Sunday, August 31, 2014

And then there were 3

One of our Black Star Hens surprised us by coming down from a secret nest she had been sitting on, probably up in the hayloft in our barn, with four baby chicks.  Three of them were black with a yellow spot on their heads and one that was solid yellow. She was very sneaky.  We didn't even know that she was up there until 21 days later when she hopped down with her little biddies.

She's a very protective momma.  As you can see she fluffs up her feathers when I come near in order to make herself look larger than she really is.  She makes some different sounding clucking noises that probably tell her chicks that danger is nearby. I'm impressed at her strategy of protecting her chicks.  She doesn't venture far away from the fence and there is good reason for that.  If danger approaches, her little biddies run through the welded wire fence safely to the other side of the fence.  If I go on the other side of the fence, they dart back through to the other side.  This works well against predators like dogs, possums, people, etc.

Don't mess with me or my chicks!
Here you can see the four little chicks skedaddling over to the other side while momma hen gives them reconnaissance briefings about where the danger is.  As I said earlier, this is a great strategy...

Four little biddies across the fence and hiding in the weeds
An effective strategist must foresee other types of danger and this is where Momma Hen's plans went awry. This plan does not work during driving torrential rainstorms. We had a 2 1/2 downpour Saturday afternoon. Russ ran out once the deluge ended to check on the chicks and came running back with two chicks in his hands.  They were soaking wet and near lifeless.  Russ reported that the chicks must have gotten separated from the momma hen during the rain.  The yellow chick was perfectly fine and healthy under momma hen's feathers.  Two of the darker colored chicks were soaking wet and suffering with hypothermia.  The other darker colored chick was dead!

Before chicks get all their feathers, they really need the momma hen to keep them warm.  If you incubate them and there's no momma hen, that's why you use a heat lamp.  The chicks got wet, cold, and were unable to regulate their body temperature. Russ' quick thinking and action saved the two chicks' lives.  In mere minutes under the heat lamp, the little birds were dry, warm, and healthy.  Russ transported them back to the momma.  We started with four chicks... and then there were three...

This is just part of life.  Sometimes, even despite having good momma's, young ones are going to go astray.  (This works with people too.) The Good Lord gives animals instincts and they do the best they can, but sometimes catastrophes happen.  We do the best we can and move forward. A friend was over visiting and we recounted this story to her and she made the observation that the three dark colored chicks must be roosters (males).  I didn't catch it at first, but then realized that they aren't smart enough to come in out of the rain.  Ha ha...  Touche!!

24 of My Favorite Smells

Tricia and I often "take a trip down memory lane."  Do you do that?  Sometimes we'll get by the computer and pull up YouTube and listen to music from our childhood, high school, and college years.  It is amazing how listening to a song can bring you back, instantly teleporting you back years.  Another thing that can do that is scents, fragrances.  One whiff of a fragrance can also transport you back across space and time.  

In thinking about all things olfactory, I thought about making a list of smells that I like. The list isn't in any particular order - just as I thought of them.  Most of them have special memories or good remembrances to go along with them:

Sweet Olive Trees in Bloom:
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Sweet Olive trees blossoms are wonderful.  They bring me back to the 1984 - 1988 when I was at college at LSU, specifically on a sidewalk between Allen and Prescott Halls walking from the Quad toward Lockett Hall.  The sweet olives blooming there in that alley permeated the entire area.  Now you could smell that scent anywhere on campus, but that spot was the best.  If I smell sweet olive trees today, I'm 18 years old again!

Magnolia Blossoms

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Hardly anything says the South like magnolia trees.  I've always enjoyed looking at them, but the scent is the icing on the cake.  It has such a clean, fresh scent.  I'll break them off and bring them inside to enjoy the smell, but the white blooms turn brown much too quickly.  The smell, though, is something to remember.

Orange blossoms

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I've often thought that orange blossoms in the Spring is what Heaven will smell like. In the evenings when the smell seems the strongest, I'll stand out by the trees and just inhale deeply, savoring the nice aroma.


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Walking into a store that sells leather boots or saddles smells like craftsmanship.  It smells like the West - like wide open spaces and rugged individualism.

