Since my friend came to pick up the chicks I’d hatched in the incubator for her, I was faced with the sad, sad sight of an empty brooding box. I made a couple calls, and found a feed store that still had ducklings! Within the hour, I had 8 happily quacking ducklings swimming around in their custom litter-box pool, complete with safety rocks and a ramp. I got all Pekins, the fat white ducks with the bright orange bills and feet. They are great layers, and should bring my egg business to the next level. This spring has been rough, but with only four females (and six males!) I just don’t have enough eggs to keep my orders filled. Of course, these guys won’t start laying until the fall, at the earliest, but until then I get to enjoy having ducklings again! And Gene gets to spend his days off baby-proofing the big pond, the pasture, and anywhere else a cute duckling might choose to wander.
I still haven’t gotten a look at Cinnabun’s babies, although Gene was brave enough to distract her with a treat and stick his head in the nesting box. He was able to count four babies before he heard the growling and the thundering of angry bunny paws coming right for him. Knowing the way bunny math works, she probably has about 54 of them in there. I’ve been letting Harvey come out during the day; he’s content to hop around by the deck, scattering chickens and turkeys and ducks in every direction. He only stays out about fifteen minutes, then comes back to check on mama. It’s pretty cute, actually.
I have given up on calendars and temperatures and the like, for they always seem to disappoint me. I am officially declaring the start of summer. To celebrate, and since the temperatures are getting into the 80s (and drop to the 40s at night, whatever, Pacific Northwest), I scheduled the yearly shearing appointment for Shy and Woolimina. Since Gene had to work that night, and thus was not free to assist in the rodeo which precedes each haircut, we decided to catch them before he had to leave and attached long leashes to their collars. Shy and Wool then spent the next five hours convinced that festively colored snakes were following them around. But in the long run it was worth it – Wheat Thins were liberally handed out, and they both look stunning with their new spring looks.(Well, truthfully Shy looks stunning. Woolimina looks like she ate one box of Wheat Thins too many this winter). They still haven’t quite forgiven me for the whole collar snake thing, though.
Similarily, Big Bertha the broody duck hasn’t forgiven me since the day she decided to build her nest, then sit on her eggs, in the highest traffic area on the whole farm – right by the entrance to the food bin room. I put up with her hissings and fussings, and we peacefully coexisted for over a week until disaster struck today. For some reason, she must have gotten confused about where her eggs were, because she was happily sitting in a beautifully crafted nest right next to the pile of them. I thought I was doing her a favor by gently rolling them back underneath her, but she acted like I was about to make an omelet right in front of her. With each egg I put back in the nest, she’d pinch the skin of my hand in her beak, then try to do a gator roll with it. Thank god she only had four eggs. Gene always says, “Just grab her head first with your other hand!” whenever I come to him whining about beak-inflicted wounds on my extremities, but I’d like to see him try that on Bertha. That duck’s got some moves.
After dealing with Bertha’s shenanigans, I figured I’d do something relaxing and plant my corn starts out in the big garden. Unfortunately we haven’t finished the fence yet, so I had to come up with some way to protect the two-foot plants from the chickens. I really couldn’t wait any longer to plant them, because they were badly root bound and obviously tired of being in the tiny pots I planted the seeds in. As I carefully dug each hole, I had tons of chicken helpers, eager to snatch up any worms I unearthed. As I moved to the next hole, they would fill the preceding one in when my back was turned. When I put a tomato cage over each plant, they mocked my efforts by jumping through it and ripping off the corn leaves. When I wrapped fencing around each cage (which looks great, by the way, don’t think it doesn’t) to protect the leaves, they showed their discontent by attacking the corn waiting to be planted. It’s hard to be mad at them, though, since they’re so gleeful about helping me.
Ever since the winter temperatures finally started rising with the coming of spring, the quails have been demanding the completion of their promised new abode. Since I speak quail and Gene doesn’t, I happily translated their plaintive cries for non-garage condo space. Finally, this week was the great unveiling of the Quail Sanctuary. It’s 16 square feet of modern avian living, complete with a stunning park-like setting, living forage station, two bark installations for climbing and hiding, a dust bathing area, and a privacy nook in the back for napping and cuddling.
The best part of the new Sanctuary is that Gene built it on the front porch, right up against the window – I can sit on my couch nest and watch the Quail Channel for hours. The cats are all thrilled, and spend the better part of their day perched on the window sill staring and meowing. They don’t bother the quails in the slightest, despite being mere inches away depending on where in the cage the birds decide to wander.
