Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cherry Egger hens

Here's a cherry egger pullet.

And a flock of them, showing the range of reds they come in.

Cherry Eggers are a production breed, meaning they are a combination of breeds intended to maximize egg production. They are derived from Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire crosses.

One fan of the breed has this to say: "They are a large MULTIPURPOSE breed. Hens average 4.5 to 5 pounds and the cocks weigh from 7 to 9 pounds. They dress out nicely either as fryers or roasters. NOTED for their placid nature both as chicks and adults.Mine have always been very quiet and are not "spooky". They range our backyard behind a 4' fence and never attempt escape! Cherry Eggers provide EXCELLENT feed to egg conversion yielding approximately 250-300 eggs per hen per year and start laying at 20 weeks. These hens lay eggs that weigh in at 30 ounces per dozen which the USDA classifies as JUMBO. Year round the average is 18 eggs per day out of 24 hens. April & May was always 20+ eggs with 8 days of 24 eggs!"
Cackle Hatchery (where we bought them from) says: "Cherry Eggers lay big brown eggs and are a good winter layer.
Weights: Cockerel 8 lbs Pullets 6 lbs "

The main reason we decided to try this breed is for the winter laying potential. Our Red and Black Star hens have laid all winter, even though they weren't described as cold-weather layers, so hopefully these gals will outdo them. The chicks are in the pantry for now, in Stella's trough. We're hoping that a couple of weeks of human interaction will help them stay tame. But between the 3 breeds we have, the Cherry Eggers are the most flighty.

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Stella update - she's getting into the time where we can expect her to calve any day. So far we've noticed an almost daily change in the size of her teats and udder, and also the shape of her hip bones and belly. She seems tired and enjoys a bit of a backrub before eating. She is also really good about going in her milking stall and eating while we silly humans handle her. We'll get some pictures of her this weekend to show just how wide she is.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

New chicks in town!

Here they are! 5 Cherry Eggers, 5 Buff Orpingtons, and 5 Barred Rocks from Cackle Hatchery.

It didn't take long for them to figure out how to run amok under the heat lamp, toss food in the water, trample each other, and all the other day-old chickie kind of fun.

One little Buffy was nearly dead when we opened the shipping box. Sometimes they get chilled, and sometimes they just have issues. With some rest and electrolytes, she was doing slightly better, but she still might not make it. (She's the floppy-looking one on the right.) At least one of her sisters came over to cuddle with her. Stay tuned for an update, and more about the breeds we chose and why we chose them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Three-day weekend at Seven Trees

Before heading out for a day of chores, some of us enjoy a hearty breakfast. Magnus prefers to lounge.
Aha! Upon returning to the house for a break, we found the little miscreant shirking his chorelist for some recreational activities!
Unable to rise, Magnus does his impression of a hearth rug. (Disclaimer: No kitties were harmed or even intoxicated during this photoshoot.)
Stella's milking stall, mostly done. The wire panel in the foreground removes for milking access, and the cement pavers will help wear her hooves down while allowing decent clean up.
Crichton getting escorted to and from the barn, past the cat-chasing cow.Stewart, who has neither shame nor dignity, sunbathes in the front yard. Temps got into the 50's and all the critters had a great time outside.
Stella the skeptic, suspiciously inspecting her stall. She goes in and eats now, but it will take another couple days before she stops bolting out of it when we are close.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Hedging our bets

When you live in a small space, one method of getting the biggest bang for your buck is to make sure everything serves more than one purpose. Combining that guiding principle with an ancient agrarian practice is even more satisfying. Which brings me to today's topic - Hedgerows!
According to U. C. Master Gardener, Nancy Wilson: "A hedgerow is a line or grouping of trees, shrubs, perennials, herbs, annuals, grasses and vines planted along fence lines, property lines or water areas. Using a diversity of plant materials lures insects, which in turn bring beneficial predators such as other insects, birds, toads, frogs and lizards."

A poster of this beautiful NW hedgerow is available from Good Nature Publishing as well as other wonderful and informative nature-based art. The Seattle Times says: "To visually entice gardeners and farmers to consider hedgerows, King Conservation District recently commissioned a poster-sized field guide from local Good Nature Publishing Co. To capture the essence of hedgerows, Montreal artist Suzanne Duranceau shot six rolls of film at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island and Tolt-McDonald Park near Carnation. Her composite painting is a lovely hybrid of locations featuring more than 25 species of native flora and fauna found in or near Puget Sound hedgerows. With deer and ladybugs, cattails and wild roses, the poster illustrates a hedgerow separating farmland from wetland." The rest of the article has a lot more about creating urban hedgerows, especially in the PNW.

We've been intermittently working on hedgerows and/or habitat areas here at Seven Trees for the past few years. One year we planted shore pines, red-twig dogwoods and rugosa roses. The next year we added blueberries under the front fir grove, another rugosa, a climbing rose and 3 thornless blackberries (from the neighbor) along one fenceline. We also started adding native plants to our "mitigation zone" under the back fir grove, an area that had been abused by previous occupants parking cars there. Those plants include vine maples (one of my all time favorite natives), sword ferns, evergreen huckleberries, kinnikinik. Non-native additions are wintergreen, and assorted herbs (just to see if they'll like it there) like sage, calendula, moonflower, thyme, oregano & mugwort. And we also were joined by some bird-donated red elderberries. Speaking of birds, Bosky Dell Natives has an incredible page on which native plants attract what wildlife.

