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.

trees tapped
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.
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.

sap on the stove
Sap on the stove.
A close up of the maple sap steam.
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.

incubator 4.6
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.
ducks in woods 2
Here they are heading back through the woods to the coop. They didn’t like that I came to take their picture.

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:

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

September in the Coop

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.

Here are some scenes from the coop:

Some of the ducks in the yard.
Two barred-rock-looking roosters. (They have feathered legs, so we’re not sure what kind they really are).
The General perching with some of the ladies. He’s missing his tail feathers (just went through a molt recently) so he looks really short.
Here’s the General with his tail-featherless butt.
This is the Easter Egger rooster.
Our black copper maran rooster.
Our white rooster from the first batch (our test batch) this year.  He is on the short-list for freezer camp, but he’s actually a really decent rooster, so we’ll see. That’s part of why we’re waiting to cull anyone: indecision.
Some of the perch-gang. Most of these ones tend to hang out in this room of the coop. There is our frizzled chicken (who is ALSO a rooster, we found), on the right. Our brahmas and speckled sussex from last year are on the left, and the others are Easter Eggers and some kind of crested hens. The black chicken in the front is a Black copper maran.
One of the Brahmas (from last year) and a production red hen (who is 2 years old).
These are some of the older ladies. They like to hang out in the front room of the coop.
Eggs! On top are the chicken eggs, and the bottom are all duck eggs. We are not getting any blue chicken eggs, just olive. We are not supposed to get blue duck eggs (we have pekins) but we do get them. So at least we get blue eggs from somewhere.

The coop is a very exciting place!

Late August around the farm

We’ve been very busy this month. I had family in town for a week or so, and we just have had a lot going on.  Here are some pics of what we’ve been up to:

carrots and beets
My carrots and beets. I picked all the carrots, may plant more and see if I can get them before we freeze. (Carrots that go through a freeze are sweeter anyway). I still have some beets to pick. This is the best carrot crop I’ve ever gotten (the most I have had at once) so I’m happy.
lots of eggs
Lots of eggs! Our ducks are laying – we have 7 females, and they almost are laying better than our chickens. The eggs on the left (blue/white) are all duck eggs. The ones on the right are chicken eggs.
duck butt egg
Some of the ducks are laying like 2 eggs a day. We find the regular, hard-shelled ones, and then strange soft shelled things. We found this butt-shaped egg. It was very soft, but I still would not have wanted to be that duck, trying to get that thing out.
Here is a newt my son found one day.
I’m getting some ripened tomatoes now. Yum! Here are some romas.
Our tiny pumpkins. These are “Wee-be little” – I did not realize they would be THIS small, but they are very cute. First success I’ve had with pumpkins.
tiny olive egg
We are starting, in the last couple of days, to get eggs from some of our olive/easter egger hens that I hatched from the hatching eggs I bought. We’ve gotten a smallish olive-tinted egg each day for the last few days, and today we got 2. Here is the first one we got, next to a white egg from an older hen.
watermelon sling
I have this watermelon growing, I was worried about it falling off the vine, so I made it a sling. If they come unattached they won’t keep ripening. It’s about the size of a large grapefruit now.
daniel corn
The ears on my son’s corn plants are getting big. He only has about 6-7 plants, but he should get enough corn to make him happy.
My sunflowers. These are the first two to bloom.

Strange little egg

I was out collecting eggs tonight found the smallest egg in one of the nesting boxes. It’s smaller than any starter egg I’ve ever found. My hens shouldn’t be laying starter eggs now anyway; they should all have been laying somewhat regularly by now. My youngest hens are just over a year old. The shell is normal, the egg is a little oblong, but otherwise it seems like a normal egg. Just very tiny.  We don’t have any bantam hens.  I hope it’s a one-time thing, but it is pretty interesting.  My son asked if he can eat it (once it’s clean, if I crack it and determine it’s edible, then I told him yes, he could have it).  Here are some pictures of the strange tiny egg:

tiny egg 2
Here the tiny egg is next to two of my normal sized eggs.
tiny egg
Here it is again next to a normal sized egg, in my not very large hands. I think this picture shows the scale a little better, though it’s a bit blurry.

What an interesting find. I’ll update you on what happens when I open it.



*** 5/3 Update! My son wanted me to hard boil the egg, instead of just cracking it into a pan. We hard boiled it, and then cut it in half lengthwise. Here is what we found:

weird egg
There was no yolk. The egg is shown on a small teaplate here.  I showed my son, and he didn’t want to eat it after seeing it. I’m glad. I don’t think I would eat that either.

We have not had any more small eggs, but we’ve found a couple that were the same color and are somewhat lopsided – normal sized eggs, but flatter on one side, like they were squished while forming.  So we may have a hen who is either starting to lay, starting to re-lay (maybe stopped over winter?) or getting ready to stop.  My oldest hens are only 2 so that shouldn’t be happening yet.

Mid winter chickens

The chickens venturing outside, waiting for me to come in and feed them.

We’ve had a couple of decently warm days.  Yesterday they were calling for a high of 37 degrees Fahrenheit, but we got to 48.  Today we were at least in the high 30s most of the day.  The days have been getting longer, and my chickens have been laying more eggs.  Their production had dropped way down in December, but it’s gone up now.  We were getting 3-5 eggs daily earlier this month, it’s now up to about 7-9 a day.

