Tuesday, March 29, 2011

These chicks are...


Okay, maybe that's not such a nice thing to say, but every time Kim or I go into the powder room to check on them we are startled all over again by how. . . ugly. . . they are. I actually find it thought-provoking and inspiring that they can be so darn funny looking and not give a peep. They eat. They poop. They play. They don't spend a moment caring that some clueless human being standing in front of them is fascinated by how ugly they are. I aspire to that level of aplomb.

We're amazed at the difference in size and feathering among the chicks - which is probably a result of being a cross between two different breeds. They're all the same age, but some are feathered all over and some still have big bald spots. Some are all black and some, like this little pullet, clearly take after their Rhode Island Red fathers. Some have long bushy tails and some have no tails at all.

They've been quickly outgrowing their brooders. Soon it will be time to move them into the heat-lamp-warmed chicken tractor, which Kim has been busy cleaning and rejigging. In the meantime, she noticed that every time she lifted the lid to clean the fountains or add food to the feeders the chicks would immediately flap up to the rim, so she added some temporary head room. It'll do until the tractor is ready.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring - maybe

A few posts ago I joked about how we could tell that spring has finally arrived. Only it doesn't really feel like spring is actually here. I'm still waiting for a last dump of snow - which will probably happen within 24 hours of us finally returning the 4WD we borrowed when the tribulations of our long, steep hill in the snow finally got the better of us...

But maybe - just maybe - spring really has arrived. We had two sunny days last week. Or, rather, two days in which the sun made a somewhat brief appearance. Maybe - just maybe - we are finally emerging from our winter long murky semi-dark drabness into a world of tender green leaves and flowers.

The only tender green leaves are on a spindly junk shrub by the pond, a shrub that would otherwise go unnoticed and unloved...

...but there are a few flowers. So in the interests of boosting our winter-sodden morale, here's what's blooming these days at Mucky Boots.

Crocus and hellebores...

...primula and daffodils.

Technically speaking, these magnolia buds aren't blooming yet, but don't they say "Spring!" to you?

And in among the spent snowdrops and aconite, the first rhubarb. Not a flower, but spring all the same.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Crossing the Rubicon and back again

Hey! There are chickens on the loose!

Kim built a new door in the enclosure that Pee Wee and his flock use so they can roam free and find bugs and worms and grass. She's been letting them out for a few hours every day, balancing the benefits of pasturing with the risks posed by the resident eagles. Until now they have stayed close to the coop, venturing as far as the south wall of the workshop where they found a spot perfect for sunny dust baths. For some reason they seemed to regard the little stretch of road over the pond as a Rubicon of sorts. Until yesterday.

In the late afternoon I looked out the kitchen window and there was Pee Wee and his hens, trundling happily in the direction of the house. Kim and I watched them from the verandah for a while until Kim decided to take them back to the chicken yard so the other flock could have its turn roaming free. It seems you can cross back, after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Hector is the most unassuming rooster ever. He came by some of it honestly, since he joined the flock as the youngest and smallest and therefore the lowest on the totem pole. He ran away from Pee Wee. He even ran away from the smallest hens, and from Alice and Gertie, his Australorp comrades. He didn't crow - in fact he didn't make any noise except a lovely sort of cooing when it was time to go to bed. Sweet Hector.

He's still only nine months old, but he has grown up since those early days. He crows now - a robust, ornamented crow, deeper than Pee Wee's, that trails off into bass territory at the end. His rank is middle-of-the-ladder now: he bosses Alice and Gertie and all of our original Orpington hens around, but the rest of the Orpington flock still won't put up with any monkey business from him. And although he is now even taller than the reigning giant Pee Wee, their rooster-dominance-dances are conducted only from opposite sides of a fence - otherwise Hector still runs away.

We loved Hector right from the start. Even before we found out he is descended from what amounts to chicken royalty. We found out last weekend that Hector is the grandson of the Iowa Grand Champion. I think that means Iowa Grand Champion rooster.

Kim took the nine + one chicks to a chicken swap down island on Sunday. They were snapped up immediately by a lovely family with two young daughters looking to start a backyard flock. As soon as they got home they emailed pictures to Kim to show her the chicks' new digs, and to ask for their exact hatch dates so their birthdays could be celebrated each year. Those birds are in good hands.