Native plant species often require less care once they are established, but food-producing plants can often be integrated in a hedgerow just as easily. The hedge we are working on at the end of our pasture includes Pacific crabapple, which is loved by birds, but also makes a tasty jelly and the juice can add a nice zip to cider. We also have mountain ash, with it's bright orange berries. A little less tasty to humans, but still edible, and another avian favorite. We have a few red alders which add nitrogen to the soil and can even provide firewood someday. There are little wild alders that sprouted in the herb bed and got moved to the corner, near the incense cedar we got for free at the co-op on Arbor Day. We're hoping they will break the flow of the southern monsoon winds, but are still far enough from any buildings to be safe if they blow over.

From a very informative article by Macphail Woods Nursery on Prince Edward Island: "Hedgerows, also called windbreaks or shelterbelts, once divided Island farms into a pattern of small fields. They provided shelter for livestock, protected houses and barns from winter winds and helped cool the buildings in the summer. The micro-climate in the fields was improved as the trees provided wind protection for the crops; the soil held heat and moisture and wind erosion was minimal. As farm mechanization increased the number of hedgerows decreased. Larger machines needed larger fields in which to manoeuvre. Soil erosion increased and important wildlife habitat corridors were lost as hedgerows were cut."

This year we're going to take advantage of our county's Conservation District plant sale and fill in any gaps in our hedgerows (as far as larger shrubs are concerned - smaller plants come later). On the shopping list are: black hawthorne (more edible berries and a nice thorny barrier), mock orange (because they smell lovely), some native roses, red flowering currants, serviceberries, beaked hazelnuts, Garry oak (our only native oak), and paper birches.

The conservation district mainly grows bulk native plants for replanting disturbed areas and mitigating wetlands. But each spring they sell to the public. The plants are small, but very cheap, and if you pre-order $100 or more, you can pick them up instead of fighting the crowds on sale day. Many areas of the US have similar programs. The National Association of Conservation Districts will point you in the right direction. Another great source for PNW natives is Burnt Ridge Nursery. They also sell fruiting plants and nut trees suitable for an edible landscape.

We're working with two main directions to the hedgerow plan - growing native plants, to take advantage of their natural hardiness and suitability to our climate; and filling the niches certain natives would normally fill with similar, food-producing varieties. This means where a native plant community would have huckleberries or twinberries in the undergrowth, we're planting blueberries. They have similar growing requirements, but produce much more food than the wild species. The medicinal/culinary herbs we've planted in back are an experiment in replacing the usual perennials and wildflowers with hardy adaptable plants we can make thorough use of. We're also learning ethnobotany (how the local tribes used all these native plants) as we go.

For people with smaller planting areas, this substitution method might be a workable way to add some habitat while increasing human-edible food production, with a minimum of care once the plants are well-established. For advice and ideas on how to plant your own hedgerow, check out the Master Gardener program in your area. Your local native plant society can also be a good resource in figuring out what to plant in your hedgerow.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Everything but the kitchen sink

Remember the cooler full of body parts we got back in November? Here's what happened to them....The chunks of heart and liver were thawed, chopped and sauteed, then tossed into the soup kettle to stew. Then it's time to clean out the pantry and freezer - leftovers that have been left over a bit too long, cans of veggies or soup or broth that need to be rotated out of the pantry, and so on. Nothing unhealthy or inedible, but a good opportunity to use food that needs to get used sooner than later.
Each kettle full yields about 6 quarts (the big jars) or 12 pints (the little jars). You can see a bit of difference in these 2 batches, reflecting the bit of variety of goodies we found to include. It's canned up (90 minutes at 10lbs.) in the pressure canner, and the dogs love it (and so do the kitties!) mixed into their dry food, and if we were ever snowed in long enough to use up all the people-food in the house, we could even eat it too.....maybe with a nice Chianti.
And here's Magnus- alias Maggie or Magnuts. Always happy to demonstrate good kitty posture!

Monday, February 04, 2008

What's new pussycat?

Look how wide Stella is now! We're making a stall to milk her in when the time comes, so now she has to get used to going in it for her grain & hay. It will just have a rail or two, to keep her from getting squirrelly or kicking, but still allow up to get as up close & personal as we need to.

Last night's dinner was an adaptation of "British Open Top Steak, Ale and Stilton Pub Style Pies" We made one giant "pie" instead of smaller tarts & used a pint of homebrewed IPA instead of English ale. It was really tasty, and leftovers should be even better tonight.

Lord Crichton, barely tolerating the paparazzi interrupting his majesty's nap. What a hard life!

Speaking of spoiled kitties - Mercia & Magnus have just about outgrown their favorite fireside basket. Somehow the sharing and caring always turns into a brawl, but here they are before the sibling love went sour.