We have our first native Andie’s Farm chicks!!!!

The big pile of eggs our brooding hen has been nesting on for the last few weeks finally started to hatch! She was originally nesting underneath the shed, but I pulled her out and made her a secure nesting area in the old chicken coop due to May’s coyote invasion. Of the 11 eggs, three have hatched; we have one black chick and two all-white ones. I’m not sure when the other eggs will hatch, since I don’t know when she started nesting in her hiding spot. Broody chickens have the habit of wandering around looking for eggs, any eggs, then rolling them back to the nest, so I have no way to know if they were all laid on the same day.
I can’t wait to see what they grow up into, since the odds are like 90% that Sean Paul or Marley is the papa. King Julian isn’t quite as amorous as those two, so I doubt he’s the daddy. I don’t even know which hen is the mama, since broody chickens don’t lay their own eggs, they just collect everyone else’s and then defend the nest. My plan is to let the broody hen raise them herself, since our brooding box is currently occupied. That means Gene has to spend the weekend customizing the new nursery area, since who wants to raise their chicks surrounded by feed cans and pitchforks? No, since these are the first ever “Andie’s Farm” breed of chicks, they need a properly decorated nursery area. A roosting area, dust-bathing area, and some greenery are definite musts. And obviously he’s going to need to find a new place for the feed cans.

The brooding box chicks are starting to grow in their proper feathers, which leaves them looking like gawky teenage chickens. The Blue Cochins are especially funny looking, since they have huge plumes covering their legs. One chick in particular looks like she’s rocking a jumpsuit. I can’t wait to see what they look like fully grown. Blue Cochins are one of the heavier breeds, with the females weighing in around ten pounds. That’s a lot of chicken.

Speaking of heavy critters, the pigs’ girth has reached an alarming size. They can still cram into the Pigloo, but just barely, and their feeding tub cracked in half due to their penchant for napping in it. I would have thought something designed for mixing concrete in would have held up a little longer, but I guess it was just one pig too many.

During the last few days, we had several torrential rainstorms, and the excess water turned the Swine Estate into a huge mud bog. The pigs are ecstatic, but wading through the mud to feed them is rather terrifying. You know that nightmare everyone has where you’re trying to run from a snarling monster but you can’t get your feet to move fast enough? That’s what wading through the foot-deep mud is like, except there’s three monsters and you’re not sleeping. The worst part is getting stuck in the mud, and having to throw the feed in the general direction of the tub to distract them long enough to extract your boots. As scared as I am of the pigs, going out first thing in the morning and seeing them sleeping in a huge snoring pile makes up for the terrifying drama of feeding them. Almost.

Are you trying to give me a heart attack?

When I went outside just after dawn to let all the critters out of their respective bedrooms for the day, I was greeted with the sight of Charlotte’s head hanging out of the Pigloo (get it? It’s an Igloo for pigs!!!) at a most frightening angle. Convinced that she had either had or was about to have some sort of medical emergency, I ran over to the Swine Estate to assess exactly how much I needed to start freaking out. And then I heard the snoring. Since this is the first time we’ve raised pigs, I was totally unprepared for the weird, contorted ways in which they choose to sleep. Seriously, if they didn’t sound like little chainsaws while they nap, you’d swear they were dead. Apparently all that non-stop snacking really tires a pig out.

The bunnies are the same way – they tend to sleep in a furry hogpile, with ears, tails, and legs pointed every which way. The first time I saw them sleeping like that I had much the same reaction as when I saw Charlotte – I was convinced something terrible had happened. The bunnies are even more panic-inducing, though, since I’m pretty sure they don’t have actual bones, judging by how they wrap up around each other. Harvey still looks after them like a proud papa; he even shares his treats with them.

Sleeping in huge, multi-colored piles isn’t unique to the pigs and bunnies, though. The 18-young chickens manage to cram themselves into about one square foot of space every night. There are plenty of available roosting bars, but for some reason they all want to be in the same corner of the coop at once. Even outside during the day they spend most of the afternoon piled up in what I’ve started to call “the breezeway”, which is the area between the renovated chicken coop and the Bunny Mansion. Chickens don’t possess any sense of personal space; they are forever annoying poor King Julian by trying to scoot underneath him and sleep.

