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An Egg Surprise

My son shouted for me to come.

I spotted him in the nearby garden. Since no panic etched his voice, I asked, “What’s up?”

“You’ve got to see this.” He waved his arm urging me to him.

I pushed my shovel in the ground and strode over to where he stood.

“Look there.” He pointed to a corner concealed behind a raised garden bed and a large bush.

Clutch of 18 eggs. (Click to enlarge)

I stepped closer and spotted a large clutch of eggs. Our egg count had been down recently and now I knew why. There, in a crude nest, hidden away under a bush were eighteen eggs. Only the number of eggs surprised us, not that it occurred. Chickens will sometimes decide to sit on a few eggs or even lay them in out-of-the-way places, but this had been growing for weeks.

We collected the eggs, but since we couldn’t be sure which had been there hours and which had been there for weeks, we disposed of them all. Then I removed the nest and cut back the bush. My wife put a plant pot on the spot.

We’ve been checking the area where the hens roam but haven’t spotted any new nests. Meanwhile, the egg count in the hen house has returned to normal.


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Chickens Come of Age

We don’t often buy eggs from the store.

Eggs from seven of our chickens

For the best chance of survival, we need our chicks to grow into laying hens before the shorter days of autumn turn blustery. This maturation process takes about six months. The top picture shows some of our older and younger chickens together. Six months ago many of these hens were tiny chicks. Now it’s getting hard to tell them apart.

However, the eggs tell a different story. In the lower picture, the color difference is caused by genetics, but the size difference has much more to do with age. Most of our hens are young, some still haven’t started laying.

Lorraine feeds some of our chickens

For the most part, my wife Lorraine takes care of the chickens. She rises before sunrise and lets them out of the hen house. For the rest of the day, the birds roam over a large area of the farm looking for worms, insects and other bugs. They could probably live on this, but Lorraine makes sure they are well fed from the house. Our chickens will go into this winter with plenty of fat on them.

If chickens are mature and have about twelve hours of daylight they’ll lay eggs. During the summer we have very long days here in the Pacific Northwest, but the leaves have already begun to turn color and, in less than a month, autumn will begin. I need to make a few more repairs to the hen house before then. Last week Lorraine bought bales of wood shavings and straw which are now stacked in the barn. These will provide insulation for the hen house during winter. Such chores seem to never end. 

When the short days of winter arrive our chicken will be plump, dry, and warm, but due to the short, dim days, they won’t lay as many eggs.

Maybe after Christmas, we’ll have to buy some eggs.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, or read more about my life on the farm.

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Hiving the New Bees

When you live on a farm, work changes with the seasons.

I’ve opened the Nuc box and removed one frame with several thousand bees on it.

Winter is a time of rest, for the soil, animals, and people, but not for bees. They collect together and vibrate to keep the queen and brood warm, but all too often, they don’t survive the cold and damp of winter. Despite my efforts in the fall, my two colonies didn’t endure the harsh short days of winter.

I’m putting one of the frames into its new home.

But spring is a time of renewal. All those chores you couldn’t get to because of bad weather now need to be done. The chicks have been moved from the bathroom to a special pen outside. Fences are being mended, and gates fixed. Despite the workload, I love this time of year. Months ago, I ordered a single replacement bee colony and it arrived, along with dozens of others, at a nearby apiary this morning.

On this warm and sunny day in April, one of the chores that must be done is hiving the bees. These little workers will soon pollinate our orchard trees, garden, and flowers.

We let them keep all the honey they produce during the first year. If they survive until next fall they’ll have made enough for us to harvest gallons of honey.

But, that’s a chore for another season.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, or read more about my life on the farm.

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Chickens in the Bathroom

You know you’re a hick if ….

Chicks in the bathroom. Click to enlarge.

Every year we lose a few hens to illness, hawks, or raccoons and need replacements. In years past we had a rooster named Colonel and he took care of that for me. I slept right through Colonel’s predawn crowing, but it drove my wife to distraction. One day she told me that the rooster had disappeared. Yeah, sure, Colonel just decided to move. I think she had him killed.

The chicken box. Click to enlarge.

Since hens lay eggs even without a rooster I decided not to make too much of a fuss, but since then we’ve had to buy chicks in the spring. This year we bought a mix of Gold Sex-Link, Orpington, Marans, Welsummer, and Barnevelder.

From the start, chicks need to be kept warm, at up to one-hundred degrees. One year we kept them in the garage under a heat lamp, but when the weather turned cold they nearly died. After that, we tried several places in the house and this year we decided on the guest bathroom. They’re all in a box, but we try to warn guests before they enter.

I told several of my friends about keeping chicks in the bathroom and they considered it rather routine. One of them said, “Let me tell you about the time I had a calf in my bathroom.”

Maybe I’m not such a hick.


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Click on the following links to read my author bio, or read more about my life on the farm.

The Deer and Other Animals

The deer spend less time in our backyard now.

Sometimes during the winter, when snow covered every bit of pasture, there would be five or six deer waiting near our backdoor in the morning. My wife would talk to them like friends as she tossed out apples for them to eat. That happens less often during the summer, but they still know that this is a safe and welcome place to come. They often spend the night in the forest just beyond our yard.

My son, James, throws apples to deer in our backyard

Over the years we have seen a wide variety of birds that return to the area every summer. These include eagles, hawks, doves and, pigeons. Just like in California, we have swallows that return each year.  

Rabbits and squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter, but they do hunker down in their homes, try to stay warm, and sleep more. So, we don’t often see them in the winter. However, this time of year they are out in abundance. We have to keep the barn doors closed or they would both be inside eating the chicken food.

Living in the country can be hard work, but I wouldn’t want to live in a city or even a suburb ever again.


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Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

Spring on the Farm

The greening of the farm inspired me.

As many of you know, I live on a small farm and spring is always a very special time. After a cold and wet (Pacific Northwest) winter it is time to get outside and repair fences, gates and the broken hen house door.

The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The greenhouse is so full of budding vegetables that my wife has many in Styrofoam cups on south facing window sills. Peas grow in the garden and the forest is green once again. Tadpoles swim in the pond and chicks are in the house.

That last one may have surprised you.

Those who grew up in the city would certainly find it weird to have baby chicks in the house, but it is still early spring and many days remain still cool and wet. Chicks need a warm and dry location to grow. The picture shows six Ameraucana chicks under a heat lamp in our entryway. Chickens can be really nasty to each other so, in a few months, when they are older, we’ll put them outside, but in a separate area of the chicken yard, and gradually introduce them to the other chickens.

Ah, the rituals of spring!