Maple Syrup, and new friends on the way

We made maple syrup this year.  We started collecting at the end of March, when we still had a bunch of snow. We ended our collection after a couple of weeks because we had run out of room in our freezer and fridge for gallon jugs of sap.  The snow had been melting but then this last Thursday we got hit by the end of the Bomb-Cyclone storm that came up through the middle of the country – we only got 5 inches of snow here at the house though, but it made it look like winter again.  Below are some pictures from before that snow hit us.

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Here are some of the trees tapped this year. We only tapped three right at the edge of the yard, because there was a foot of snow around the trees when we first started. We collected sap for about 2 weeks. This picture was from right at the end of that time.
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Here is our cat Wizard, venturing outside on a nice day last week.

I planned on cooking the sap outside this year. I bought a big steam-table pan (I just searched for “maple syrup pan” on amazon) that would hold 22 quarts. We have a firepit already set up that I was going to set the pan over to cook the sap on; but then the day I planned on cooking everything up, it was pouring rain.  I ended up just doing it on the stove using two big canning pots. It took a full day on Sunday and then the evening Monday after work, but it is now complete.

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Sap on the stove.
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A close up of the maple sap steam.
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Syrup! We got 6 pint jars.

I also have some exciting news about chickens! Last April we got Bertram, our Russian Orloff rooster, from an ad on Craigslist. I was planning on ordering some chicks this year, but then I was contacted on Facebook by the lady I got Bertram from – she found me through this blog. She asked if I was interested in trading hatching eggs, since she still has another Russian Orloff and then we both get chicks from these roosters.  So we traded eggs – I saved pretty much all our eggs for a week, and gave her 1.5 dozen, and saved 11 for us. I received a dozen from her chickens, as well as nine eggs for Partridge Chanteclers that she got from another lady. So I have 32 eggs in the incubator, they started on 4/6.  I’m possibly going to end up with way too many chickens, but I didn’t want to waste any of the eggs I’d saved, or the ones I had gotten either.  I looked at the 3 previous hatches I did with this incubator in 2016, and we usually get about a 50% hatch rate from the original set put in – typically I candle and end up taking out about 25%, and then at the end another 25% don’t make it, so I’m figuring that is about what we’ll end up with – approximately 15 or 16. We’ll have to figure out what to do with any extra roosters, but I’ll worry about that later this summer.   We do need more hens since mine are becoming slackers – the youngest of my hens are 3 years old, from our 2016 hatches. From 16 hens currently, we are getting about 5 eggs per day if we are lucky.   I am excited for new chicken friends – Fingers crossed we don’t get mostly roosters.

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Here are the new chicks on the way! We have 32 eggs in here – I expect after candling we’ll have 20-25, maybe. I will candle the eggs this coming week (after 10 days in the incubator). The left 2 columns are Partridge Chanteclers, the middle two columns are mixed eggs from Bertram’s old home, and the 2 right columns are from my hens.

Our ducks are excited that it is finally spring – they’ve been searching for snow-melt puddles:

ducks in a puddle
Our ducks wandered to the puddle at the edge of our property last week – you can kind of see them in the middle of this picture here – (the houses are our neighbors behind us). This area is low and it tends to fill up in spring. The ducks love it.
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Here they are heading back through the woods to the coop. They didn’t like that I came to take their picture.
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New rooster, and more snow.

We got hit with a big snowstorm yesterday (as did most of the upper Midwest, and other parts of the country).  We probably got somewhere over 10 inches of snow, but it was very windy so it settled in drifts – some spots had no snow but in other spots there were swaths of snow that were over 3.5 feet tall.  Because of the way it settled I really am not sure exactly how much we got, but it was a lot.  And in mid April it is definitely unwelcome. I was looking back at old notes and realized that at this time a couple years ago I was putting my ducks in the pool outside to swim –  it was 70 degrees that day.  Last year I was putting in the onions. THIS year, I haven’t even seen my yard yet – there was a small bit of driveway exposed for awhile but that is all so far.  This coming weekend we’re supposed to be up in the upper 40s, so this snow is all going to melt and become a big mudpile. What fun!