Royall Lyme After Shave

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Royall Lyme is an old time after shave lotion that is crisp, clean, and cooling.  It reminds me of being a kid, watching my Dad shave and slap this stuff on his face, looking forward to the day that I'd be big enough to shave.  Can you imagine?  I hate to shave now, but when I do, I love slapping some of this on, smelling the fresh scent and feeling the cooling pop against my face.

Charcoal being lit

This smell gets me every time.  I'll be out in the back yard or garden and I'll smell it. I don't know why, but this always smells better coming from the neighbor's pit.  I mean, it smells good when we light up our pit, but it smells better wafting over from the neighbor's barbecue pit, because you know you are NOT eating BBQ today and it makes you want some!

The first fire in the fireplace (when you walk outside and smell it)

Wintertime is a nice time.  I like to light fires in the fireplace.  I could sit in front of a glowing fireplace just staring into it for hours.  It is so relaxing.  I love opening up the french doors and walking out in the back yard and smelling the oak wood burning, filling the night sky with a country-type smell, making me thankful that cooler weather is finally here!

Fresh mowed grass

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Fresh mowed grass says Summertime!  It reminds me of enjoying the smell once I've finished mowing, knowing that the work is done, looking at the clean, uniform lines of the yard and maybe kicking off your shoes and running across it.  Watch out for stickers, though!

The smell right after a rain

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The smell after a rain is nice.  The smell of the rain on asphalt once the sun comes back out gets bonus points.  It reminds me of being a kid walking down Cottongin Road in Oberlin, Louisiana after a rain.  There was a pond that would overflow near Durio Cemetery Road and lots of little perch would swim out and find themselves in puddles on the asphalt road that ran by the farm.  The smell of the rain and the sunlight glimmering off of the colorful little fish flip flopping in the puddles is a nice memory.

Opening a new book

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I say a new book, but old books smell good too.  I like to read books and always have several that I'm reading at the same time.  I like to read them and smell them and that's probably why I don't have a Kindle. Do Kindles smell like books?

Coffee first thing in the morning

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This is a childhood smell for sure.  My Mom and Dad didn't drink coffee.  They drink hot tea and hot mint tea smells good.  But, when I would go spend the night with my grandparents, the smell that I would wake up to was coffee.  One set of Grandparents drank Community Coffee Dark Roast and the other set of Grandparents drank Seaport Between Medium and Dark Roast Coffee.  They each had distinctive smells that remind me of waking up and drinking what we called, "Coffee milk" and then either eating Rice Krispies with a bunch of sugar on top or Kaboom Cereal.

The old wood in an antique store

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Antique stores (an old houses) smell great to me.  They remind me of rich history, tradition, furniture made to last, quality goods that aren't disposable and simpler times.

The trinity of Cajun cooking (onion, bell pepper, and celery) sauteing

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If you come through the door when the trinity is in the bottom of a cast iron skillet, it is a foreshadowing to a great meal to follow and a signal to go ahead and let your belt out one notch.  The trinity of Cajun cooking is the genesis of simple, down-home, country Cajun cooking.  It lacks any fancy pretension and is the smell that makes you want to pull up a chair in the kitchen, put a cup of coffee on, and visit until the meal is served.

The way a baby smells

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Nothing says, new, hope, promise, and innocence like the smell of a new baby.  I'll never forget the excitement of holding our newborn babies, cupping the back of their heads in my hands and kissing their faces.  A memory that'll stick with me for life.

The smell of 2 cycle outboard motor just cranked

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This fragrance coupled with bluish white smoke coming off the water on a morning reminds me of the anticipation of the thrill of pulling bluegill bream from the sunken treetops at Toledo Bend Reservoir.  It is the smell that brings me back to riding in my grandfather's bass boat and feeling the waves gently pop, pop, pop against the bottom of the boat while the wind blew through my hair. With an ice chest full of Shasta assorted flavored soft drinks and Little Debbie Cakes ready to be consumed between unhooking the bream.  With fun times like that, who cares if your Little Debbie Oatmeal Cake is overpowered by the fishy smell on your hands?


