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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rhode Island Reds Laying Eggs (Blog 170)

We are thrilled that our heritage Rhode Island Red hens have started laying eggs in the past week.  When we purchased Sweetie Pie, Baby, and Tootsie from Brice Yokum of Sunbird Farms ( last May, he told us that since our hens were heritage birds, they would begin producing eggs later in their young lives than production hens would.  The upside of that, Brice said, is that our hens would produce more consistently and for a longer period of time than industrial hens would.

So during several cold December days of late, we have checked the nesting boxes in the hen house and have been overjoyed that eggs were within.  Already, the eggs have been part of some tasty omelets and other dishes.

Our alpha rooster Boss has also begun mating with our trio of pullets, and we are hoping that this spring, when the girls have become officially hens by the calendar, that at least one of them will become broody. 

But for now, we are quite content with gathering eggs for the table.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Snow Means No Go for Our Rhode Island Reds (Blog 169)

As eight-week-old chickens, our Rhode Island Reds came from Sunbird Farms in California last May, so it is understandable that they seemed a little, well, scared, when they experienced their first snow recently.  Although Rhode Island Reds have a reputation for being cold hardy, our quintet seemed genuinely fearful and perplexed when they awoke to find a dusting of snow covering the chicken run.

Our beta rooster Johnny is usually the most curious of our two rooster and three hen flock, but Johnny took one quick look outside and retreated back into the hen house.  This left matters up to the alpha male Boss ( a solid three inches taller than Johnny and quite a few ounces heavier, too).  All the courage Boss could summon up enabled him to extend his neck outside the doorway (picture below), cluck fretfully, and retreat back inside.
After such a display from the males, Sweetie Pie, Baby, and Tootsie did not even peek out of the opening.  All our chickens stayed inside until the weather warmed and the dusting evaporated. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Should Have Gone Deer Hunting (Blog 168)

As an avid deer hunter, I pride myself on being prepared, but here it is opening day of Virginia's late muzzleloader season and I am not on my way to the woods as I write this during the pre-dawn hours.
The forecast was for freezing rain/sleet/snow so I decided not to contact any of the Roanoke or Franklin County landowners where I have permission to hunt.

But upon awakening this morning, I found that the forecast has been changed and the precipitation will not begin until 11:00 A.M. Of course, I could go hunting here in Botetourt County (even on my own land behind the house) but it is the bucks only part of the season here.  The odds of my seeing a mature buck this morning behind my house are astronomical, especially since I have not observed a "shooter" here in probably close to eight years or maybe longer.

So here I sit frustrated.  I am sure the deer movement will be intense this morning as the storm front continues to approach.  I am silently promising myself not to be in this position again.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Walking with Elaine across Our Land (Blog 167)

This afternoon, Elaine and I took a walk around the perimeter of our 38 wooded acres on the seeded logging road that I designed three years ago when our dying Virginia pines were cut.  The trail loops from one end of our land to the other and perhaps covers a little less than half a mile.

Those folks who don't live in the country may not understand how pleasurable it is to just walk through your own woods.  We stopped often to look at individual trees and their progress, noted some oak trees that we had planted and how they were coming along, stopped one time when we heard a flock of turkeys about a hundred yards away, and checked on a crabapple tree that we had planted in a food plot.

I was especially pleased with the food plot and its progress since I replanted and revitalized it back in late summer.  Now, the plot supports lush growth - a good thing for wildlife as precious little hard and soft mast exists on our land and the surrounding mountainside.

After we finished walking the loop, we stopped by our chicken run and gave our Rhode Island Reds pieces of bread when they rushed out to greet us.  Nothing extraordinary happened on our way - some would say - but the richness of the experience - to us - brought
great joy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Freezer Full of Venison, A Long, Tall Woodpile (Blog 166)

Virginia's general firearms season ended yesterday with only the late bow and muzzleloader seasons to come in December and early January.  I have hunted a great deal and am exhausted from the season, which started on September 7 with the Urban Archery one.  I have killed 10 deer in Virginia and West Virginia, plus two Old Dominion fall turkeys so Elaine and I should have enough meat for 2014. We don't buy meat from supermarkets except for the occasional organic chicken.