We also added a new rooster the other day, since my old roosters both are gone.  The hens need someone to watch out for them, so I decided to look for a new one. I found him on Craigslist.  He’s a Russian Orloff, and I’ve named him Bertram. The name stuck in my head when I got him, so that’s his name. It fits pretty well, actually.  Here are some pics of the new rooster, and our yucky new snow:

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Here is Bertram, the Russian Orloff rooster. They are a very very cold hardy breed, and he doesn’t have much in the way of waddles or comb to get frostbit.
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As you can see here, he’s quite large. The hen next to him is a Copper Maran, so she’s a standard size hen. He’s probably about the size of a Brahma rooster, at least height wise. I have not weighed him so I don’t know how heavy he is. But he’s tall.
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He’s very nice to the hens, and they are getting along well with him. He’s ok with me too – he keeps an eye out to make sure of what I’m doing in there, but he has realized I’m the food-bringer, so I think that helps.
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Another picture of him in the coop.
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I got this cute pic of two of the ducks last week as well.
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Here are some deer out near the chicken fence. They cross through behind our property every evening, and they’ll come close to the fence sometimes looking for treats. They get the occasional apple or carrot thrown over and left for them to find.
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Here is the snow bank the other day. It was down a bit – this is the driveway-plow snowbank (created from plowing our driveway)- in winter, we can’t really get behind the chicken house. My son climbs this though and creates forts in it. Here it was on its way to sort-of melting…
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And here it is today. It is taller than my son with his arms outstretched. He’s just over 4 feet tall.
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Here is what the driveway looked like before we tried to plow/dig out cars this morning. I was worried the plow wouldn’t cut through that (where you can see to the right of the car, toward the road), but it did. The snow was really tall in spots but our plow handled it.
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Here was the swath of snow next to the truck – where I was standing there wasn’t any snow, because the wind had pushed it all up to the truck.
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Our back porch is now exactly level with the snow. The dogs walk right off the top step into the snow, as if we just have a patio out there.

Oh, so an update on my last post about syrup.  I was still cooking it down when I posted that day; right after posting, I decided to put the sap into a smaller pan to finish the cooking.  I chose too small of a pan, and ended up making maple sugar instead! The temperature got too high with the small pan. I thought I had made hard candy, but over a day or so it ended up crumbling. It’s quite nice in tea, but it was not what I was going for. After that day, we had some cold temps, so we didn’t get any sap for about a week.  This past week (before the storm) was really decent – we were getting 1/2 gallon per day from some trees, and one tree actually gave almost a gallon per day for a few days. Temperatures dipped Saturday when the storm was heading this way, so I just pulled the taps in for this year.  I ended up with about 9.5-10 gallons of sap through the week, and cooked them down yesterday:

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Here is the syrup!! Just about one quart (4 cups) total. 

I made sure to check the temperature this time and didn’t cook it to candy / sugar stage.

 

Coming out of winter into spring

It’s officially spring, but here in the U.P. we are just starting to come out of winter.  We still have a lot of snow, although this week we’ve had decent temperatures during the day (above freezing) so the snow is melting and turning driveways into mud. They freeze at night, luckily, so I was able to go to work this morning – my car wasn’t stuck in my muddy driveway. We are supposed to get a little bit of snow this week (3 inches, I heard) which is typical. Spring is usually like this.

This winter has been really hard – we lost both roosters. Big Red died in January, and The General died just a couple days ago. They both got really bad frostbite this winter – Red had it so bad his waddles got really swollen.  General’s toes got it really bad. I’m not sure if they eventually both died because of frostbite complications, but it’s possible. They both seemed to recover (and be feeling better) before they died, so I’m not sure. With chickens it’s sometimes hard to tell.    The frostbite came when we had a really bad cold spell in January.  The ducks sometimes make it hard to keep the moisture out of the coop as well, which can contribute to frostbite in the chickens. Roosters with larger combs/waddles are really susceptible, and both of our boys had them. We are very sad about losing our roosters.  Now we have 19 chickens (all hens), and three ducks.

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Here is General on the right, with one of our hens a couple years ago.
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Big Red – our Black Copper Maran rooster, this picture was from last year.