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The smell of strips of bacon sizzling in a cast iron skillet in the morning will get you up and out of bed faster than a fire alarm.  Your nose leads you to the kitchen where you'll find a great breakfast waiting.  Then, the drippings in the bottom of the pan can be saved in a coffee cup and used for cooking other things.

An open bag of Sweet Feed

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If you've ever opened a bag of sweet feed and inhaled, you know what I'm talking about.  The sweetness, the aroma is so nice.  I think the first time I was exposed to the scent was as a young boy in 4-H showing sheep.  We had an old chest type freezer that no longer worked and we used it to store bags of sweet feed in.  I remember opening the freezer and smelling the wonderful smell.  As a related item, there was another feed product that we used called Calf Manna.  While not a sweet smell like sweet feed, Calf Manna had a really nice fragrance that reminds me of showing livestock as a young boy.

Paper from the old carbon copiers in elementary school

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I remember being in elementary school and the teacher would come in the classroom and pass out papers to the student sitting in the first desk on each row.  I recall vividly the smell of the papers.  Of course the first person would hold the entire stack of papers to their nose and sniff.  Everyone would do the same as they got the papers passed to them.  I remember the papers being sort of damp, fresh off the rollers of the mimeograph machine.  We'd smell the papers, take our test, and then go dust the erasers on the tree behind the cafeteria.  I don't think they dust erasers anymore. Chalkboards have probably been replaced by dry erase boards.

Sun tan lotion (coconut)

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I love the smell of sun tan lotion.  It reminds me of trips to the Alabama and Florida beaches when I was younger and the excitement of looking for shells, building sand castles, playing in the surf and relaxing. Sometimes I'll go into a store and unscrew the cap and squeeze the bottle, allowing memories of beach vacations to greet me right there on aisle 8.

Bread baking

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Bread has been baked for thousands of years and is called the staff of life because it is a basic, simple food that supports life.  Like the trinity of Cajun cooking, the aroma of fresh homemade bread baking in the oven is something that makes you linger around in the kitchen, watching the timer and getting some butter and a knife ready.


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Cedar lines many closets and when you open the door, it smells great.  We had a cedar closet growing up and that was a nice place to hide when playing hide and seek because of the smell.  The grains of the wood are so smooth and in addition to protecting your clothes from moths, the nice woodsy smell is a good memory.

Lighter pine

This scent never gets old.  I smell it every winter since we use lighter pine kindling to start the fires in our fireplace.  Some people call this fat pine or heart pine.  It is the center or heart of an old pine tree and we split it in skinny planks and stack by the french doors.  It ignites quickly since it is packed with the pine resin that smokes black when lit.  The smell is fresh, clean, and woodsy and reminds me of cool winter nights in front of the fireplace.


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I currently work at a helicopter company and when I walk to my office in the morning, I can often smell Jet A fuel (kerosene) as the fuel truck is fueling up helicopters prior to their crew change flights out to rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  I like the smell of jet fuel in the morning.


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I like the smell of diesel smoke coming from the exhaust of a tractor.  It reminds me of work on the family farm.  We had an old 4020 John Deere tractor on the farm like the one pictured above when I was growing up.  Those wide fenders were perfect for sitting on while Dad drove.  There was a hole in the middle of the fender lined with black rubber that was ideal for holding onto while you bounced along field while the smell of diesel from the exhaust passed by your nose.  Good memories, indeed!

Do fragrances do the same for you?  (Or am I crazy?)  What scents bring you back and remind you of special things?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Planting Fall Cucumbers with Benjamin

After our cucumber crop got absolutely decimated by worms and we didn't get to put up many jars of pickles, I consulted a vegetable gardening - month by month guide that publishes and found that August was still a good time to plant cucumbers for the Fall.  I quickly assembled my seeds, dirt, seed pots and planted Boston Pickling Cucumbers, Organic Pickling Cucumbers and Japanese Long Green Cucumbers.  I like the first two in the list because they are smaller size and crisp.  I like the latter because they are long and the seeds remain small.

The seeds all germinated at a very high percentage and I've been nurturing them on the back patio waiting for the most opportune time to transplant them in the soil.  It has either been scorching hot or soaking wet with rain every time I want to plant.  As I watered them yesterday, the cucumbers were sending out little tendrils that they use to attach to the structure they climb on.  It is time to get them in the ground!

