Monday, August 30, 2010

Clara's Cool Egg!

These are a couple of photos of the last egg Clara laid before she went completely broody. All the others have been a uniform brown. This one looked like all the rest inside and tasted just fine at breakfast!

Breaking a Broody Clara

A couple of weeks ago Clara started doing some strange antics, but it didn't seem too strange to me and I chalked it up to teenage hormones. First she started poofing herself up and letting out a long, insistent squawk if I happened to come to the henhouse while she was on the next box. Egg production continued as usual and otherwise she seemed normal.

Then she started doing this strange squawking dance when I'd come out to the coop. I tried to catch it on video several times, but it didn't work out. The "dance" only lasts a split second. She stretches out as tall as possible and does a strange, long squawk while walking and rapidly flapping her wings. Then everything goes back to normal as if nothing happened. I figured this was just associated with the process of establishing the pecking order. Hindsight suggests otherwise...

Next, she started spending increasing times in the nest box. So much so that Ruby would jump up in there with her and root her out! Now mind you, I already installed a second nest box. But they both like the same one, and usually it isn't a problem, except when Clara's being a nest hog!

Clara didn't seem to mind when I took her eggs, so again, I didn't really give the extra nest time much thought... until... she climbed in the nest box to sleep instead of taking up her spot on the roost. The first night, I moved her to the roost. She stayed there all night, but the next night went back to the nest box. When I went to move her to the roost her breast feathers felt like they had stuff stuck in them. So I took a quick look. Bald spots! It was too dark to inspect that night, so I moved her to the roost and checked the bald spot the next morning.
No evidence of anything wrong. Beautifully smooth chicken skin... sans feathers! See the photo below where she's posing upside-down in my lap to show you her beautiful chest ready to heat up some eggs. Clara had most definitely gone broody and had now stopped egg production!

There are never eggs left in the nest boxes for any length of time. I'm diligent about bringing them in to avoid having broody chickens, hungry critters, or hard boiled eggs from the sheer desert heat! That didn't seem to bother Clara. She's perfectly happy sitting on her imaginary eggs all day long!

The next day, I decided to block off the nest boxes to keep her out of the nest in an attempt to break the broody cycle. I place a small shipping box in each of the nest boxes. Clara was quite determined to figure out a way into the nest box. Twice I removed her hanging on the edge of the nest box. Later, I could hear her wrestling with the shipping box for quite some time. She was definitely giving it a piece of her mind and causing quite the commotion in the henhouse! The shipping box lost the battle. I guess she beat it into submission because I found it laying on the floor of the henhouse with her victoriously seated in the nest box poofed up and squawking. I moved her to the roost again that night and this time placed a brick on top of the shipping box in the nest box. Poor Clara! She tried again to beat the shipping box, but it wouldn't get out of her nest box this time. She eventually gave up and slept on the roost.

The following day (yesterday), I left the nest boxes blocked off . Ruby and Ingrid made a makeshift nest in the corner to lay their eggs which I quickly removed so Clara didn't take up residence.

Today, Ingrid met me at the door of the henhouse and looked at me, then the nest box, then back at me, then the nest box. Ok, I got the message. I removed the shipping box from Ingrid's nest box (which Clara never uses) so that she and Ruby had a spot for their eggs. So far so good.

Clara took up to roost with the rest of the girls tonight. Clara's nest box will remain blocked for a couple more days until I'm sure the broody has passed. It looks like she's well on her way to a full recovery!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I love my cat!

Those are words I never thought I'd hear myself saying, but it's true. She's a good cat. She comes running when I ring a bell, yep, I trained her. She learned how to use the cat door. She's smart enough to head back into the porch when she hears the coyotes calling. And this picture needs no explanation...
I love that she brings me presents!
My job is done here...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A long awaited arrival... Ingrid's first egg!

After much anticipation (and daily squawking for almost 2 weeks), Ingrid delivered her first egg today. True to Ingrid's style, it's the very petite white one on the far right in the photo next to Ruby's white egg and Clara's brown egg for comparison.

YAY Ingrid!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My First Present from Alice

Saturday was a banner mouse day... well, not for the mice, but for me! I woke up to a lovely gift just outside the sliding glass door on the porch. Alice Kat was so kind to bring it into the porch for me to see.

I let Alice out to start roaming the yard last Thursday. She immediately identified known areas of "rat activity" and settled in. She's been really good about staying close by and is quick to come in when I ring the dinner bell.

In addition to Alice's mouse, the Tin Cat trap out in the garden had 2 mice in it! Like I said... it was a banner mouse day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ingrid is Nesting!!