I have long believed that the secret to killing deer is no secret, that just going and going afield is the way to be successful.  I went deer hunting 41 times to kill those 10 whitetails - a terrible success percentage in any kind of sport, game, or pastime.  I never saw a buck worth shooting, as the biggest one I espied all fall was a 2 1/2-year-old 6 pointer that I actually encountered when I was turkey hunting.  Yet, I don't mind my lack of success in locating a trophy buck.  Despite the constant drumbeat of big buck stories in the outdoor magazines I write for, I believe that most deer hunters are like me - that is, being thrilled when they kill a doe.

Our woodpile is also "long and tall," so Elaine and I are in good shape in that department, too.  My plans for December are to take other folks deer and turkey hunting and for me to try to kill a doe during the late muzzleloader season.  I also need to start work on some habitat improvement projects behind the house.  All in all, I look forward to being outside in December, especially during the holidays.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Amazing Sense of Smell of a Whitetail Deer (Blog 165)

Saturday afternoon, fellow school teacher Doak Harbison and I went deer hunting in Botetourt County.  We were afield in a blind that features an expansive field to the south and another field to the north of the blind.  To the west lies a bedding area and to the east a hedgerow.

The wind was coming out of the east and about 5:00 P.M., we saw a mature doe leaving the bedding area and heading toward us.  But at a distance of about 125 yards, the doe began acting extremely nervously and then began staring at our blind.

The doe's agitation continued for well over a minute when she seemed to settle down and resumed her course toward us.  She did so, we believed, because the wind temporarily died down at that moment.

But soon the wind increased to what it had been - about 15 mph -, the doe immediately stopped, resumed staring at the blind, then suddenly turned and fled.

I have observed the keen sense of smell of a whitetail many times before - and will no likely witness it again.  We hunters can cover ourselves with various scent prevention concoctions, but when the wind is not in our favor, I would speculate that most of the time our chances for success are doomed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Opening Day of Virginia's Firearms Deer Season (Blog 164)

Saturday was opening day of Virginia's firearms deer season, so I took my son Mark deer hunting on one of our properties in Craig County.  While discussing where to place my son so he would be safe and have a good chance to kill a deer, I positioned him high on a ridge. 

But walking away from him, I suddenly decided to move him further down the ridge, which I did.  Then I went to my ladder stand where I had planned to hunt from.  But I decided to hunt from the ground about 15 yards in front of the stand.

Both decisions turned out to cost us both deer.  For at 8:15, two deer walked under the stand and would have presented an extremely easy shot.  Instead, the whitetails spotted me, snorted, and fled.

Meanwhile around 9:30.  a deer walked in front of Mark, but he was too low on the ridge to see the deer clearly, which was also behind brush.  Before we went hunting, I told Mark that we had a 60% chance of killing one deer between us and a 25% of us both tagging one.

Instead because of my indecisiveness, we both went home empty handed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Lone Hermit Thrush and Deer Hunting in Virginia's Mountains (Blog 163)

The other day while I was high in a tree stand and bow hunting for deer in Virginia's mountains, a hermit thrush flew by, perched near me, and broke into song.  Hermit thrushes, close relatives to robins and bluebirds which live in Southwest Virginia year round, are fall and winter visitors to this part of the state.

I have uncommonly heard them sing in November and this lone bird's (is this why they have the appellation hermit in their name) willingness to warble his whistling, flute-like melody was most welcome on a day when I did not espy any whitetails.

For this blog, I have written a number of times about how much I enjoy combining bird watching with fishing and hunting.  Not long after the hermit thrush sang his melody, a lone white-throated sparrow likewise felt the need to do so.  For a moment, it was not mid November but a pleasant spring day. 

Most of the time in the fall and winter, I only hear two birds commonly sing: cardinals and Carolina wrens, the latter which, I am convinced, would belt out his "tea kettle" song during a blizzard if he so felt the need.  This is just one of many reasons why this wren is my favorite songbird and my second favorite bird overall behind only the wild turkey.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Boss and Johnny: Cockerels in Conflict? (Blog 162)

Elaine's and my decision to keep both of our seven-month-old cockerels in our chicken run is proving fascinating to watch.  When Boss crowed for the first time on September 11, we were very curious when Johnny would start.  Johnny first crowed on October 2 and when he did so, Boss immediately chased after him and pecked him hard on the back of the neck.

Johnny did not crow again for several days and this time when he did so, Boss once more chased after him.  Johnny quickly ran away to avoid a pecking, but he has not crowed since nor has he shown any interest in doing so.

Boss is a solid three inches taller than Johnny and is also much more "filled out" in appearance.  Boss crows every morning, but he has yet to master the full "cock-a-doodle-do." The crow is more of a "cock-a-doo" then there is sort of an "after shock" and almost a grumbling sound is emitted.