Fall Cucumber Seedlings Grown from Seeds
I called Benjamin to come give me a hand.  I think that it is important to get young people involved in Agriculture and seeing the miracle of plant growth and the satisfaction that you get from growing and eating food that you produced.  Getting your hands dirty is a big plus, too!  We cleared a patch between the panels I use for the cucumbers to trellis on and the shallots.  The jungle-like growth on the other side of the panel is our sweet potato crop that comes up on its own each year.  The vines are really growing and so are the sweet potatoes beneath the soil.  I've seed some nice ones!

A spot for cucumbers
Benjamin is using an old knife rescued from a Good Will store to dig the holes for planting the cucumber seedlings.  Red electrical tape wrapped around the handle ensures that we'll never lose it!

Digging the hole
We pop the seedlings out of the seed pots and insert into the hole.  Most seed pots have two cucumber seedlings in them as insurance against poor germination.  Since cucumbers vine, we don't have to worry about overcrowding, so we don't thin out one of them.

Setting the plants in the hole
We add some soil to the hole and then straighten the seedlings up and lean them against the trellis so that we begin training them to attach themselves to the panels and grow upward.  If you don't do this, they'll run along the ground and get all tangled up in the shallots and sweet potatoes.

Adding dirt to the hole
Then we water the plant with about three handfuls of rainwater we've captured in a bucket and we pull some partially composted hay to cover the dirt.  We do this for several reasons.  First, the hay mulch acts as a barrier to thwart weed growth that might compete with the cucumber. Second, the hay mulch assists in keeping the sun from quickly evaporating the water in the soil.  This is important during the hot summer weather we're still experiencing.  Finally, that hay mulch will decompose and become part of the soil structure next year.  We always like to add organic matter to the soil.

Mulching with hay
With some favorable weather and a respite from bug and worm infestations, I might still be able to get some pickles canned.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll infest Benjamin with the same 'agriculture bug' that got me when my Grandpa and Dad introduced me to farming.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Friendly Bees

I've posted before about the bees that live at our house.  When they first moved in, I'll admit, I wanted them to move along, but now they've grown on me and we're sort of attached to them.  They live in the column that supports the overhang by our side door.  If there was a way that they could get into the roof of the house, they would be exterminated by me and a can of wasp & hornet spray in a skinny minute, but they can't since everything is sealed with vinyl siding.

There is a 1/4 inch gap between the top of the column and the bottom of the roof overhang and that is where they enter and exit the colony.  This was a brilliant choice of a home by the queen bee.

A column full of honeybees
It is a perfect place for them to live.  They are protected from the weather and from people (like me) that would want to steal their honey.  We love honey and use it in place of sugar.  We eat raw honey each and every day.  All day long the bees work, flying in and out of their hive.  In the evenings when they settle down, we stand by the column and you can hear the vibrations of the buzzing of thousands of bees.  It is kind of unsettling!

A little closer
On particularly warm afternoons, our bees become very active and fly around a lot. They've never stung any of our guests, but when they are really flying around, we bring visitors into our back door.  (Nothing says welcome like a swarm of bees!)

Sonnier Bees
When it gets really hot and humid, they cluster around the entrance to their hive and make 'beards.'  I wanted to read about why this occurrence happens, wondering if they were about to swarm.  

Bee bearding
Bee bearding is not about swarming, but is all about the bees attempting to regulate the temperature inside of the hive. During cold weather, they huddle together for warmth.  During hot weather, and particularly in an over-crowded hive, extreme temperatures brought about by the weather and close proximity of the bees in a confined area puts the colony is in danger.  If temperatures are too hot, the young brood could die.  Bees will fan their wings to cool things off and will exit the hive and beard by the entrance.  This cools the inside of the hive.

We're cool!
The bee bearding usually happens in the afternoon to early evening and in the morning, they are all back in the column as the temperature goes down overnight.  It is fascinating to me how they instinctively know how to regulate the temperature in order to help the colony survive.  Bearding is one of the techniques they use to do this. Now, I've seen people get bees to make beards on their bodies.  I would never do that in a million years.