Thursday someone arranged the nest bed in the newly installed nest box. I wasn't sure who it was until Friday morning when I saw Ingrid sitting very diligently off and on (mostly ON!) for the better part of the day. Every now and then Petunia would bump her out of the nest box and try it on for size. She's quite bossy! And I think she's a little jealous.

I thought for sure I'd see Ingid's first egg Saturday or Sunday, but as of today, still no egg. She continues to be persistent about spending time on the nest each day. She's tried out both nest boxes but seems to be more comfortable in the new one, which is good for the other 2 who are almost daily layers.

A new hen in a nest box is now an exciting time in the henhouse, unlike the shear horror they seemed to have when Clara produced the first egg! No one would get near the henhouse for days. Now, everyone comes in and paces around waiting for the "big event".

I'm sure she'll be delivering soon... stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tomato Critter Update & Cuks & Watermelons

I've fallen out of love with Victor. It's been 2 nights and his traps are not working for me. But seriously, what am I supposed to use to lure a rat/mouse into a spooky looking trap with all these gorgeous fruits and veggies dangling out in the open?

The field mice are still getting into the big garden. How, I'm just not sure, but I am positive they are getting in. Last night I tried putting additional "treats" outside the perimeter of the garden. My next door neighbor had lots of ripe peaches with bite marks in them. So I gathered them up and placed them around the outer edge of the garden. Several were definitely missing this morning, but so were the bottoms of 2-3 more tomatoes!

Well, that's it. As much as I hate to cut tomatoes before they're red, I'm cutting them anyway. If the choice is "cut them while their green and let them ripen in the window" or "lose 50% of the crop to critters", I'll cut them early. I now have an estimated 7 pounds of tomatoes ripening in the window. I harvested everything that had a hint of blush to them.

The cucumbers are also doing well. I harvested 4 today and shared with the neighbors on both sides of us. There are several more still growing. Only one had a bite mark in it and it only had the one attempted bite. I think either the skins are too tough or they are just completely distasteful. Either way, I'm glad the critters don't bother the cuks.

My one watermelon is growing rapidly. The picture makes it look bigger than it is. Right now it's about twice the size of an average peanut. It's the only fruit I've seen so far, but I'm sure there will be more between the 2 plants.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cantaloupe Pantyhose Slings

This is my cantaloupe trellis with two pantyhose slings holding the fruit in progress that I mentioned yesterday. Aren't they beautiful (the fruit, not the slings)!

Rat Patrol & Aphid Update

I posted pictures of the critter damaged tomatoes yesterday. Our garden is completely enclosed in 4 foot hardware wire fencing and covered in bird netting. I'm not sure how the critters were getting in, but thought it may be the doorway. So I secured it last night and double-checked the fence perimeter to make sure there were no gaps. I thought we were safe last night. Wrong! They got in again last night and took out another 3-4 tomatoes. Time to get serious about this...

Alice is still getting used to being with us and I'm not ready to let her out to roam yet. So in the mean time... I put down a granular critter barrier. It's basically made from rotten eggs, garlic, and other very foul smelling stuff that makes critters think there are predators around. I originally used this around the garden expansion when the seedlings first came up and it seemed to work very well.

Then I acquired a "tin cat" mouse trap and set it up just outside the garden gate. I can't tell you how many Victor products I now have on hand. But I'm pretty sure I should buy stock in their company. If I wasn't already married, Victor would definitely be on the list!

The insecticidal soap did a pretty good job knocking down the aphids on the southern peas, but hasn't completely eliminated them. I've used repeat applications almost daily over the last week. Best I can tell, it needs to be a heavier concentration. I haven't found a hose sprayer that will mix it that rich and I don't want to have to hand spray with a bottle. So, on to Plan B...

Today, I acquired a tub of ladybugs and waited until it was almost dark. Out I went to the pea patch to release a few of them... and then I dropped the whole tub! They all came out in a big pile and started to scatter. I scooped up a couple of hands full and put them back in the tub. They are amazingly obedient... not! It wasn't too difficult, but it was kind of strange having a pile of bugs crawling on your hand. I hope they're happy in their new home and enjoy their aphid buffet.

Green Thumb

Just in case there was ever any doubt... yes, I do have not only a green thumb, but also green fingers, as evidenced by today's photo ;-)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Drunk Cat

Well, not really, but you wouldn't know it by the way she was acting. Alice got to go for a ride (cats do NOT get excited about this like dogs do) when we paid a visit to the vet to get her shots up-to-date and get her micro-chipped. She was very cooperative in the vet's office and travelled well in her crate.