Today we let the chickens out into the yard for the first time this year – there is actually a bit of grass/muddy driveway for them to hang out in, instead of just snow. The ducks found a big icy puddle to dabble in – they loved that. Here are a few pictures from today:

happy hens
Here are some of the hens out in the yard today.
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There was really only a little bit of yard and the driveway for them to go in, but they enjoyed it.
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Another picture of hens in the driveway.
remaining pile
This is what remains of our snowbank in front of the coop.
ducks heading home
Here are the ducks heading back home.
sap buckets
We also tapped trees this week! Usually maple syrup time is earlier in March, but we didn’t have the necessary warm daytime temperatures till this week.
sap buckets 2
We’ve been getting just under a gallon a day of sap, with 8 buckets out.

Spring is on its way, luckily. I’m glad to see this winter mostly behind us.

 

December on the farm…

I haven’t posted in awhile – we’ve been really busy this fall.  Here are some updates:

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Here is our snowy yard today.  It took awhile to get this much – most of November we didn’t have any snow.  The chickens haven’t been coming out of the coop building much. I left the run open on days I was home until we got snow. Now the chickens don’t want to come outside anyway, and our white ducks might get lost if we let them out! They like the snow though.
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Here is Marigold, one of our female bunnies.
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Here is Petunia, Marigold’s sister. They were born this year in March.
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Here is Buddy, our male.
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The garden in winter. bleh. I’m already starting to plan next year’s garden!
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The back yard. The snow is pretty, but it gets to be tiresome after awhile. It’s nice through the Holidays and then I wish it would leave (it won’t for several months after, though).
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Our bird feeder is up, so the chickadees are happy. We kept it down in the summer, to prevent bears coming to our porch. The bears should be hibernating now.
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We lost our hen Specks a week or so ago. I thought she was egg bound or something (she was lethargic but still eating), so I treated her for that, but it didn’t seem to matter. We were very sad to lose her. She was a big personality in the flock. Very vocal about us coming in to get eggs. And very friendly -she liked being petted. We’ll miss her.
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This is a little older – here are a couple of pumpkins I ended up roasting. I made some pumpkin bread with the flesh, and froze some for later this winter.
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Here are all the tomatoes I canned this fall.

Late Summer around the farm

We’ve been up to a lot this last month – it still just keeps raining way too much, so everything tends to be sopping wet.  Some veggies are finally starting to produce/ripen. I’m hoping the rains don’t hurt the harvest – I’m worried about tomatoes splitting. Oh, and we’ve also already had frost warnings – some areas near me actually had frost a week or so ago, but we lucked out at the house and didn’t get any frost.  Here are some pics from the last few weeks:

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The garden mid-August. You can see the soaked muddy ground here.
sopping wet garden
Another pic from mid august.
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We found a visitor in the garden. He was huge! I wish the picture had turned out less fuzzy.
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Here are the chickens coming to see if we brought them any treats.
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A bubble – my son got a bubble wand from a birthday party, and we took some photos.
potatoes
Here is about half of the potato harvest. We harvested the last 4 (out of 8 or 9) bags. We really didn’t get a lot – I will try a different method next year (and keep the plants away from the chickens) – the food bags didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I think we planted more seed potatoes, weight-wise, than we harvested.
fuzzy raspberries
A fuzzy picture of our raspberries. I put them in a couple years back, and finally got a decent crop, BUT they don’t taste like raspberries. One berry had a hint of raspberry flavor. I’ve tried letting them ripen more but those just rotted, so it’s not that they’re not ripe enough. I’ll have to research this variety more. They are good, just not what I want them to taste like.
cherry tomatos
Our first ripened tomatoes of the season, on one of the cherry tomato plants.
early girl
Early Girl tomatoes – these are the next to ripen – this pic is from a few days ago but I noticed one is a little pink today.
black krim
Black Krim tomatoes. These will get red on the bottom when ripe. They keep this nice dark color on top.
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Blue beauty tomatoes. They are more of a purple tomato when ripe.
zinnias
Some beautiful Zinnias.
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Another Zinnia.
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A question mark made from potatoes – my husband set these up, using this silly shaped one we got.
large pumpkin
A large pumpkin waiting to ripen. It’s supposed to be an 8″ pie pumpkin variety, but this one is a bit larger than that.
small pumpkin
Here is a smaller pumpkin.
train depot
We sold some hens today – our 3 year olds and a two-year old. We’re trying to bring our food bill down for the coming winter. Here the ladies are waiting for their ride this morning. We now have 22 chickens (20 hens and 2 roosters). And 3 ducks.
early sept sunflowers
I took this really nice picture tonight – The sunflowers have some really nice flame colors.