Our bees are doing a good job pollinating the plants in the garden and our fruit trees and I hope they stick around.  I just wish there was a way to rob some of the honey without destroying the column!  My beekeeping friend has crafted a plan, but it involves the destruction of the column.  I don't think that's happening!  If you come visit us and are afraid of bees, knock on our back door, instead!  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Proof is on the Roof

Or perhaps it is now OFF the roof...  Here's what greeted me in the backyard when I got home from work two days ago:

Poof!  Blown right off the roof
Those would be exactly 9 architectural shingles of Atlas Pinnacle roofing material. Discouraging?  Yes. Unexpected? No, not really.  This post recounts the sad story of a construction disaster we're having at our house, but in the end, it ties in quite nicely to an agricultural story with a nice moral.  Grab a glass of sweet tea as I tell you about the Shingle Shenanigans.

We didn't have abnormally high winds that dislodged the shingles from the roof.  In fact, the reason I said that it wasn't unexpected that the shingles blew off is that you can almost count on them to fall just as you can count on the sun to come up in the East every morning.  We built our home back in 2001 and every so often for the past 10 years, we'll see roofing shingles in the yard or in the flower beds after minimal winds or rains.

The shingles you see littering the ground actually came from the West side of the house.  In the photo below you can see a large area from whence they came.  Only the tar paper remains protecting the plywood that covers the rafters.  If you look closely to the left of that spot, you can see a large section of shingles that are lighter colored and that would be the location of a large portion of the roof we had repaired last year when those shingles blew off.

The Goof on the roof
But it isn't just that side of the roof.  They are coming down on almost every side. You can see some about to fall to the left of the dormer window.

And some are coming off on the eastern side as evidenced below:

The roof is a 35 year roof.  Well, I didn't get a third of that time out of it.  I've had another roofer come and repair it several times, but finally a couple of months ago I called the insurance company and had two roofers and an insurance adjuster come look at it.  Independently, they all told me the same sad story:  The problems that I'm having with the roof is due to shoddy workmanship, not roofing materials, and thus the claim was denied.

The roofer that put up my roof 13 years ago did not do a quality job.  They used only 3 nails per shingle instead of the 4 to 6 that most roofers recommend.  The nails that they did put in were nailed much too high and not where they should have been nailed.  Finally, it appears that they had the pressure adjustment set way too high on the nail gun and many of the nails were driven completely through the shingle.  This created the perfect storm, if you will, that led up to this sad tale of woe.  My contractor no longer builds homes and the roofer no longer is in business and I'll have to put a new roof on my home about 20 years earlier than I was planning on it.

Although this is a pitiful story, it is not a story to attempt to solicit pity or sympathy. There are some valuable lessons to learn here and I don't want to miss them.  I've carefully placed those lessons from the Good Book below in a font color that appropriately matches the color of my missing shingles: 

Colossians 3:23 tells us, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the LORD, rather than for men..."


 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.  Ephesians 6: 7-8

This is an important lesson about doing a good job.  My Dad and grandfathers told me, "Son, a job worth doing is a job worth doing right."  They were right, you know. Doing a job halfway, taking shortcuts, reveals something about your character. Doing things 'just to get by' often looks great temporarily, and you might be able to hide it for a little while, but shoddy workmanship won't stand the test of time.  Once the winds begin to blow, things begin to fall, and often the innocent parties are left to deal with the consequences.  

I wish I could tell you that I've never taken shortcuts.  I can't tell you that. I have, but my intention is to give my LORD, my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, and my employer my very best.  Our roof is Exhibit A that reinforces the lesson that my Dad and grandpa's taught me. Do a quality job - one you can be proud of - one that will stand the test of time.  As I think about it, this lesson is also applicable in an agricultural setting and underscores why it is important to shop locally and purchase your food from local farmers.  

Purchasing food locally from farmers who grew it allows you to look them in the eye. You can size them up, assess their character, know them by name.  Their kids know yours.  You might go to church with them or see them at the Post Office or feed store in town.  They'll be here tomorrow and the next day and 14 years from now.  They are proud of their products, their craftsmanship, their artistry.  The last thing they would ever want to do is give you something that is second-rate, because they want you to come back again and again.  They take their vocation seriously and if and when "the winds blow," they'll make it right. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Hatch!

