We Have Squabs!

DSC_0018 I was in the coop today passing out corn and wheat and noticed that my first nesting female homer, the blue check, was not on her nest for like the first time ever. Since she’s nesting in a rather hidden spot that’s tough to see, I put my hand up to check what was in there and felt something warm and soft that could only be chicks.

I kind of expected that she might have chicks by now since she’s been on that nest a long time. I’m not sure how old these guys are but they’re fairly huge already. It will be exciting to watch them grow up. Should I kidnap them in a few weeks and hand raise them as pets? Decisions, decisions…

My other nesting pigeon, the white homer, abandoned her first nest and eggs for some reason, then transferred all the nesting material to the box next door and is now sitting again. Here’s hoping for at least a couple of pure white chicks to go with my blue checks.

 

The Chicken Dance

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This is Black Chicken, accomplice to White Chicken who will be finding a new home together soon because they can’t shut up

I’ve wanted chickens for as long as I can remember. Finally getting some was a learning curve. You don’t just “get chickens”, you begin doing the chicken dance.

Let’s forget about all the stuff like coop building, basic care and maintenance, parasites or integration of different birds. I’m talking about the fact that laying heritage breed chickens have a window of productivity from about 6 months of age to about three years old.  Before that they are chicks and after that they taper off laying and are generally replaced. On top of this, there are certain other things involved in keeping chickens I never really considered.

I started with three Buff Orpington chicks. One was a roo, so he had to go. One pullet was killed by a raccoon before the coop was fully finished. Then I got a Columbian Rock and a Red Rock chick. Both grew into nice, reliable hens. I bought two huge Blue Orpington girls. They starting breaking all the other eggs in the nest from their weight so they had to be resold. I got three Black Copper Maran chicks, one was a roo and had to go. Then one of the two hens was sold because I was getting too many eggs. After that I sold my last Buff Orpington because she kept going broody to the point of near-death and bought a nice Barred Rock pullet instead. Then I hatched some Easter Eggers, out of which I got one nice little pullet. Now I’m trying to sell my Columbian Rock and Red Rock hens because although they are great producers, they are just too noisy in the mornings and I have to sleep with a pillow over my head.

Once these two chatty ladies are gone I’ll be down to three hens. This seems like a good number since it’s just me here now, although the dogs do help me eat the eggs. I haven’t had any hens long enough yet to retire them, although I’ve “retired” a couple of hundred spent layers and roos from other local flocks. I’m curious to see how productive my hens remain as they age, if I can ever hold on to one long enough. This has also led to wanting hens that all lay different colored eggs, so I know what’s up.

I’m at the point where I don’t really want baby chicks anymore. They’re incredibly cute, but they take too much care before they can become good producers, if they even make it that far. I’ll probably stick to buying pullets or hens at the local poultry swaps or from online ads if I need more eggs, or let’s be honest, more chickens. I do really enjoy trying out the different breeds and learning about them. I can always sell them right?

The Pigeons are Nesting

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I’ve had a lot of different baby animals born here: rabbits, ducks, quail, chickens and mice. But one thing I have never had, and am very excited to finally have, are baby pigeons.

I think few people ever see baby pigeons, or squabs. They are naked, fed on a regurgitated “pigeon milk” by their doting parents and stay hidden away until they look mostly like adults.

Anyone lucky enough to get the opportunity to raise a young pigeon by hand, as I have, will know how amazing these birds are. They are so intelligent and loyal. Not to mention beautiful. I’m actually surprised more people don’t keep them as pets.

I have 16 homing pigeons right now. Six of those are pure white while the rest are blue bar and blue check. The white pigeons were given to me for free by a long time breeder who had lost most of his flock to hawks in late fall and couldn’t take it anymore. I’ll likely keep these birds captive and only fly their offspring occasionally in the summer months when it’s safer.

I love the idea of releasing your pigeon/dove and having it fly right back home as fast as it can.

To keep the white birds white I’ll need a separated loft, otherwise in a few generations everyone will revert back to wild type. That will get built this summer, fingers crossed. I have everyone living together in the chicken coop right now but that is proving to be too messy. Once the separate pigeon loft is constructed I’ll also be able to train my pigeons properly, since I can’t really get them hungry enough in the coop with so much extra food lying around. The plan is to get them trained to load into a box in the coop so they can be easily transported to the release site with minimal handling.

Here’s the technique I plan to use. Prepare to be amazed by the video below, this man is the pigeon-whisperer:

So far I think I have one all white couple who are sitting on eggs, and one blue check couple on another nest. The eggs are white and the size of large quail eggs. Gestation period is 17-19 days. I’ll keep you posted!

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Keeping an eye on me

 

Bestowing of Names

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Some people name their chickens. I guess I name my chickens too… There’s White Chicken, Black Chicken, Barred Rock Chicken, Other Black Chicken. But then there’s Other White Chicken.

You might recall that last fall I incubated my first-ever chicken eggs. A soggy carton of blue-green eggs that I had picked up for $12 at the poultry swap. You may also remember that I couldn’t make my egg turner work with both chicken and quail eggs, so the chicken eggs needed to be turned by hand. Three times a day for 19 days. 57 times. Was that all? Felt like 5700 times.

Out of those dozen eggs, three chicks hatched. Of those three, two were roosters who are now enjoying the festivities at freezer camp. What was left was a chubby, speckled white chicken with no comb or wattle, fluffy cheeks and green legs. Other White Chicken.

I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that I turned her egg myself three times a day or what, but OWC is like a little puppy dog. She has had a lot less socialization as a chick than my other current hens did, and her brothers were nothing special personality-wise. But from the very beginning she had attitude. As a day-old chick she would charge your hand if you put it in the brooder. She was aggressive and fearless and I always assumed she was the rooster and the other two were hens. Here’s a tip: If your chicks have lovely colors, they are roos. Kind of drab? Hens.

OWC is also a guard chicken, as my farm sitter can attest. Apparently she will fluff up and charge anyone but me who enters the coop and stare them down until they surrender. With me she runs at a perfect heel everywhere I go and begs to be picked up and petted on the head like a kitty. She refuses to sleep in the coop even in winter and instead flies up to sleep with the pigeons in the rafters. She’s also at the bottom of the pecking order, but she’s the youngest after all.

OWC is definitely a special chicken. I’ve had friendly chickens before, but nothing compared to her. It may be time to give her a proper name.

Dogsledding in Yellowknife

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I spent last week driving from Vancouver BC to Yellowknife NT with my boyfriend who is taking a journalism post up there.

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Yellowknife is COLD. Like -40 degrees cold. That didn’t stop us from fulfilling a longtime dream of mine by doing some authentic dogsledding.

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We went to Beck’s Kennels for our ride and had a fantastic time. There must have been about a hundred dogs there, all alaskan huskies which are purported to be a mix of husky, greyhound and some pointer. I was surprised that these slight-framed canines could survive outside in such extreme temperatures with only an insulated kennel lined with straw and a high calorie diet.

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We were some of the only white people there, with the majority of sledders being Japanese tourists. Apparently the Japanese are big fans of the northern lights.

Here’s a fantastic video my boyfriend made of the ride back from the remote cabin on the lake. Take note of the huge cracks in the ice at one point and the dogs taking gulps of snow as they run:

Back home I use my dogs to pull my bike and they know all their mushing commands, but up here the dogs know the way and you just hold on tight. My boyfriend and I kept commenting on how happy my wolf-mix would be as a sled dog. He loves the snow, pulls tirelessly and is numb to all pain. Almost makes me wish our winters here were snowier so I could put him in front of a real sled or some skis and watch him go.