And while Kim was there she met for the first time the breeder who sold Hector-in-an-egg to the woman Kim eventually bought Hector-out-of-the-egg from. (Confused? I was, too...) Anyway, that's how she found out about his distinguished heritage.

Hector hasn't let it go to his head. He can't because he's got such a funny head thanks to a few scraps with Pee Wee - with his torn comb he'll never be Iowa Grand Champion, or even Cowichan Valley Grand Champion. But he's still a lovely boy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Yes, spring is finally making itself known at Mucky Boots. But it isn't heralded by tulips, or cherry blossoms, or the sound of frogs down by the pond. No, here at Mucky Boots this is how we know it's spring.

Yes, it's the first slug of the season. Happy Spring, everyone!

Friday, March 18, 2011


Looking for a little Friday night entertainment? Come visit our powder room - it's as exciting as a disco dance party these days. Kim and I keep asking ourselves "Were our last bunch of chicks this rowdy?" and we're pretty sure they weren't.

It's the Red Rock Cross chicks we got from Rick. I'm not sure what he was feeding them, but those six chicks are a scrappy, scratching, litter-flicking bunch. And they peep non-stop, at a decibel level that makes me long for ear plugs every time I go into the room.

Their current obsession is the roost. It's a little too high for them, but they're a determined bunch of wing-flappers. They'll get it. Soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bathroom crunch

In our house we have two full bathrooms and a powder room. For a couple of women that should be plenty. But we're currently experiencing a crunch: bathroom square footage has turned into the most valuable real estate in the house.

The powder room has been out of commission for a year. If there was a show about home renovations that got started and then . . . well . . . never finished, it could star our powder room. We are going to finish it, but right now it's home to our sixteen chickies. It's a happy room, full of peeping and flapping and eating and pooping, but it ain't a bathroom.

The master bath is also being renovated, and work is actually progressing on this room. But a functioning bathroom it ain't.

That leaves the bathroom downstairs, the one we actually renovated ourselves (and finished!). It's pretty darn small: there better not be anyone sitting on the toilet when the shower door opens, that's for sure. We were already feeling a bit grumpy about having to make do with this bathroom while the master bath is out of commission, especially since if we have to pee in the middle of the night we have to go down two flights of stairs.

And then William had a little adventure.

William is a wild wanderer at heart, and despite his advanced age he really just wants to be outside. But sometimes that leads to trouble, as happened the other night when he got caught in our neighbour's raccoon trap. It's a humane trap, so it did no damage, but it meant William spent the night outside in the rain. Not good for a senior citizen. And we don't know whether he hurt his mouth trying to get out, or if he had an abscess brewing anyway, but a day later he had a swollen mouth that necessitated a trip to the vet. He's healing, but the upshot is we need to keep him inside, somewhere where he would be warm and not bothered by the rest of the menagerie. Ergo, the bathroom. Now we can't make a step backwards while brushing our teeth without putting a foot in the litter box. Ick.

This all reminds me of the story about a woman who was feeling very crowded in her house, what with her husband and kids and all. So she climbed to the top of a mountain to see a guru who told her to get some chickens. She did, but of course it made the crowding worse. So she went to see the guru again, who told her to get a pig. Then a goat. Then a cow. Finally the woman hiked to the top of mountain one last time, and the guru told her to get rid of the chickens and the pig and the goat and the cow, so she was down to just the husband and kids, and all of a sudden the house didn't seem so crowded anymore. Go figure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nine + one + six

We added to our chicken family today: six Red Rock Cross pullets. More chickies!

They came from Rick, a chicken farmer who lives near Qualicum Beach. We had gone up island to see our chicken mentor, Ev, not planning on coming home with any chicks. But she mentioned that Rick had some new hatchlings and Kim's eyes started to shine. She had been thinking of adding Red Rock Crosses to our flock because they are such good layers. We love our Buffs and Australorps, but as dual-purpose birds they can't match the egg production of some other breeds. And we needed to think about diversifying the ages of our laying flock, so they don't all run out of steam at the same time. Red Rock Crosses are great, because the cockerels are born with a white spot on the top of their heads, which makes it really easy to select only pullets if that's what you want.

