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Paring Down

November 6th, 2014

It’s that time of the year to whittle down the number of birds in my flock. While I’d love to keep them all, they are expensive to maintain over the winter when there is no pasture and I don’t like keeping too many birds cooped up in the winter. I’d rather overwinter a smaller flock so they have ample space.
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The guineas all get to stay, they provide the valuable service of tick control. Some of the muscovies will get to stay, I’m hoping to cut down to 2-5 birds. That means I have about 15-18 birds to get rid of. I’m also getting rid of all but one of my Ancona drakes.
With the 15 chickens that hatched out this summer I also need to cull a few roosters, there are probably 3 of those that need to head off to Iceland, otherwise the snowy days in the coop will be lively ones! The hens will stick around to augment our laying flock and make up for some of the predator losses from hawks we’ve sustained this fall.
Broody Hen Umbrella
This is the difficult part of keeping animals. While it would be nice to keep them all, the nature of keeping birds as livestock means that there are far fewer losses to predators and thus more survive. Their numbers will steadily grow until you have way too many birds. The good thing is that I don’t usually have too much trouble getting rid of them. In the spring I sold off most of my extra stock to make way for the new hatches this summer. I definitely am looking forward to paring down on the number of birds I maintain throughout the winter. Feeding fermented feed will be easier and cheaper if I can keep the number of birds below 40!

Do you have to pare down on any livestock for the winter?

The Circle of Life

May 20th, 2014

When you have animals you notice the circle of life.  On Sunday morning I went out to the coop to find our oldest hen had died during the night.  She was in her usual spot the night before when I counted everyone at bedtime, she must have died in her sleep right on her roost.  I’m happy she went this way, it’s no fun dealing with sick chickens.  She lived a long happy life, out foraging in the fields and have fun with her flock mates.
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We’re not sure how old she was, probably around 5 years old. She came to us with the house when we arrived a year and a half ago, she was an Isa Brown. We still have a few of these original hens left, but their numbers have dwindled by way of fox attacks.
Broody Hen Umbrella
Meanwhile, Broody Hen is being a wonderful mom, bringing up replacements for her. So goes the circle of life, there is birth and death; the young replace the sick, older or those lost through predation. It will be interesting to see how many of these little chicks are hens and how many are roosters. It seems in spring the new life cycle of this circle is most evident since this is the time when animals are hatching and birthing the subsequent generation.

Have you noticed new life in the garden?

Quote of the Day: Josh Kilmer-Purcell

March 3rd, 2013

I’d been selfish. I hadn’t yet realized that the true goal of organic farming wasn’t harvesting crops in spite of bugs, pests and predators. It was about harvesting crops alongside of them. It was about planting more than the amount we need. And it was about making sure there was enough extra to go around for everything that made it’s home on the farm. For every sparrow I’d killed in the netting on my cherry tree, there would be millions of fewer seeds spread over the fields from their droppings and millions of uneaten bugs, which would in turn attack our vegetable garden. We’d be paying for our unblemished cherries in some way or another for the rest of the season. Sure, we hadn’t sprayed chemicals all over the cherries. But we’d been just as deadly.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell (The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers)

When I read this book, this quote really resonated with me because of my stance on dealing with insects in the garden. You can read more about my methods and ideals for “pest” control in the post titled: Empty Shelves. I’d like to encourage you this gardening season to be proactive rather reactive when it comes to controlling pests.
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Put up a bird feeder, add a garden pond or small water feature, plant lots of plants that attract pollinators, add a few extra plants to share with nature. Realize that every action you take in the garden will have far reaching consequences, generally the opposite of what you were hoping for.
pond garden 2
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chickens and clarington forge
hummingbird on a line
Birds will be one of your greatest allies in the garden, anything you can do to attract and keep them will be of great benefit to your garden. Hummingbirds eat thousands of mosquitos, chickens eat loads of insects as do ducks. If you can have chickens and ducks, consider adding them. If not, put up a birdfeeder and a birdbath, plant things for our feathered friends and watch in amazement at how important of a garden partner they can be. I wrote and entire series on attracting birds to the garden for the Your Day Blog: For Our Feathered Friends.

In what ways do you think you are proactive instead of reactive when it comes to garden pests/problems?

Friday Favorite: For the Birds

April 27th, 2012

We love the birds that frequent the gardens of Chiot’s Run. I love watching them at the birdfeeder in winter, flitting around the gardens and nesting in the trees and birdhouses. Earlier this week I heard Mr Wren singing beautiful songs to me while I was out working and was happy to hear that he’s back. He’s already checking out the wren houses and will start building his nests, hoping one of them will attract a lovely lady wren.

The longer I garden here the more birds I see, not only in number but in variety as well. Birds aren’t just a pretty face in the garden, they provide valuable pest control. The more birds I have in my garden, the fewer pest problems I have. Wrens are especially great for cabbage worms, here at Chiot’s Run their broods hatch just about the time the cabbage worms are at their worst. Soon enough there are no cabbage worms in sight!

Another great thing about having lots of birds around is that you get to see them building nests and you get to watch the baby birds grow up and fledge. We have a robin that built a nest by our rain barrels the first year we put them up. They’ve come back to it every single year. I can’t get up and see the eggs, there’s not enough room, but I can spy the baby robins when they start to get big enough to barely fit in the nest.

We also have chickadees, hummingbirds, cardinals, finches, woodpeckers, and a few other varieties of birds that nest around here. Every year we see something new.

If you want to attract more birds to your garden there are a few things you can do:

*Don’t clean up your flowerbeds in the fall, allow seed producing plants to stand, this provides valuable food for the birds.

*When you want to add plants to your garden, focus on adding those that provide berries or seeds. For example, if you want a shrub rose, consider using ‘Rosa Rugosa’ which bloom beautifully, are very hardy and provide plentiful large hips in the fall for the birds.

*Add a source of clean water like a bird bath and refresh water regularly.

If I had to choose a favorite bird it would be the wren. I really love the male’s lovely song, I love watching them scurry around the garden gathering worms for their young and I especially love that they get used to me and will come almost right up next to me while I’m working and they’ll let me stand very close while feeding their young.

What’s your favorite bird to see in the garden?

If you want to read a little more about how to attract birds to your garden I did a whole series of posts about attracting and keeping birds in your garden, head on over to the Your Day Blog to read For Our Feathered Friends

Spring Cleaning is for the Birds

March 22nd, 2010

We do all we can for our little feathered friends, trying to make them at home here at Chiot’s Run and that includes feeding them all winter long and putting up birdhouses all over the garden. This is the time of year when you need to clean out all those little birdhouses, and get them ready for the new chicks.

Mr Chiots is also going to be fixing up the little condemned birdhouse that the wrens just loved last summer. It needs a new floor, good thing we have a bunch of scrap wood in the garage, perhaps a nice new cedar floor.

I took all the wren houses down and cleaned them out. We also have a bluebird box in a side garden, it didn’t get used last year, but I still checked it to make sure it didn’t need cleaned. The bird houses we have attached to the back of the garage also got a good cleaning, we had some black capped chickadees nest in them last summer.

Cleaning out the birdhouses is an educational experience. You can see how different kinds of birds build different nests. The wrens build tiny little nests out of lots of twigs. They filled up the houses with extra twigs to make their nests a specific size. The chickadees used lots of moss and other soft items from around the garden, even a bunch of dryer lint and wool rug fuzz from the vaccuum cleaner that I put in the compost pile.

Look how cute this little nest is. This is just about actual size. This past summer I could hear the little wrens chirping away in this box.

Do you put up birdhouses to attract birds to your gardens?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.