I mentioned in This post three weeks ago that Benjamin wanted to put some of our hens' eggs into our little incubator and hatch out some baby chicks.  We like to do this each year to insert 'fresh hens' into our flock. As hens get older, they lay fewer eggs. We've also had a few hens die of old age that we wanted to replace. So on Monday August 4th, Benjamin gathered the eggs from the nesting spots we have in the barn, chicken tractor, and hen house and we put them in the incubator that evening, marking the calendar 21 days in advance.  On the evening of Monday, August 25th, we should have babies!

We checked the thermostat on the incubator each day, ensuring that we maintained a fairly constant 98 - 100 degree temperature range.  We also kept the center reservoir full of water to provide humidity. (Not that we need additional humidity in South Louisiana!!)  On Saturday morning I planned to remove the egg rotator and set the eggs down on the screen and fill the remaining reservoirs with water in addition to removing the two plugs in the top of the incubator to allow for fresh air circulation.

Saturday morning, lo and behold, Tricia was awakened by a "Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!" noise coming from the incubator.  One had already hatched, so I hurriedly did my work and prepared for more baby chicks.  No matter how many times you do this, it is always exciting.  New life is a blessing!  Benjamin excitedly came running to watch the process unfold.

You can see the chicks using their beaks to break tiny holes in the eggs.

The early bird...
They continue pecking and pecking until they finally break the egg in two:

Getting claustrophobic in there!
With a little more work, the little bird is able to stretch and get his head out.

Now you are supposed to leave the top on the incubator so that the heating coils dry off the little birds, only opening it once a day when they are dry to remove the baby chicks to the brooder.

Drying off
It seems when once hatches, they all start popping out of their eggs.  Once they are dry, I'll remove them and remove the broken egg shells to allow for more room for the other chicks that are on the way.  Benjamin repeatedly ran to the incubator, looked through the windows and shouted, "Another one's on the way!"

They are so ugly when they first come out of the egg...

Not a beauty contestant!
But in no time at all, they become pretty little birds!

When the babies are dried off, we open the incubator and put them in a bucket and carry them outside.  I have our brooder set up in the garage, and we'll leave them there under a heat lamp and allow them to grow for a while before moving them out to the pasture on grass.

A 'Bucket of Chicken'
The first thing we do is Benjamin dunks their little heads into the waterer to allow them to get their first drink of water.

Then we put them under the heat lamp in the brooder that I've lined with hay.  They stay warm and continue to fully dry and gain their strength.  We have a little newspaper laid out with some Chick feed sprinkled on it. It is interesting how their instincts kick in and they start scratching and pecking at the feed almost immediately. Our brooder is a homemade contraption.  In true redneck form, we had an old sofa that I didn't feel like hauling to the dump, so I took it apart and used the lumber from the sofa frame to make a chicken brooder. The couch on which I used to lay, became a chick brooder where baby chicks play!

The Brooder
Since we have a number of different breeds of hens and roosters, the breeds will vary and there are many combinations of chicks of all colors/breeds.

Benjamin's favorite
In just a few hours the little puff balls are running around!  They are so healthy and playful.  It is hard to imagine that they were inside an egg just a short time ago.

The new babies
Out of 42 eggs we put in the incubator, we hatched out 29.  One died shortly after hatching, so we ended up with 28 chicks, resulting in a 67% hatch rate.  Not great, but not that bad.  I'm assuming that some of the eggs were not fertilized, but I'll confirm that later today.  

Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!

I'll take the eggs that didn't hatch and I'll dig a hole in the garden and throw them in the hole.  The contents of the egg will add to the soil.  Even though the eggs weren't fertile, they'll fertilize the garden soil and grow good crops.

Close up baby portraits
It'll be exciting to watch the chicks grow.  Generally, you can count on roughly 50% being females and 50% being males, meaning that we'll likely end up with 14 new hens. The 14 roosters will make a nice chicken fricassee!  The hens will generally start laying eggs in about 24 weeks. 
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