Boss also has to flap a great deal to send forth his gobbles.  In short, he has not mastered the art of crowing yet.  But two things are definitely certain:  Boss does not take kindly to Johnny asserting his masculinity, and the former definitely rules the chicken run.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Opening Day of Virginia's Fall Turkey Season (Blog 161)

Today was opening day of Virginia's fall turkey season and is my custom I headed for a Franklin County farm where I often go to pursue these big game birds.  As I have written many times, I enjoy bird watching while hunting, and today was no exception.

One of the neatest birds I observed today was a golden-crowned kinglet that flitted by my position.  Soon afterwards, two more kinglets arrived and I was entertained by their "tinkling" chatter.  Another high point was three crows flying into my position as I was emitting turkey sounds.  No doubt, the crows were lured in by the turkey yelps I had emitted, as the trio probably flew in to harass the turkey they were sure was there.  When the crows saw my camouflaged form shift slightly, they flew away, rancorously protesting.

Later, I saw a phoebe fly by and then perch on a limb.  Phoebes now sometimes spend the winter in my area, something that used not to happen, at least from my experience.

Oh, a little while later, I did call in and kill a turkey -one of many highpoints of a day in the autumn woods

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fawn with Spots Observed (Blog 160)

One of the most interesting things I have seen this week while deer hunting after school was a fawn with spots.  Also of note was the fact that the deer still had its reddish summer coat.

Very little hard mast in the form of acorns exists in the Virginia and West Virginia woods where I have been afield and such staples as wild grapes and persimmons also seem to be lacking in the places where I have been as well.

Given the lack of food, I really wonder if this fawn has much of a chance of survival.  I observed it twice this week, once when it was alone and the second time when it was with a matriarchal doe unit.  Being part of such a group should certainly help the whitetail's chances of living through the winter.

On the other hand, Mother Nature is a notoriously cruel mistress, and a cold winter alone could spell doom for the fawn, let alone predators and a scarcity of food.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Morning on Deer Stand (Blog 159)

Tuesday, I killed a doe while bowhunting after school, but, by far, the most interesting day afield was Wednesday morning when I was able  to hunt until 10:00 A.M (school didn't start until 12:30 because of a conference day). That's because of the interesting things I was able to see.

For example, on that day I spent the morning on one of our properties in Craig County, Virginia.  I had never seen any grouse on this land but one flew by my stand around 8:00 A.M.  The ruff's appearance was likely made more likely by the clearcuts I have had done in 2009 and earlier this year.

Later, I observed three young red-tailed hawks in the clearcut below my stand.  They spent the morning chasing each other - for all the world it looked like they were playing some form of aerial tag.  The trio also periodically attacked gray squirrels, but they did not seem to have any luck in their hunting.  The gray squirrels were extremely agitated about the non-stop bombardments and chattered angrily all morning.

I was hoping to see or hear some early migratory birds such as kinglets or juncos, but none appeared.  I did note that the grackles flocked together in massive numbers and apparently have left the area.  Fall mornings on deer stand are often fascinating.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Opening Day of Virginia's Bow Season (Blog 158)

Although I had been bowhunting for four weeks during Virginia's urban archery season, there was still great anticipation in going hunting in Craig County this morning for the start of the regular archery season.

At 8:20, I saw my first deer, but the doe was 60 yards away and heading away from me.  But a few minutes later, I spotted four does and they were all heading toward me.  I began to breathe harder, positioned myself for the shot, and waited for them to arrive.  However, when they quartet moved to within 50 yards, they stopped coming and even bedded down.

And there they remained until 6:20 when one doe arose and headed away from me.  Where the other three went, I have no idea.  I had meant to go back to my XTerra for lunch, but I decided that doing so would spook the bedded whitetails.