Thanks for checking out our late summer pictures. Hopefully this rain will let up a bit and we’ll have a nice fall harvest.

A Beautiful Spring Day!

After a pretty schizophrenic winter, spring appears to finally be here.  We had big melts in January and February this winter, but I’m hoping the nice weather will stick this time.  This is the U.P., so it’s very likely we will get some snow again, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.  The last few days were kind of crummy – cold and rainy. But today it was finally sunny, and in the low 50s. We got some things done outside, and the animals enjoyed the sunshine.

snow remains
Our chicken coop – you can see our snowbanks are still here. Our yard is pretty much a mix of snow and muck right now. The sun should dry it out.
collecting sap
It’s Maple Syrup gathering time! There have been some weeks this winter where I heard others were tapping, but March is the correct month – when nights are below freezing but days are warmer.  I tapped them today and the sap is really running well.
tap in the tree
You can kind of see the drip of sap getting ready to fall into the bucket here.
daffodils
The ground thinks it’s really spring as well – the daffodils are coming up!
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Baby crocuses are coming up too!
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The chickens and ducks enjoyed the sunshine today – here’s our rooster Big Red.
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Here is The General, our other rooster.
chickens in the mud
The hens enjoying the sun. You can see the muddy ground here – there is a layer of mud on top of ice – the ground has not thawed yet.  Once it does the ground will dry out a little easier.
atat outside
Atat enjoying the sunshine.  At least that part of the yard is just dead grass, not mud.

I’m hoping spring weather sticks around for awhile.

 

Oodles and oodles of eggs

We are now getting tons of eggs.  With winter we are somewhat over-run. We are currently getting at least 15-20 chicken eggs a day from our 35 hens. That doesn’t count the 5-6 duck eggs per day we get from the 6 ducks. In the fall we started selling the eggs at the local farmers’ market, but that only runs June-October.  So for now, I sell what I can but we still have a LOT. So we eat a lot of eggs.  The chickens are possibly laying less because it’s wintertime – in the spring their production may even go up.  But the eggs are very pretty – we get all sorts of shades of browns, some almost pinks, some white eggs, and varying shades of greens.  Here are some cool pictures of the eggs:

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A ring of eggs.
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The various shades of brown, from dark to white.
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Here are the green eggs – they come in khaki, and light green, and someone even lays khaki with dark spots.
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Various shades all together.

Hen Hospital

We were out feeding the chickens tonight, and realized one of our hens has a wound on her back. She is now in our makeshift “hen hospital.”

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The hen when we first brought her inside, until we could figure out what to do with her for the night. You can see how she’s missing lots of feathers, even on her head.

She’s one of my Production Red hens from our first batch of chickens, so she’s almost 3 years old.  She has historically been one of the roosters’ favorites, so she tends to look a bit beat up, missing feathers from too much male attention.  She happens to be molting right now, so with the roosters jumping on her, she developed a sore on her back, and then someone else started pecking at it.  Chickens have a habit of pecking at anything that is red, which isn’t good if someone has a wound.  I just noticed the sore tonight, and it looked really bad, so I figured we would take her in at least to clean it up.  After taking a better look I decided we will keep her in for a few days to let her heal up and rest for a bit.

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Here you can see her back – she’s missing a lot of feathers, both from molting and from the rooster attention she gets.
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Here is a closer view of the sore before I cleaned it. It was pretty deep so I cleaned it with water, then used some hydrogen peroxide and then put on some antibiotic ointment.
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I put her in an old indoor rabbit cage, in my art room so that the dogs won’t bother her. Our cat Wizard has been visiting her though, but he’s pretty much the same size as she is.
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Another view of her in the cage.
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A view from above.