After we got back home, she was acting a little unusual... at least unusual in terms of Alice.  She didn't even seem that mad at me when we got home. She came out for a bit and sat in my lap, which never happens during the day (daytime is Alice's "alone" time). Normally, she just sleeps curled up under a plant or next to one of the pots in the porch. Today, she is lying out in the open, on her back.

And when she realizes I'm moving around on the porch, I get "the look".  The vet said she may be extra tired. Guess she was right!

Coop Addition & Schedule Changes

Since Ruby's first egg, she and Clara have been working out a schedule with the nest box. Ruby's still new at laying, so she can often occupy the nest box for a couple of hours... or more! Unfortunately, it impacted Clara's daily egg production. So yesterday I installed another nest box.

Clara seems to have shifted her schedule and is back on the daily routine, for the most part. Ruby is laying pretty consistently every other day. This photo shows Ruby's first 3 eggs (the white ones) next to Clara's brown eggs. Clara is physically quite a bit larger and broader than Ruby, but Ruby's eggs are definitely bigger.

Ruby is still a sweetheart. She likes to try to eat my buttons. Here she is posing for the camera while I snap a quick shot of the two of us!

Tomato Harvest & Garden Update

Yesterday was another good tomato harvest! To-date, I've harvested about 4 pounds of tomatoes with LOTS more in progress. This morning was a sad tomato harvest day. Apparently, the rats found a way in and demolished 5 large tomatoes that were supposed to be mine today. So I harvested 3 nearly ripe tomatoes to let them finish ripening on the windowsill. The girls got 2 of the partially eaten tomatoes for breakfast. They were very excited... maybe they're in cahoots with the rats! Naahhh. I saved the other 3 damaged tomatoes for the hens to have tomorrow.

The two cantaloupes on the vine are now a little larger than a Nerf football and there are more baby fruits just starting out. I've tied up each of the larger two in a pantyhose sling to support the weight since they are growing vertically. Guess I should take a photo of that!

Two watermelon vines have taken off and are expanding rapidly. One has started to show fruit. They're about an inch and a half long. Very exciting!

The one cucumber vine that survived now has at least 7 good sized cuks in progress. Plenty for Joe with some left over to share with the neighbors.

Earlier this week I went to harvest the first red bell pepper. It looked beautiful from above. But when I cut it, it had a hole in the bottom and had started to shrivel. Bummer! Today, I decided to harvest the red bell pepper that had just started to turn color. I needed a green pepper for our dinner recipe and after the tomato massacre; I didn't want to risk losing another pepper to critters.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Alice the Mouse Cat

This past Monday, Alice the Mouse Cat came to live with us. The rat and mouse population has increased WAY too much in our area. I have been trying to manage the rats/mice with traps but there just aren't enough traps! In talking with the neighbors, I learned that their cat, Missy, who used to patrol our yards, died a little over a year ago. She lived a good, long, 16 year, mouse-catching life. Unfortunately, neither of my neighbors was willing to replace Missy at this time.

Previously, Alice lived with another family patrolling their neighborhood with another cat and prefers to be outside. Right now she's living on our enclosed back porch. I can tell she really wants to be outside and I think she really misses the other cat. I spend lots of time with her out on the porch so she can get used to me. And Cutie visits with her at the sliding screen door to the porch. I've reopened the "door" (hole) that the rats ate in the screen door leading to the outside, in case any of them are interested in coming back in. I'd love for them to meet Alice! Eventually, she'll have free access to come and go as she pleases (she's active and awake more at night than during the day), but for right now, she's staying on the porch until I'm sure she knows this is her new home.

I've never had a cat before, unless you count the one that came with our previous house... and stayed with the house when we sold it! The decision to get a cat was definitely a big one! From what I can tell, it seems Alice has decided to allow me to be her human and I'm learning about life with a cat.

Ruby's First Egg!

Yesterday was an exciting day in the hen house. I heard two distinct sets of bawk bawk ba-gawking in the mid-afternoon. Apparently both Clara and Ruby needed to lay an egg at the same time! Naturally Clara was in the nest box, so Ruby built a nest for herself in the corner of the hen house. Clara already has the process down pat, so she wasn't in the nest box long. But poor Ruby's was an all day ordeal!

Ruby was on an off the nest throughout the afternoon and looking rather frantic most of the day. I put her in the nest box and she tried to get comfortable, but she eventually went back to her corner spot. Petunia and Ingrid kept watch in anticipation of the big event.

Later in the afternoon, Ruby finally laid her first egg... a beautiful white one!