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.
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.
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.
Our ducks are excited that it is finally spring – they’ve been searching for snow-melt puddles:
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.
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:
Spring is on its way, luckily. I’m glad to see this winter mostly behind us.
We’ve had a lot of rain (with snow intermixed here and there). Today was a nice day, so we let the chickens and ducks out of their run. Our yard and the surrounding woods are made up of some rolling terrain – we have some lower spots that have recently filled with water because of the large amounts of rain we’ve had. The ducks found one of these spots (and I swear they made it a little larger with all their dabbling). Here are some shots of them enjoying their temporary pond in the woods:
A nice spring evening. The ducks really enjoyed it, and so did we.
We’ve had a lot happening in the chicken/duck coop lately. The ducks are doing well in there with the chickens. It has been a little more humid when I open the coop in the morning, but some of that could be the fact that we are constantly getting rain – this summer was abnormally wet, and it has continued into September. Luckily the temps are more autumn-like. We started with straw bedding a couple years ago, which turned into cob on the floor – thanks to the ducks, the humidity moistened that cob layer so I was able to finally get it all off the floor today. They now have a super-clean freshly cleaned coop floor. (We switched to pine shavings and it’s been really nice – it doesn’t turn solid on the floor and it smells nice when you lay it down).
We have been getting eggs from the 2nd batch-hatch hens, and are up to about a dozen-plus a day. My third batch chickens are only 2 months old, so they will start laying later.
We have a whole lot of roosters, and more coming up. I gave one of our youngest, from the third batch, away to a friend who needed a rooster. With some of the youngest chickens it’s still hard to tell which gender they are, so we’ll have to see. We will have to cull some roosters, and I was planning on doing that a couple weeks ago, but I ended up waiting – they are still with us for the time being. We’ll probably start culling some when it gets a little cooler. I sold our lone bantam hen to someone who had other bantams. One of our large roosters mounted her and I was afraid he was going to kill her, so I rehomed her quickly.
Yesterday, my plan was to harvest all 10 ducks. Their pen was a big muddy mess, and we’ve been planning on doing it for months but things get in the way. Early yesterday, I got everything ready. I culled the three males first, and then one of the seven females. We decided to skin them because it’s (supposedly) easier than dealing with duck wax and everything to get the feathers out, and then you don’t have all the duck fat to deal with. As the day wore on, and I was working on the fourth duck, my husband thought maybe we should stop at the four we’d done. He said “why don’t we try putting the rest of them in with the chickens?” I agreed to that – doing all 10 was a daunting task – just the four we did wore us out and took a big chunk of the day. The big reason I wanted to harvest them all was their horribly messy pen – they make lots of mud, and slogging through that each day to feed and water them, and to get their eggs, was really hard. The house we built was really low also, and they loved to lay eggs way at the back, so we’d sometimes have to crawl in there to get the eggs. We would put new bedding in each night and by morning it would be sopping wet, so you’d be kneeling on sloppy old mucky bedding to get the eggs. The remaining ducks, now in the chicken coop, are not getting a pool. I may fill a small one (not in the pen) and let them play here and there, but they are not getting one in the run.
The ducks when we first put them into the coop.
They are getting used to being with the chickens.
The chickens are curious but not trying to add the ducks into their pecking order.
So far, the ducks are doing well with the chickens. Their pens were always right next to each other; they’ve been neighbors all summer, so they were somewhat used to each other already. We were worried the chickens may pick on them, but the ducks are larger than even our largest rooster, so the chickens are mostly keeping their distance.
Tonight, the ducks were starting to get the hang of the bedtime routine, and it was easier to get them to go in the coop with everyone else. We collected the chicken eggs and found that one of the Black Copper Marans is now laying eggs! We got a small, chocolate colored egg.
The old duck pen is going to be reclaimed back into the yard. It’s a soppy mess right now, since we drained the pool and then it rained last night, but I piled up all the “furniture” on the duck house, and then seeded it with a “chicken forage blend” which has clover and other stuff that will do nicely in our yard. Our yard is a little bit of grass, and a whole lot of other stuff anyway, so this should work fine.
We’ll see how this works with the ducks and chickens together. So far it’s going ok. If it doesn’t we’ll start talking about taking out the rest of the ducks. For now, they lay a lot of eggs, so they are “earning their keep.”
We have been very busy. Last week I went camping. While I was away, it seems that my garden has exploded. (It tends to do that when you don’t see it every day). I hatched hatch# 3 of chicks a couple days ago, and we found our first duck egg today! Here are some pictures of the latest happenings:
There has been a lot going on lately around here. After my last post, no more chicks hatched. We ended up with 22 hatched out of 42 for that batch. I candled the remaining eggs – 10 were empty, and 10 just didn’t hatch. And then a day or so later one of the chicks who had hatched died. So we now have 21 small chicks, and 4 larger chicks. I’m done with hatching for the year – we now have 43 chickens including our adults.