The chickens have been responsible for several moments of sheer panic, since it’s not uncommon to find them sprawled out in a dust pile with their heads bent back and both feet straight up in the air. I can actually hear them thinking, “Oooh, this will freak mama out!” right before they flip upside down and play dead. They even let their beaks fall open for added effect. If they had tongues, you can bet they’d be hanging out too. It’s supremely creepy when they sleep that, especially when they hold a fanned-out wing to the side.

And for today’s moment of Zen….. if you look close, you can even seen the drool.

You can’t farm without the right equipment

In the three years or so that we’ve been hobby farming, I’ve been using the John Deere mower to move heavy things like feed bags and piles of brush, just like rednecks everywhere. Occasionally I’ll actually mow with it, but it’s seen much more use hauling fence posts, bags of grain, and anything else we don’t want to carry. (Which in my case is anything over 2 pounds). But those days are over — thanks to Abigail’s somewhat obsessive Craig’s List browsing habit, we found a guy in Portland who wanted to trade his tricked-out Rhino for a Jeep Wrangler. For those not in the know, a Rhino is a supercool ORV (Off Road Vehicle, you’re welcome, Bess Bess). Since our Wrangler has been sitting in the driveway long enough that a chipmunk built a nest in the glove box, Gene jumped all over that deal. So this weekend, it was goodbye 11 miles to the gallon, rodent-infested, hardly been driven in two years Jeep, and hello mud-bogging, trail riding, good times on a Rhino. And of course, hauling feed bags and such in the back of it, because we’re practical like that. I’m never walking anywhere again. With the exception of the evicted chipmunk, everyone was ecstatic with what they ended up with.

Gene and I took it out for an inaugural spin through the Tahuya State Park this afternoon, and had a blast. Although I couldn’t drive it since my wrists aren’t strong enough to handle the steering wheel, I had a great time with my camera from the passenger seat. Gorgeous pink rhododendrons grow wild in the park, and every five minutes or so I’d demand that Gene come to a screeching halt so I could photograph a particularly beautiful one. In our explorations, Gene came across a really cool stream with a bunch of dead fall in it, which was home to minnows and a ton of Jesus-bugs. I don’t know what that insect is actually named; in the midwest they’re called that since they walk on water. Whatever they’re called, I spent about 20 minutes watching them while Gene hiked in the woods.
But it hasn’t been all off-roading and playtime, we actually got work done on the garden as well this week. I supervised while Gene fenced off the 24′ by 40′ garden area. Now that the deer fence is up, I can actually begin planting without having to worry about the seedlings falling victim to the pesky, pesky chickens. I still can’t figure out where they’re laying – I found a clutch of about 15 eggs in the woodline, but they haven’t used that spot again since I collected them. That’s one of the biggest downsides of free ranging the flock, but I don’t have the heart to fence them in. They’re so happy when they can wander. The broody Golden Sex-Link is still inside the old coop, sitting on a pile of 12 eggs. They should hatch in another week or so; I can’t wait! Those will be our first “real” chicks, meaning we hatched them ourselves rather than buying them from the feed store. God only knows what they’re going to look like, given the variety of roosters we have running around.
In other critter news, the baby bunnies are happy and growing at the exponential rate only Flemish Giant bunnies can. Harvey has adopted all of them, and spends his days grooming and playing with them. They’ve just about outgrown their nesting area; I put the ladder out for them first thing in the morning, which gives them access to the entire Bunny Mansion. I lock them up again at night, since the evil weasel that killed poor Claire is still out and about. During the night, the five of them manage to eat an entire scoop of alfalfa pellets, which is saying a lot, given that the scoop holds three quarts of material.  I keep accidentally forgetting to put up the “Bunnies for Sale” signs at the local feed stores, so we still have all five of them. Clearly Gene needs to add an addition to the Bunny Mansion.