So, counting the time I spent on stand in the dark, I ended up being in a tree stand today for 13 hours and 15 minutes and never came close to shooting at a deer.  Such is bowhunting sometimes.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Picking Paw Paws on a Sunday Afternoon in the Virginia Mountains (Blog 157)

Last Sunday, I spent part of the day roaming through the woods with my daughter Sarah and son Mark.  We first looked for a place to me to hang a tree stand after locating acorns on a mountain flat, but the main event was still to come.
Our main reason for taking to the mountains together was to pick paw paws, a native fruit that ripens in mid to late September.  Paw paws taste a little like bananas, some folks even call them mountain bananas.  But it is at this time of year that paw paws begin to turn brown from green meaning they are starting to reach their peak of flavor.
Paw paws are so prized by wildlife, such as deer, bear, turkeys, squirrels, and many songbirds, that if we wait until they are fully ripe and have fallen to the ground, they simply won’t be around to gather.  That’s why I like to go paw pawing when the fruits are just starting to turn.
Sarah, Mark, and I managed to pick a half bucket or so of paw paws, not a big haul certainly.  But once they fully ripen, and we can gather some walnuts, we will have the makings for a real taste sensation: Paw Paw and Walnut Bread.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sitting in a Tree Stand, Listening to Night Sounds (Blog 156)

With the goal of not spooking any deer, I arrived at my Roanoke County, Virginia tree stand during the state's urban archery season extra early this morning.  A heavy fog caused me to drive slowly to the property, but I still managed to arrive about an hour before sunrise.  Not long after arriving, I sat through a performance of a variety of creatures.

Just minutes after I had settled into the stand, I heard a rustling of leaves and feared that a whitetail had already shown up.  But the source was a squirrel that had decided to begin its nut cracking extra early.  Next was a barred owl which began to belt out "who cooks for you, waaaaah" for my pleasure.

I then expected to hear a great-horned owl or perhaps a screech owl to lend their voices, but that did not happen.  Instead a killdeer made its trademark sound, giving this avian the title of the second species to greet the morn.

As daybreak grew closer, more birds began to join in: pileated woodpeckers, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatches, and, of course, crows and ravens.  Later, Carolina chickadees, Carolina wrens, red-bellied woodpeckers, and downy woodpeckers announced that they too were awake.

Interestingly, I did hear a screech owl but it was not until 9:00 A.M. And I did not see but one deer all morning and that one at 9:18 and some 100 yards away.  The deer hunting was poor, but the birding, as it is most days, was interesting.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Boss Crows (Blog 155)

Bruce Springsteen may be called "The Boss," but in our backyard, he who goes by that name is our  5 1/2-month-old cockerel, Boss.  And at no time since our five heritage Rhode Island Reds (Boss, Johnny, Sweetie Pie, Baby, and Tootsie) arrived last May was this so apparent as it was Wednesday morning when Boss crowed for the first time.

As is his wont, Boss was the first one out of the henhouse, and as I was watching, I noted that he seemed more virile, I guess is the word.  He shook himself, stretched his neck, then emitted a screechy, quarter formed crow with no ending whatsoever.

"Elaine, Elaine," I yelled, and she quickly came running from the house.
"Boss just crowed for the first time, did you hear?"
"No," said Elaine.
But as if on cue, Boss sent forth three more crows, all as weak, poorly formed, and truncated as the first one.
But crows they were as our young cockerel is on his way to being a rooster.  I am so proud of my boy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

First Deer of the Season (Blog 154)

Today is the first day of Virginia's Urban Archery Season, so I went hunting in Roanoke County on a parcel where I have permission.  I have hunted this property a number of times before, and the landowner has asked me to park in one of two places, either by a fence line or next to the barn.

So with high hopes of bringing home a doe, I arrived at the property well before sunrise.  I drove up the lane, unhooked the gate, drove through re-hooked it, and headed toward the barn where I prefer to park.  The barn is only 200 hundred yards from the gate and a "straight shoot." 

Yet somehow I became confused in the dark, bumbled off the track, and couldn't find the barn.  Finally, I re-found the lane, located the barn, and scrambled out of my vehicle with the landscape beginning to lighten.

I then scooted toward the woodlot, some 300 yards distant, found my tree stand, climbed the steps, secured my safety harness, and hand-lined up my bow.  Breathing hard, I noted that dawn had arrived.

Five minutes later at the early stages of shooting light, a doe appeared, and I arrowed her at 6:48.  And after arriving home, Elaine and I spent much of the next three hours, with help from our son-in-law David, butchering the first deer of the season.  I was angry with myself for my nocturnal confusion, but as the proverb states..."sometimes it is better to be lucky than good." I did not do a good job as a deer hunter today, but I was very fortunate to tag a doe.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Scouting for Deer (Blog 153)

Today, I spent much of the mid-afternoon period rambling over two Roanoke County farms as part of my preparation for the county's urban archery season.  Visits to both farms, as well as my earlier pre-season jaunts around Elaine's and my Botetourt County parcel, indicate that acorns are going to be scarce this autumn.

