April Updates: Notes from a Farm Girl’s Homesteading Journal

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We are in the full swing of spring! Hope everyone is enjoying the month of April. Today’s post is a little Willow Lane Farm update about what’s happening around here.

New Laying Hens

The hens are here! So far I am very pleased with this flock of 15 mixed-breed layers. They are very quiet, friendly, and seem to be healthy. They are giving us about a dozen “pullet eggs” each day with lovely dark brown shells. One hen laying a light pink “tinted” egg, however, and another one lays a lighter-shelled brown egg with dark brown speckles. I love the variety.

april17.jpg
Some of the eggs are double yolkers! This happens most often when a hen is starting to lay. Most of the eggs are small, weighing in at around 1.6 oz., but this double yolk whopper tipped the scales at 2.6 oz.! Ouch!

The pullets are slowly starting to use the nest boxes that my dad designed and built for them (so sweet of him!). Each day more and more of the eggs I’m collecting are found in the nest boxes, so I feel that they’re starting to catch on! At first they didn’t know how to jump up onto the perch or nest box ledge, so my dad also built them a chicken ladder. They love it!

April12
My dad designed and built new nest boxes for the pullets. Let me know if this is something you are interested in reading a blog post about, as I’m sure he’d be willing to share the design!

These girls love their treats. I take them kitchen scraps every day, and they go crazy for them! They will not move out of my way when I walk into their coop, I practically step on them as they look for treats. Their favourite offering is bread. When I take them vegetables, they eat them (a bit reluctantly) and look at me as if to say “where’s our bread, lady? Bring us the good stuff!” It sure didn’t take long to tame these commercially-raise birds!

April8
Chicken ladder traffic jam

Chickens on the Range

We have started allowing our old Light Sussex Chickens to go out into the yard on days when the weather is nice and we are around. This has never happened before at our place, since I am so paranoid about predators. I know that living on a farm you occasionally lose a chicken or two this way, and that’s the way life is – they have happier lives out being chickens scratching around for bugs and roots and bathing in the sunshine. I am such a helicopter chicken parent, though – I check on them constantly and make sure the windows are open in case there is a ruckus and I need to run out. It is great to see them enjoying themselves! Once all of our infrastructure is moved to where we eventually want it this summer, I’d like to see them out in the garden area scratching around and catching bugs.

April13
Sussex hens enjoying some sunshine & fresh air

Broody Geese

Our American Buff Geese are nesting! We have a trio of geese, two females and a male. The geese now have their own pen and the day after we moved them, both females started to lay eggs and built a nest. The gander is incredibly aggressive right now, it’s difficult to even go into their pen to give them feed and water since he greets us with angry nips and beating wings. Geese are great parents, though, and the male should be involved with raising the young! It will be interesting to watch, if they indeed can manage to hatch some goslings.

I noticed the other day that one of the eggs in the nest was broken. We have had such a cold and damp stretch of weather it makes me wonder if they will have anything hatch at all. I leave it entirely up to them, though – they are young (not even a year old) but seem to have great parenting instincts!

April19
Betty the goose is building herself a nest in the corner of the pen; Archie the gander stands watch.

Both female geese laid eggs and took great interest in building the nest and sitting on the eggs. They would take turns sitting on the eggs for short periods and gathering materials for the nest and rearranging it. I could tell at that stage that they were just practicing and waiting for a big enough clutch of eggs to brood. The biggest dominant female has taken over the brooding duties now though, and she has been consistently sitting on the eggs for about a couple of weeks. This is all new to me, but I’ve read that goose eggs take 28 – 34 days to hatch, depending on the breed. So we will see, about mid-to-the-end of May what happens!

Duck Eggs

Our six female ducks are laying sporadically quite well overall. We will go for two or three days without any duck eggs, then all of a sudden we get five or six! We find them all over the duck area – in the duckhouse, in the pen on the ground, in the hay, and one was even in the frozen water tub one morning! The ducks are an entertaining bunch and I love seeing their cheerful little faces and hearing their loud antics.

Duck eggs are, of course, larger than a chicken egg. Duck eggs also contain a higher fat content than chicken eggs so they do have a slightly different flavour and texture. Many people enjoy baking with duck eggs for this reason. In fact, I just put a banana loaf in the over that was made using eggs from our quackers.

Those with an allergy to chicken eggs may find that they can handle eating duck eggs (as is the case with my mom). Some people do not enjoy the flavour, but I grew up eating duck eggs so I quite like them. Ducks do not tend to lay as productively as chickens and typically we only get eggs during the summer months. Luckily, duck eggs have a long “shelf life” in the fridge and can be kept fresh for a couple of months or more.

Wood Shed

Alex has begun work on a wood shed. He had several days off from his full-time job last week and he was hoping to get the thing completed then. He got a good start on it but unfortunately for the last stretch of his time off we got nothing but cold, wet, windy weather – exactly the opposite of what you want when working outside!

April10
Wood shed in progress

Hopefully this week he will be able to complete the shed and next on the docket for buildings will be our greenhouse! We are so very excited about that one. Due to this wet, cold, muddy weather we have a lot of spring cleaning catch-up to do around the place once things warm up and dry out. I’m anxious to get going in earnest!

Shelterbelt Update

We had our forms all ready to fax into the Prairie Shelterbelt Program with our order… and that same day I saw a memo on Facebook that they were sold out of all the trees we were wanting to get. So we ended up ordering from a different Western Canadian nursery, called Tree Time. On June 12th we will be receiving 90 caragana, 10 raspberry, and 10 saskatoon saplings. That will keep us busy planting and then watering over the spring and summer!

April9
New water tank

A couple of weeks ago we picked up a 473 L (125 gallon( water tank for the back of our truck to make it easier to water throughout the summer. I think it was a wise investment!

Garden Update

Finally this past weekend we got a couple of afternoons nice enough for me to get out into the garden. I was able to prep the soil in our “greenhouse” raised bed – the one with hoop tops covered in heavy-duty plastic sheeting to create a greenhouse-like environment for the plants in the bed within. The first afternoon I dug up any remaining old plants from the previous season, hoed the soil, watered it, amended it with peat moss, and then watered it again. I covered with the hoop tops and left overnight for the soil to heat and begin evaporating the moisture.

April16
Gardening in the snow

The next day it had snowed (!) overnight and all morning, but it did clear off a bit and became sunny so I was able to plant half of the greenhouse raised bed with onions, carrots, lettuce, radishes, beets, and spinach. The Sussex chickens were very interested in what I was up to and came to visit as I worked. Even though our weather is less than ideal at the moment, the seeds should still sprout in their “greenhouse” and be perfectly happy to start growing. I will try to plant the other half of this bed this week if I get a nice afternoon, and then continue on with my planting schedule where I can and making adjustments as I go, if necessary!

April15
My garden helpers

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