The chickens decided to venture out today a little. We also cleaned out the coop – it was easier with the warm temperatures. I had tried a couple weeks ago with highs in the 20s and their poop was frozen to the floor, so I just had to add bedding. Today I was able to actually scrape everything out before adding new bedding.  Getting the old stuff over to the compost bin wasn’t happening though; we have a huge snowbank in the way, from plowing our driveway. I have the old coop mess over to the side in a bin, and will move it once I can get over there.

I wash eggs on Sundays -we collect through the week and put them in the fridge until we can wash them up all at once.  I have noticed my “Escape Artist” chicken is laying again, we’ve had quite a few white eggs this past week. She’s the only white-egg layer.

The week’s eggs.

I’m glad the days are getting longer.  I can’t wait for spring.

Adding chicks (friends for Peepers)

Peepers Feb 13th
Peepers Feb 13th

Our plan was to get a new incubator and hatch some more eggs.  We wanted another batch quickly because I worry about Peepers being all alone.  I was going to save all the eggs from this weekend, buy an incubator this weekend, and start some new eggs tonight.

Thursday night I was washing some eggs, and I realized that the shells have gotten a bit thinner lately, because one broke while I was washing it.  They are usually pretty thick – when you crack them to cook, it takes a couple of hits to crack them.   Thin shells means the hens aren’t getting enough calcium.  We’ve been giving them corn along with their regular layer crumble because  it’s been super cold here lately –  the process of digesting corn helps the chickens stay warm.  It seems like they’re eating more corn and not enough layer food.   I have some oyster shell calcium and am now supplementing them with that to up their calcium intake.

A big problem with thin eggs, in terms of trying to raise chicks from them, is that they aren’t usually very viable.  They are more permeable to bacteria and stuff that aren’t so great for chicks.  I was worried that it may take a while for the eggs to get a little thicker, longer than I wanted to wait to start incubating a batch.

I decided for now to not get an incubator, and instead order some day old chicks.  I ended up ordering 15 chicks, straight run (which means they don’t sex them), and they will come the week of March 2nd.  That’s at least 2 weeks before they would have hatched had we started an incubator tonight.  The place I ordered from,, had a cool “Rare Breeds Assortment” which consists of extra chicks from their hatches of rarer breeds.   They have around 30 or so different breeds that may end up in our batch, so it will be a surprise.  They are all good egg laying breeds, and some are even different colored egg layers (blue eggs, dark chocolate eggs, olive eggs).   We will probably end up with some roosters, so we’ll have to figure out what to do with them all eventually, but I think everything will be good.

We are very excited to get our new chicks!

Peepers the lone chick

My chick Peepers
My chick Peepers

We wanted to get more chickens. My uncle gave me a really old incubator, that I believe was my Grandma’s.  I remember her hatching chicks when I was a very small child, so this thing is very, very old.  We attempted to hatch 11 eggs, and started incubating them at the end of December.  A day later, we realized one of our hens was being broody – she was sitting in a nesting box and wouldn’t come out when we were in there, even for treats.  I found out she was sitting on 2 eggs.

Eggs take about 21 days to hatch.  Around day 15, our incubator stopped working – the temperature should be around 99 to 100 degrees, and it was at 70 degrees. I tried fiddling with it and couldn’t get it to work.  So I candled the eggs to see if there was anything in them, figured out 5 were empty, and took the other 6 eggs and put them under my broody hen.

On the 22nd day since I started the incubation, I went in the morning to feed the chickens and heard peeping under the hen.  I took her out and saw one completely opened shell, but no chick.  I looked around their coop and found a dead chick across the room – I don’t know if it fell out and the other chickens killed it, or if it died because it was cold, or what exactly happened (I know they moved it, because there is no way it would have moved there on its own at that age).  I went back to the nest box and found the peeping sound was coming from an egg that was pipping  – pipping is where the chick is just starting to come out – they’ve made a hole in the egg.  I didn’t want it to hatch and get killed so I didn’t want to leave it under her.  I took that egg, and left the rest in under the hen, since they didn’t show any signs of hatching yet.

I had set up a box for the chicks in my house, and I put that pipping egg in the box under a heat lamp.  I opened the shell a tiny bit more, but figured the chick needs to do it on their own, so I left the egg there. Then I had to leave for work.

That night, I got home and the chick hadn’t made any progress, and I was worried because it looked like the egg was drying to his (her?) body where the heat lamp had dried it.  I helped the chick out of the egg the rest of the way, and started rubbing him to wake him up more.  He peeped a bit and seemed to be alive and healthy, but still needing help. I was worried the heat lamp may not be warm enough, but my body temperature is about what an incubator should be so I just held him the rest of the night in my hand while he fluffed up. He was doing well by the end of the night, and would even drink a little water.

I named him Peepers.  None of the other eggs hatched, and a couple days later I opened them all to see – the two the hen had originally sat on were not fertilized, and all the others either had dead chicks in them or were half developed or just gross old eggs. So Peepers is all alone.  I have a toy chick in his box with him and he seems to like his “friend,” and he’s been growing well.  He’s now 2 weeks old.

Peepers and friend
Peepers and his toy chick friend.

I probably won’t know what sex Peepers is until he’s an adult. I found out a way to see based on length of wing feathers, but you have to look when they are a day old, and that has passed. I heard that at industrial chicken farms they squeeze the chicks to see what sex parts come out (I guess a rooster will have more of a nub or something) but I wouldn’t want to hurt him.  I’m hoping he’s actually a she, because I don’t really need another rooster, but we’ll see what happens.

We still would like more chickens, so we will need to buy a new incubator soon.  For now I just have my little pal Peepers.