The Buffs that came from our incubating adventure were always going to be sold, probably at the next chicken swap at the end of the month. The addition of the Red Rock Crosses will make it possible for Kim will keep the lone Australorp chick if she decides to - when we managed to save only one it looked like she would have to sell it, too, because it wouldn't be fair to the chick to raise it alone. But she has a hunch it's a cockerel, and we certainly don't have any room for any more of those, so she may end up selling it, too.

The chicks we hatched are growing so fast, and although they're a day or two younger than the Red Rock Crosses, they're noticeably larger. And they're starting to use the roost, even though it is still set at big chick height from last year's batch of chicks. Despite their tumultuous beginnings, they're doing well!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We're off

Today was a big day at Mucky Boots. Today was Day 1 - demolition day - in the great, long awaited Master Bath Renovation. We have been waiting for this day for a long time.

We knew it was coming. We knew because the verandah was starting to look like the warehouse of a plumbing fixture store. Then this morning Wayne and Jason arrived and not long after our verandah looked like this.

Goodbye, old shower with the cheap brass finish that peels off like tape. Goodbye, toilet with the permanent iron stains. Goodbye, old sink with no place to put a toothbrush. Goodbye nautical-themed tile and mirrored shelves.

We have some work ahead of us. Wayne and Jason are doing the bulk of it, but when the demo stage is done they'll leave us with the first coat of drywall mud on and fresh plywood on the floors. Then they will go on to another job while we finish the walls and paint, and install tile on the floor, at which point they'll come back to finish up.

Yes, we've got a way to go, but I can just feel the hot water slipping over my shoulders as I sink down into my first hot, fragrant, steaming bath in more than two years. Soon, soon, soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nine + one

Yesterday was a crazy day. Kim and I both had big performances last night, in separate concerts. We had pre-concert dinner party plans, and snow to deal with, and our absent neighbours' chickens, geese and cat to look in on. And through the entire day, the ongoing drama of the hatching/not hatching chicks.

The dust has settled, and here's the tally: the concerts were a success. The snow is melting. And we have ten successfully hatched chicks: nine Buff Orpingtons and one Australorp. The remaining eggs in the incubator are quiet - no pips, no peeping. We'll wait until tomorrow morning, just in case, but we're pretty much resigned that these ten lovely chicks are it, out of the 25 we had hoped would hatch.

This little one - the last one - almost didn't make it. It pipped about 10 am on Friday, and by the time I got home from the concert last night, it hadn't made any progress beyond that initial break in the shell. The chick's beak and some lusty peeps were coming from the small hole, but with no progress in 36 hours, I knew it couldn't last much longer. So I took a deep breath and broke it out of its shell.

I went very slowly and carefully, but there were no problems: no adhesions of the membrane, no bleeding. I broke away about 2/3 of the shell, then put the whole thing back in the incubator and watched over the next few minutes while the chick quickly kicked away the rest. If a chick can't make its way out of the shell it's usually a sign of a significant underlying problem, so I wasn't sure if I had done the right thing - especially because the chick seemed to have badly bent feet and one wing that didn't seem quite right. But now we're thinking it might have just needed a bit more time than its siblings to uncramp from being in its shell for so long, because this morning its feet seem pretty much normal. We're still not sure about its wing, but if there's one thing we're learning from this experience, it's patience. So we'll give it more time.

Kim is happy about having managed to save ten, given the power outage, but sad there weren't more Australorps - she was really looking forward to adding to our little flock of three. For the last week she has been collecting eggs for a customer looking for three dozen fertile eggs for hatching (which is a pretty good proposition, since eggs for hatching fetch about four times as much as eggs for eating), but after that I think she'll power up the incubator again and have another go. And in the meantime we have all the joys of a new channel on Chicken TV.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Looking up

We woke this morning to three more beautiful newly hatched Buff Orpington chicks, and just returned home from running errands to see another one almost fully out of its shell and, most special of all, a newly hatched Australorp chick - Gertie's offspring, according to our records!

It's like Christmas, over and over.

Thank you for all your kind and hopeful wishes - they're working!

Friday, March 4, 2011


It looks like our dream of a brooder full of newly hatched chicks isn't going to happen. We're not throwing in the towel yet, but it's not looking good.