Here is one of our larger chicks, Escape Artist’s daughter:
We vaccinated the chicks for Marek’s last weekend. The older chicks were given it at the same time – may be a little late but it’s better than nothing. We only had the one vial and didn’t want to try to split it up, especially since this was the first time we’ve ever given it. My chickens from last year were all vaccinated at the hatchery. I don’t know if my 2-year-old chickens were vaccinated. Either they were or we don’t have Marek’s disease here, but I have heard that it is all over the place. I’ve read that it takes 2 weeks for the chicks to build up any immunity after being vaccinated, so next weekend we might move the older chicks outside. We were going to add another little chicken house for the youngsters, but we’ve decided we will do a split coop again – we have the room in the chicken house, with two separate rooms, and fenced runs on both sides, so we can keep them separate but all safe and comfortable. The smaller chicks will have to go out later – they are still too small. I’ll have to integrate them with the larger chicks when they do get moved, but there are so many smaller ones I think they’ll be able to hold their own against the 4 larger chicks then. Here is one of the smaller chicks:
We lost one of our ducks this week. We had a male (we think) who had some trouble with his feet – he wasn’t really able to keep up with the group when they were moving around, we had noticed. In their pen that didn’t matter so much, but earlier this week I was outside and noticed he seemed to be stuck in the pool. I don’t know if he got sick, or just got stuck in the pool and got too cold. I took him out and set him on the grass in the sunshine, and dried him off a little with a towel. I hoped he would get better, but he died a little while later. Here are our remaining 11 ducks:
The ducks always run away when you get near them. The chickens, much smarter, come running because they know people=food. Here are my chickens out today:
Our trees are starting to fill in. Springtime is in full swing, except we are in the U.P. So we got snow flurries today, and it didn’t even get in the 40s. It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days though. Here is our cherry tree in bloom:
Since spring is here, I’ve been planning the garden. We are using the same spaces as last year, and I’m making a new space for my son. He had a little flower-bed area last year but it didn’t get enough sunshine. I gave him a big square, about 8×8 or so, that used to have weeds and asparagus, and some old rhubarb. The rhubarb and weeds were the only things that really grew there. So he’s helping me clean it up. And we started our garden plans:
And we started seeds last weekend:
My strawberry patch is doing well. I put some new plants in this year. The old ones are growing well and spreading, and the new ones are doing ok. I need to make a cover in the next few weeks or so, to keep tiny creatures from stealing my berries this year.
My son and I were taking a walk last weekend and came across something extra delicious. I have been telling him and my husband about morels since we moved up to the U.P. and have not been able to find any. We found 4 in the woods last weekend. Not many, but it’s enough to show them what I was talking about, and let them have a taste. We haven’t had much rain this year, but now we know where we might be able to find them – I have been checking in that area again but haven’t seen much else, either because of the lack of rain, or because forest creatures are finding them first. Here are the morels we found:
We finished the ducks’ pen and house. They love it! They are not so excited to go inside their house at night, but we’ve found some ways to corral them into it. Here are some pictures of them in their new digs:
Our ducks are HUGE. Larger than I expected them to get. My uncle saw them and called them our cow-ducks, since they are so large. They are a lot of fun to watch, now that they are in their permanent spot in the yard.
Yesterday we finally got the ducks outside. Phew. My house now smells a lot better. They really like their new home. There is an old dog kennel that my Dad built many years ago, and last year my husband was converting it to a clubhouse for my son. It was still in transition, and we needed somewhere to put the ducks, so my son said he doesn’t mind if we use it for them temporarily. We want to set up something more permanent, with a fenced yard/run, and a kiddie pool for them.
Also, our snow is melting!! We have had temperatures in the 70s today and yesterday. And I’m seeing signs of spring. It was waiting patiently for the snow to melt. Take a look at our spring time yard and ducks:
While we were working on reinforcing the duck house, I realized I saw some green over near the woods. And other surprises as well:
Today was in the 70s and my son was very anxious to get his pool filled up. Like the ducks, he is also obsessed with water. The water was too cold for him to swim – it takes a few days to warm up when it comes out of our hose. But he realized after filling it awhile that it was situated on a hill anyway – it wouldn’t have been very evenly filled. So he said we could let the duck use it today, before dumping it out to move it to a more level spot. They were very happy about that.
The ducks had a blast in the pool, and then we had to force them out so we could put them away for the night. We got them out and they sat in the grass, preening. We had carried them over to the pool. But after their swim, they were soaked. We wanted to see if we could get them to walk back to their house, which is about 40-60 feet away, across the front yard and our driveway. We tried luring them with food, which didn’t work. We tried calling them, but they didn’t want to follow us. I finally realized that I could get them to move (in a group) if I walked behind them, kind of shuffling them in the direction I wanted them to go. They got the hang of it after a bit, and got half way or so across the yard. It was a long walk for them, compared to what they are used to, but it worked pretty well. It was a little slow going. Then we realized that if they were to walk across the driveway they would get really muddy. So we carried them across the driveway back to their house.