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Meet the Flock, part 2 January 26, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
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The Goofball Brothers

These handsome White Faced Black Spanish cockerels (young roosters) are very rare, especially in the U.S.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (a group dedicated to educating people about the diminishing numbers of many animal breeds) lists these striking birds as in critical need of preservation.  That means that there are fewer than 500 of them left in this country and that they may disappear entirely without new breeders to increase their numbers.  That is one of the reasons we have chosen to raise them.

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(Brother number 1 poses in his formal attire in hopes of wooing the “henfolk.”)

Last spring, when our hens began to go “broody” (decide to “set” and hatch eggs instead of lay them), I ordered fertile eggs from several breeders around the country.  After 21 days beneath their surrogate mother, six White Faced Black Spanish chicks peeked out from beneath her wing.  Unfortunately, predators claimed all but these two siblings before they were even three months old, so we will need to acquire new stock ourselves in order to do our part to preserve the breed.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that these identical brothers have never gotten proper individual names.  During their awkward adolescence, they came to be known collectively as the Goofball Brothers, mostly because it took them so much longer than the other cockerels to learn to crow well.  Their early attempts were quite comical.

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(Brother number 2 tries out his best cock-a-doodle-doo now that he’s learned how).

Even though they are good-looking guys, they don’t have the commanding presence that Percy does.  While Percy walks regally around the yard with his devoted entourage following him, the poor Goofball Brothers try in vain to impress a few straggling ladies and develop their own following.  It has yet to work.  At least they have each other for company.

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They grow up fast, don’t they? January 18, 2007

Posted by Joe in Family.
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Lydia turned 9 days old today. It seems like only yesterday since we brought her home from the hospital. For us, that’s more than just a figure of speech. The days have somewhat blurred together (as have the nights) since we brought the youngest member of the Webb family into our home. So in that sense, it truly does seem like one long day. 🙂

A very big thanks to Beck for spending the first several days with us, allowing us to get much more sleep than we otherwise would have been afforded. We also got several other projects around the home completed, too. She’s tireless.

Lydia’s doing absolutely great and, despite our interrupted sleep and the loss of a certain amount of spontaneity in our daily lives, it’s been wonderful having her a part of our family.

Laura is doing amazingly well, too. It simply astounds me that a woman can go with so little sleep for weeks on end and then somehow summon the strength to push through the delivery; not to mention having the strength to crush her husband’s hand as he whispers encouraging words through clenched teeth to her during the delivery. And then to top it all off, she can get up and walk around and take care of a newborn the very next day. And all that without so much as an Asprin or strip of old leather to chew on to dull the pain. Amazing. (Thanks, Anthony, for the reminder that real homesteaders would have used the leather).  🙂

By the way, I had the pleasure of cutting the umbilical cord with Lydia. I’m glad that Laura’s mind was elsewhere. She was planning to unleash a blood-curdling scream at the exact moment I snipped the cord. I wonder if they would have charged me for the smelling salts due to her little ‘joke’.

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
~ Psalm 127:3

Introducing Baby Lydia January 12, 2007

Posted by Laura in Family.
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After months of waiting, we are delighted to introduce Lydia Grace Webb.

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This had been an eventful pregnancy that had led us to believe that Lydia would follow the leading of her siblings and make an early appearance. We felt sure that we would have our new addition by, at the latest, Christmas, despite my January 19th due date. My body was showing its usual signs that we’d never make it to “term”.

But the days ticked by. Christmas came and went. New Year’s Eve rolled around and this busy baby seemed to be doing major renovations in her claustrophobic space. As we watched our tax credit fly out the window and our huge medical deductible roll over, all we could do was laugh at how she seemed to be settling in for a long stay. It appeared to us, as we watched my belly roll and shift, that she must be putting up mirrors to make the place seem roomier and doing some redecorating. (“This liver really would look better over there. Maybe we can work with these kidneys, but this appendix has got to go- I don’t even know what it does!”).

More days passed. I had several days when contractions went on for 10 or more hours and then suddenly stopped. I had to keep OB check-ups I never dreamed would be necessary. I was growing more and more enormous. Finally, to my astonishment, we began to talk about INDUCING labor- this after having only premature babies!

On Tuesday morning at 2:15, my water broke. We made our calls to let my mother-in-law know (we’d been under strict instructions to let her know in PLENTY of time for her to get here from AL for the birth) and to ask our dear friend Carol to come over (so we didn’t have to wake and take the kids). Then we hopped in the car and went straight to the hospital.