You might remember we started 31 eggs in our new incubator about three weeks ago, and were looking forward to a hatch date of March 4 (today) or 5 (tomorrow). We candled the eggs at about 10 days and had to discard 6 of them - 4 of which hadn't been fertile to begin with, and 2 that showed the telltale ring of a failed embryo. Then on Tuesday we candled them again and took out 2 more that had failed. All of that is quite normal.

What wasn't normal was the massive wind storm we had on Wednesday. It knocked out power to most of Vancouver Island - in our case, from about 10:00 am until 10:00 pm. Under normal circumstances, a power outage would be an inconvenience (when we don't have power we don't have water, which means we don't have toilets), but with an incubator full of chicks in lock-down mode, we had a problem.

Lock down happens for the last three days of incubation: eggs are taken off the turners, so the chicks can solidify their sense of up and down, humidity is increased, to make sure the inner membrane of the egg doesn't dry out, making it more difficult for the chick to escape the shell, and the eggs are left strictly alone, and not disturbed.

Unless a power outage happens. Fortunately we had a backup plan, that had its inception in the days when Kim was thinking of building her own incubator: we used a cooler we were given a number of years ago, that plugs into the cigarette lighter of a car and that can be set to either cool or heat. So very, very gently we moved the eggs to a rack in the cooler, set over a pan of water for humidity and some hot water bottles for thermal mass, put the the temperature and humidity probe from the egg-o-meter inside and then transported the whole apparatus to the car. And then Kim parked herself in the car to monitor the eggs.

We made it comfortable for her: book, cup of hot soup, blankets and pillows, and a walkie-talkie to call me in case she needed anything. Kim monitored the eggs and I trotted in and out, monitoring Kim. After a while we figured out the cooler was doing a great job at maintaining heat and humidity, so Kim could come back in the house for 30 minutes at a time, just going out to check and adjust, and sometimes to run the car so the battery wouldn't be drained.

When I left about 2:30 to tutor and then attend a rehearsal, we were expecting the power to come back on at 6:00. But when I got home at 10:30 that night, the power had just been restored, and Kim was in the process of moving back into the house. And she had exciting news for me: the eggs were peeping!

This (like most things our first time around) was confusing to us, because it was Wednesday, and the hatch date wasn't supposed to be until Friday at the earliest. Could the disruption have caused an early hatch? Kim got up once or twice in the middle of the night to check on the eggs, and we woke up Thursday morning to a newly hatched chick. Yay!

But as the day progressed there was bad news, too: a second chick hatched but seemed stuck to the shell by what looked like an umbilical cord. We did some emergency reading and placed an emergency call to our chicken mentor Ev, and finally sterilized some scissors and cut the chick free. It was probably just some of the inner membrane of the egg, which dries out easily and then can get stuck.

And later, more bad news: another egg was hatching, but seemed stuck. The shell was cracked all the way around, and the chick inside was rocking and rolling, but not making any progress. When I left that afternoon for more tutoring, Kim was worried. When I got home that night Kim had performed a chicky-otomy, and had carefully freed the chick from the egg. We knew it's sometimes done, but you have to be really careful because tearing the membrane of the egg too early on can cause the chick to bleed to death. But it was a good thing Kim intervened, because the membrane had dried and stuck the chick to the egg, and it would never have been able to free itself. Kim also had to carefully cut away some of the dried membrane that was preventing the chick from moving its wing.

And then things just ground to a halt. No more peeping eggs. No more little beaks poking through shells. The one Australorp chick that had broken open a small area of its egg had stopped moving, and we now know it died.

We don't know what to think. All of this has happened before any chicks were supposed to hatch at all. At this point there are two more eggs that are peeping, so maybe the three chicks that hatched are the anomaly, and all we need to do is be patient. But Kim is swearing she's never doing this again - she takes it all so much to heart.

While we wait and try to be patient, there's joy to be had in watching the three survivors. They are active and vocal, and amazed us by pecking at spots on the incubator walls when they were only hours old. What an instinct! They're in the brooder now, staying warm under the heat lamp. You can see the chick that got stuck in her membrane - we're going to wait a day and then clean her up with some warm water.

And hopefully there will be more healthy chicks to add to the brooder soon!

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