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.
wizard
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.
sap
A close up of the maple sap steam.
syrup
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.
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Chick time is coming early

I got an incubator this year, so that I can hatch some new chickens.  I wanted one that I could hatch 50 eggs in.  I originally was planning on buying a Brinsea – they have a nice 50-egg model, but it’s like $500-$600.  That ended up being out of my budget. I went on the Backyard Chickens forums, and some people were recommending the Hova-bator Genesis 1588.  It ended up being a little over $200 – I bought an automatic egg turner with it.  It’s got digital settings for heat and it’s easy to set the humidity. With the egg turner we can just set it and not mess with it very often.

incubator
Here’s my new incubator. It has the automatic egg turner inside.
egg turner
Here’s the egg turner. You can get different ones for different kinds of birds. This was the one for chicken eggs.

My plan was to start hatching in mid-April, so that we would have warm enough outside temps by the time the chicks come that they wouldn’t be brooding in the house very long.  I opened up the incubator box last week to make sure the thing works, and to set it up.  The incubator comes preset to the correct temperatures, and for humidity you just put water into certain water channels inside it, depending on what humidity level you need. It came with very clear instructions. While reading, I found that they recommend you do a test hatch first, with a small number of eggs, to make sure you don’t need to tweak anything before you try hatching a bunch of eggs, or expensive eggs.  It turns out that we have time to do a test hatch.

I grabbed 8 eggs this week and they are sitting in the incubator. They should hatch April 12th.  Here they are in the incubator:

incubator with eggs
My test hatch – there are 7 varying shades of brown eggs, and one white egg from Escape Artist (my hen who likes to escape all the time).

So far the temp has been hovering in the 99.5-99.8 degree range, which I believe is a good level. We will see if we need to tweak it depending on how this hatch goes. If all goes well I will do my large hatch after April 12th.  I will be hatching eggs from our chickens, and I also found someone near here that has Black Copper Maran (chocolate shelled eggs) and Olive Egger eggs for sale – I spoke with them and they said they should have some in mid April that I can buy.  We also have a friend who has Easter Eggers (blue eggs), and he’s going to save some eggs for me for that week as well.  I’m excited to possibly get some hens that lay other colors of eggs.

I feel like we are a baby bird factory.  With the ducks we are brooding, and now chicks in the incubator, and another (larger) batch of chicks later, we are very busy.

Our ducks are growing very fast.  We’ve had them a week as of today. I believe they have doubled in size.  I have changed their brooder box 4 times – the first two times because they needed more room, and the last two because they are slobs.  We’ve been using cardboard boxes, two taped together, with plastic garbage bags taped around the bottom (to keep the floor dry).  Ducks love to play in their water.  A lot.  I was using a chick waterer at first, and then I devised a waterer using a disposable tupperware container – I cut holes in the lid so they can get their bills in, but not step in the water.  The waterer is sitting on a plastic tray in the brooder box.  The ducks still manage to get everything soaked.  They get water out with their bill, and then dibble it all over each other, and the plastic tray, and then they splash in the plastic tray.  So then their bedding (we’re using paper towels) gets soaked.  And they poop a lot just like chickens. So we are changing bedding a few times a day.  I think I will enjoy the chicks more this time because they are not as messy as the ducks.  Chicks poop a lot but they don’t play in their water nearly as much.

Here are some newer pictures of the ducks, I think they were upset I was taking pictures here, I woke them up from a nap and they were freaking out a little.