I’ll let her stay in for a few days, at least until she heals up. Then she’ll get to wear a chicken apron if it doesn’t seem to hurt her – sometimes with the molt it hurts them to wear one, or be touched at all.  An apron will prevent the roosters from digging their claws into her back. She is a little small for the aprons I have, so I may have to resize one to fit her.

 

 

As fall turns to winter…

We had a pretty mild autumn this year.  When I was growing up here, we were lucky if we didn’t have to wear snow suits under our Halloween costumes.  Snow has come later the last couple of years.  We finally got a couple inches the other night, the weekend before Thanksgiving.  For most of my chickens, and the ducks, this is their first time seeing snow. The chickens are not very excited about it – the ducks seem to like it a little. I think they will enjoy it more when it’s deeper – we really only got a dusting.

We’ve had a busy fall – we are now down to 41 chickens, and 6 ducks.  We took out 6 roosters a few weeks ago, and now we still have 6 remaining roosters.  There are a couple on the short-list for freezer camp, but we may wait till spring to take them out.  Below are some pictures of what our fall looked like, and of our new snow.

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Here was our driveway a couple of weeks back.
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Here is what our yard looks like now.
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Here is the back yard. We didn’t get much snow, but it’s enough to say Wintertime is here.
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Two of our roosters, Fluff-butt and Hekyll.
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The ducks – they weren’t sure what to make of the snow, but they seem to be enjoying hanging out there.
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Most of the chickens are staying in the coop – they seem confused by the snow.

A Nice Autumn Day

It was a bit chilly today, but the sun was out.  We have had colder temperatures lately, and the garden is mostly done. We had a couple of watermelons that just were not growing anymore.  My son asked if he could pick them today, so I said yes. I figured they weren’t ripe, but when we cut into the largest one (the one we’d set up a sling for, from previous posts), it actually had some pink to it. And it was surprisingly sweet tasting. So this was our first ever successful watermelon:

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Our watermelon, cut up.

For some reason (maybe the sunshine), I got the bright idea to let the chickens and ducks out of their run today.  We have had so much rain, and it rains so often, that we just haven’t gotten a chance to mow our lawn in the last couple weeks.  So I thought, since they’ll eat grass, and they’re hanging around in a semi-wet / muddy run, maybe they’d like to hang out in the yard for the day.  It wasn’t that unwise, I suppose.  It was just a cluster trying to get them back in. They wanted to hang out in the woods, and they found the sand pile for some much-needed dust baths, and didn’t want to give that up so easily.  They didn’t really do much “mowing” for us, but they enjoyed themselves. We got some good pictures:

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The slow spillage into the yard. We just left the door wide open – it didn’t take them very long to figure it out.
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Here they are, wandering around. They don’t usually stray too far from their home.
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Here they are near the sand pile.
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Basking in the sun.
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The ducks had fun too. They rooted around a bit – you can see one of them has a huge mudpile on her bill. I tried to catch her to clean that off but she was not cooperative. It came off later.
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Here is the General with some of his older-hen harem. They were weeding / de-bugging the strawberry patch.

We also moved the adult rabbits to their winter home, inside our entrance shed/mud room.  We got some new cages, and my husband has been putting them together and setting them up for us.  Last winter was really hard with our old setup, so we wanted to make it easier this year. Here are photos:

rabbit-cages
Here is the setup in our shed. They are all about chest high. We had to make sure they are taller than our dogs’ noses.
wind-day
Here is wind (now “Day” – we somehow changed their names in recent weeks).
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Here is Fire (her name is now “night”)
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Here is Buddy (he was Earth).

The cages are pretty nice, we got them from KW Cages. They have a slide-out tray for easy cleanup, which should make it really nice. The rabbits are getting settled in – they weren’t so sure at first but  they seem to be relaxing more tonight. We have a gate to the shed, so we can keep the nosy dogs out (Especially Atat, who is almost as tall as the cages, and very curious).  I think this will work well for winter.  We’ll get them set up outside again in spring.