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A mere 3 ½ hours after my water broke (and another “natural childbirth”), we were holding our fourth child in our arms. It was a new experience for us to have a baby that was so healthy- they actually let us hold and nurse this one instead of whisking her away to the NICU!! It was so wonderful! We were discharged together today and are so glad to be home.

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(Benjamin and Rachel are so proud and have held and rocked her over and over. We are sure that Daniel, our third child, is smiling down from heaven also).

Despite the early notification and brisk rate of speed, unfortunately 3 ½ hours was not enough time to get Becky to the hospital in Nashville from Wetumpka. I can’t truthfully say I tried really hard to slow down my labor to wait for her- sorry Becky, I was in some pain- but I think she has forgiven me. She is staying the rest of the week to take care of us all.

After all the fuss and concern during this pregnancy that ended picture perfect, I have been reminded that God does not need my worry or even my planning- He had it all in control the whole time and obviously knew what He was doing. If we are blessed with a “next pregnancy,” I believe I will have a much easier time keeping in mind that all I’m doing is assisting God in a miracle- a rare privilege- and I’ll be more content to trustingly watch Him at work rather than try to anticipate things that may go awry.

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Lydia Grace Webb

Born at 5:45 a.m. on January 9, 2007

8 lbs, 15 oz.

21 inches long

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P.S. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all our wonderful family and friends who have faithfully prayed for us and helped us however they could. Many have already been to visit and/or have brought gifts to welcome Lydia. We are so grateful to be so loved. Thank you.

Meet the Flock, part 1 January 9, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
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We’ve been entertained by the personalities and antics of our flock of poultry since we moved here. It’s been fascinating and educational for us to witness “pecking order” in action, communication among the birds, the near miracle of hatching, the rapid development of the little fuzzballs, and the reality of mortality. We’ve become partial to many and given them names. Others blend together and demand little attention, but are good little layers nonetheless. We thought it might be fun to share some of their “stories” with you.

Percy

This is the king of the flock, so it seemed only right to introduce him first. He is the only one of the original chickens that has survived. He, by rights, owns the henhouse since he lived here before us.

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(Notice one of the Red Rock hens is hiding out behind “home base” Percy last summer).

Percy is a Jersey Giant cross. The Giants were bred in the later 1800’s as meat birds, but fell out of favor with commercial producers because they take a good bit longer to fill out. The average grocery store chicken is about 7-8 weeks old- imagine growing a bird from hatchling to 4 or 5 pounds in seven weeks! That special strain of bird has been bred and fed to gain weight at a rate so accelerated that most can no longer stand up after a month without breaking their own legs.

Giants become huge birds (in excess of 10 pounds), but at a natural pace and with a balance of bone and muscle. There isn’t any money to be made commercially these days selling meat birds grown as nature intended. Only small farms and poultry enthusiasts raise them today.

As roosters go, Percy is quite a gentleman, too. He carefully watches over “his girls” as they forage and frequently calls them over to show/give them some special morsel he has found. And you’ll never see Percy running down any of the ladies like some of the cavalier youngsters do. He’s always dignified and is well-respected by the “henfolk.” When the ladies are receiving the unwanted advances of one of the younger cockerels, they run and hide behind Percy. That stops the cockerels in their tracks. If he takes even one step in their direction, they turn tail and run. Percy never has to fight- just by sheer size and dignity, he is respected and no one challenges him. We dread the day Percy passes, but he is showing his age- he actually had gray sickle feathers last year after he molted. This year, they are very slow to grow in at all.

Pickle and Gherkin

Our daughter Rachel named a gray and tan Ameraucana hen Pickle. I don’t know if there was an actual reason of if she just liked the sound of the word when she was 3 ½. Regardless, the name has stuck and so Pickle’s daughter was named Gherkin.

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(Here Pickle has fluffed herself up to settle down for a nap in the sun on a chilly winter day).

Ameraucanas go by several names, including Easter Egg Chickens. They lay tinted eggs, mostly in the blue-green color range. The eggs are quite beautiful, especially when the birds first start laying. Some people inaccurately called them Araucanas, but those birds are actually from South America and are tailless. They are probably the breeding stock that eventually produced Ameraucanas, but they do look different.

Ameraucanas typically have “earmuffs” and “beards”- fluffy tufts of feathers on their cheeks and under their chins. They do have complete tails. Unlike other breeds that tend to have identical plumage patterns, Ameraucanas come in many different colors, so they are a pretty addition to the barnyard.

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(Not a great picture of Gherkin, but the best I could do.  She’s camera-shy and quick on her feet).

