspect to these early visits. Two days ago Ed and I had to climb up onto the roof of our little barn to replace the section that got torn off. It was mildly terrifying, but neither of us was injured, and we were successful. But from that rooftop vantage, and more generally walking about the farmyard now that the snow has melted, the sheer amount of work necessary just to make it possible to weedwhack the grounds dawned on me. Every patch of grass has moldering equipment in it. Every path has old, weedy fence lining it. Every field has thousands of bones in it.

Yes, bones. I mentioned the dogs in a past post. Apparently this large group of canines subsisted not just on the standard dry and canned food of which we have already thrown away ample evidence, but also on a healthy ration of cow and goat bones, the latter of which we assume were homegrown. As a result, it's not possible to take three steps without tripping over the femur of a cow or a rack of goat ribs. That might sound appetizing to some people, but it's actually pretty gross. So far we've collected five or six wheelbarrows full, and there are untold quantities to come.

So future guests have been warned. Duties concomitant to visiting in fair weather may include bone collecting duty.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The last few days were exciting in a way that I hope does not continue on the farm. On Wednesday Garth, Alanna, and I (Normandy was in Bryn Athyn assisting a friend with a newborn) went to Kempton, PA to pick up some lumber I stored in a barn many moons ago. On Thursday I drove an overloaded 24' budget truck for 6 hours over a distance that should have taken 4 hours to traverse. Nothing hairy happened during the ride, but shortly after arriving home at Cairncrest Farm both Alanna and I began to feel the prodrome of a nasty gastroenteral virus. Alanna was stricken after dinner. I woke feeling nauseated and light-headed. With a big truck to unload and return in 10 hours I had no choice but to rise and get to work. Luckily Garth didn't succumb to the viral woes until the drive back from the truck drop-off. Unfortunately he had the worst of it and slept little on Friday night thanks to the microbial invaders.

I didn't sleep well on Friday night either, both from the tail-end of by stomach distress, a mild fever, and the wind. The wind was amazing. It blew in from the east at an angle diametrically opposed to the prevailing winds here. And the intensity was ferocious. There is some piece of hardware attached to the old farm house that sets up a loud monotone hum when the wind hits it just right. Winds from the east hit it just right a lot of times and the humming woke me again and again. The bluster lasted all day on Saturday and into the night. We woke on Sunday morning to find two sheets of old galvanized metal roofing out past the cars. I walked around the whole house and then the hops barn in search of the their source. Finally I found it on the far side of the hops barn - a patch of old shakes showing themselves next to a solid run of metal. Today I bought some replacement sheets for the roof since the midnight flight did little for integrity of the original pieces. Tomorrow's job - fix the roof.