The quails seem to spend the bulk of their time happily scooting around in the dust bathing area, or snacking on marigolds and nasturtiums in the foraging nook. After seeing someone else add a dirt-filled frame with growing grass to their quail set-up, I pestered Gene until he let me add a sunken tray lined with heavy plastic to his design. I filled it with sand and gravel for drainage, then added a layer of soil and planted nasturtiums in it. The quails put a beat down on the tasty fresh plants within minutes of being relocated into the Sanctuary, so I’ve already had to replace the chewed remnants with marigolds. I figure throughout the summer I can grow various quail delicacies and replant as needed. Not that they’re spoiled, or anything.
It’s been a bit of a sad week here at the farm. On Wednesday, Gene and I took Princess Fiona and Daisy to a new farm in Shelton to live, and today the four mini goats also went to a new farm. It was an incredibly difficult choice, but unfortunately my 90-year-old Tyrannosaurus wrists just weren’t up for the task of carrying hay, trimming hooves, etc, any more. Even though I cried (a lot), I know they are going to great homes with great people. Shy Shy and Woolimina are still here; I couldn’t bear to give up our one-eyed Shy guy, and he has a deep bond with Woolimina. Neither one of them require any heavy lifting, so taking care of them is no problem for me. Today was traumatic for the two of them (and quite honestly, for the three of us who participated in the Goat Rodeo – who knew they were smart enough to start running the minute they saw the leashes come out?) They wouldn’t even come eat their delicious kibble, because they thought they smelled a trap. I’m sure they’ll start trusting me just in time for May 22, which is Spa Day. Watching them together this afternoon helped me feel better; they stuck to each other like glue, grazing in tandem and snuggling.
As is usually the case around here, with loss comes new beginnings. Cinnabon had her babies this morning! I would love to give an update regarding numbers, colors, etc., but she refuses to let me get near the nesting box. She’s like a dragon guarding gold. I knew something was up yesterday, when she snubbed her nose at a Wheat Thin for the first time in recorded history. Then sure enough, today she pulled her fur out and made a nest. I’m assuming there’s babies in it, since she won’t let me check it and she ripped her afternoon Wheat Thin out of my hand faster than a Cheetah jumps on a wounded wildebeest (feel free to borrow that analogy, it took me awhile to come up with it).
In other mama news, birds are going broody left and right around here. There’s a broody duck in the shed, conveniently located right next to where I have to go to get the feed. Now scooping up grain is accompanied by a litany of duck swears and hisses. I tried explaining that she’s the one who picked a nesting spot in a high traffic area, but to no avail. In the chicken coop, Luigi has gone broody in a lower nesting box and Broody Mama is broody (again!) in an upper nesting box. It’s gotten to where I can’t gather eggs without getting my butt kicked by angry mamas. I keep expecting one of the quails to start guarding her eggs with a vengeance.
We had two glorious days of 85 degree temperatures, and now it’s back to non-stop rain. But while the sun was shining, I did manage to get most of the plants in the greenhouse repotted, since everything is growing at an alarming rate. I really, really need it to warm up enough to plant. Space is at such a premium in there that I had to line the aisle with plants, then move them outside every time I want to go in there. On the plus side, the jungle growth gives the baby mantises plenty of spots to hide from Willard. The mantis egg sacs finally hatched! The babies are tiny, smaller than a dime. I love watching them hopping about, and so far they seem to be faster than Willard since they’ve lasted a lot longer than the ladybugs did.
When the weather finally cleared, it was pretty funny to watch the change in all the critters. For the most part, the chickens abhor rain. They sit and sulk in their coop, or run underneath the deck where it stays mostly dry. Jimmy the Guinea is particularly vocal regarding his distaste for all things wet – he sits under the deck, right beneath the sliding glass door, and proceeds to squawk and complain for hours. But once the weather got warm and sunny, it was dust baths and foraging as far as they eye could see. One of the lady turkeys got particularly happy about the sun, and decided to go exploring in the front yard. Unfortunately I didn’t realize she was out there when I released the proverbial hounds for a potty break, and watched as Ceri treed the turkey on top of the roof. Luckily that’s not the first time she’s been up there, and after taunting the dog for awhile Constance meandered her way back to the pasture.
The only one happy with the rain is Bess Bess, who came up for her yearly visit. Last year I put her to work in the garden, and doing various other projects, and she felt a tad exploited. This time around she gets to curl up on the couch with a book and have a real vacation. Her favorite part so far has been playing with Raphael, although he seems to enjoy giving her random chomps. She must use tasty soap or something, because he doesn’t do that to anyone else.