All of our “Easter Eggers” are curious birds, prone to flying over their fence when confined, and quick to investigate the dogs’ bowls and preen on the porch. When they hear me open the feed cans, I can count on at least one trying to fly up and into the can itself, too impatient to wait.

An “Eggs”ellent Business Opportunity January 8, 2007

Posted by Laura in Farm.
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(Okay, that was the corniest possible title we could have given this posting, but it just begged to be written).

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(Pictured here is part of today’s egg gathering. The beautiful blue-green ones come from our Ameracauna hens. The small off-white one is from our Frizzled bantam. The dark ones are from our Wellsummers and Penedesencas).

We have a flock of chickens that hovers around 50 or so in number. About a third of them are the (now grown up) day-old chicks we bought from Rural King the first spring we were here. With two exceptions, the rest have been added periodically by purchasing hatching eggs or by hybrid crosses our broody hens insisted on hiding out and hatching. It’s been a lot of fun to raise such variety. Some of the chickens are quite rare breeds, some are rather common, and some are downright silly, but they’ve made farm life interesting, all of them.

As soon as “the girls’” production exceeded our own demand for eggs, we began to give them away to friends at church and elderly neighbors. When we would go to the dentist or doctor, we’d take a carton along there, too. Before long, people began to call me The Egg Lady. (Egg Lady, ChickenMama… there seems to be a theme here).

Though we didn’t really intend to get into the egg business, one kind of evolved anyway. We had never charged anyone for our eggs- we kind of saw it as an opportunity or excuse to stop by and see folks or to treat people to something different and tell them about the rural life we treasured. Before long, though, we had people who refused to take the eggs if we didn’t accept something in return to at least go to the feeding of the birds.

We regularly took eggs to our closest neighbor since he is a country boy at heart. After several months of having a steady supply, he said he couldn’t ever eat store bought eggs again- that he’d even tried the “cage-free, organic, free-range” $3/dozen brown eggs from the grocery store once when our birds were molting and that those eggs just weren’t fit for eating. He said he’d just wait on “the girls” to start laying again. He offered to sell all our excess at work for us if we’d just keep him in eggs. And a little egg business began to develop.

A few months later, we were approached about setting up weekly delivery into Nashville to supply about as many as we could come up with. We were a bit surprised, but delighted to have the eggs so appreciated. So, word began to get out and interest grew. Now we even have a lady who drives 30 minutes to our house just to pick them up because she says they are the best eggs she’s been able to find anywhere.

At present, we can’t keep up with demand, so we are planning to expand our flock soon. We’ve been expecting a baby, so we’ll have to get past the sleep deprivation weeks before we take on the task of tending scores of day-old chicks again, but we are looking forward to getting more fuzzballs.

A number of people have asked if they can buy dressed chicken from us once they know we process our own birds for table use. At some time in the future, we’d like to start doing that, but we’ll need to build a lot more chicken tractors and a Whizbang Chicken Plucker before we’ll be ready. (Always a long list of projects we want to do around here).

We’ve also been working on a “Meet the Flock” insert to go with our eggs. People really seem to enjoy knowing where their food comes from and getting a personal look at the real, live animals that produce their food. Keep an eye out for some “Chicken Bios” in postings to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Game time January 4, 2007

Posted by Joe in Family.
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We play a lot of games around our house. Benjamin loves to play chess and Rachel loves Pretty, Pretty Princess. We also play Outburst, Battleship, and other classics.

But we don’t limit ourselves to board games; we play games with more a physical component, too. Sometimes we play Get Your Socks. It’s a game where you wrestle around on the floor trying to take off the other players’ socks. The one who collects the most socks wins.

Some of the best games, however, are games that we make up on the spur of the moment, ones that have never been played before.

Tonight we had one of those games. Laura bought the kids a Marble Race game. It’s a semi-educational game where you design a track for a marble to race down. You put together shoots, loops, curves, and the like to create a three-dimensional course for the marble to race through.

But we couldn’t leave it a just that. We decided to build a track that had multiple vortexes in it and then run multiple marbles simultaneously to see which marble finished first.

Before long, we each choose a colored marble and raced them down the track. To make it interesting the one who came in last got tickled.

Here are the kids anxiously awaiting the start of the race.

Apparently the louder you cheer for your marble, the faster it goes.

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Uh-oh! My marble came in last!

Run until they catch you!

Then suffer the consequences of your last place finish!

Whew!! That’s a tough game if you come in last a couple of times in a row.

Not much longer… January 3, 2007

Posted by Joe in Family.
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Surely, it cannot be much longer before baby Lydia makes her way into the world.