I only found about a half dozen white oak and scarlet oak acorns and they were not overly big for the species.  Although of course, conditions can change, my pre-season hunch is that Southwest Virginia's whitetails will need to be visiting fields and agricultural areas if the animals want nourishment.

Again, though, autumn has not even officially arrived and much can change between now and early October. But I would still doubt that hard mast will be abundant come autumn.

What about soft mast?  Friday, I did locate some persimmons on a tree in our yard and have made note of some grapes.  I would be interested in hearing from other bowhunters.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Elaine and the Corn Snake (Blog 152)

Thursday morning before school, I was working on a magazine article upstairs in my office.  Suddenly, I heard a scream then "Come down here right now!"

Elaine was babysitting our grandson Sam, and I was afraid that something had happened to him.  Bounding down the stairs, I was greeted with another shriek.

"There's a snake under the table!" Elaine yelled.

She then picked Sam up off the floor and plopped him into his crib, which caused the youngster to start crying.  Sam knows when his naptime is and this for sure was not it, and his cries were a protest against this injustice.

"Get that thing out of here, right now," demanded Elaine.

"First, let me see if it is poisonous before I start messing with it," I replied.  "Get me the flashlight so I can see it better under the table."

Elaine retrieved the flashlight and shining the light under the table, I saw a six-inch snake with round eyes, meaning it was not venomous.  Upon further examining its markings, I identified the reptile as a corn snake - a harmless little creature that mostly eats insects at this stage of life.

While I was going into a detailed explanation to my wife on the virtues of corn snakes, she interrupted me.

"Get him out of here, right now."

Using a dust pan, I flipped the snake into the device then released him outside.

Order restored, Sam was removed from his crib, Elaine looked relieved, and I headed for school.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Deer Season Fast Approaching (Blog 151)

Mid August may not be considered "deer season" but for those of us who pursue whitetails, the season is truly fast approaching, and there is much to do.  I have been practicing with my compound bow for well over a month now, and today I want to sight in my Parker Thunderhawk crossbow.  I have ordered a muzzleloader and that as well as my 30.06 rifle will have to be sighted in, too.

Habitat improvement projects have long since started.  Today, my son Mark and I plan to finish mowing the seeded logging road that crisscrosses our Botetourt, Virginia 38-acre spread.  Earlier this week, I limed and reseeded the food plot behind the house.

This week I also obtained a new ladder stand, and that needs to be put up in that same food plot.

Also earlier this week, the deer stripped all the apples from the Rome apple tree in our backyard, which reminded me that I had put off too long the necessity of putting a wire enclosure around the tree.  That, too, will be accomplished today.

The Dolgo crabapple tree is bearing heavily, and it too will have a new enclosure constructed around its perimeter.  Elaine is studying recipes for crabapple tree.  I don't mind the deer eating some of the crabapples, but I do want some of them.

And when the chores are finished, it will be time for me to visit some farmers in Botetourt and Roanoke counties.  I have plenty of farms to hunt in the area, but it never hurts to have a few more.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Highlights of the Summer (Blog 150)

Soon it will be time for me to return to teaching high school English and my summer will be over.  I really cannot complain about my summer, because it has been wonderful.  There have been many highlights. Earlier this week, my son Mark and I floated the James, as he too is about to return to teaching school. 

In June, guide Britt Stoudenmire of the New River Outdoor Company and I fished the New River at night for a magazine article and had a stupendous fishing trip - certainly my favorite one of the summer and also the one where I learned the most.  I also made trips to the Greenbrier River and Second Creek in West Virginia for stories.

Elaine and I picked 10 gallons of wild wineberries and blackberries and she made jam from both (see below) as well as we froze a number of  quart bags for wintertime pies and cobblers.
Our heritage Rhode Island Red chicks that we ordered are now much larger, and we hope to have roosters crowing and hens laying sometime in September.  I worked on the food plot behind the house and hope to have the plot reseeded by the end of August.

All in all, life is good.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Of Grandsons and Chickens (Blog 149)

One of the joys of my life has been Elaine and I spending time with our nearly 14-month-old grandson Sam.  Recently, I decided to teach Sam how to feed bread to our three mature hens: Ruby, Spotty, and Tallulah.

So Sam and I sat down on the front stoop of our house and gave the "lookie, lookie," call which is the cue for the hens to come running.  I gave Sam a piece of bread and announced.

"Sam, feed the chickens!"

Sam's response was to eat the bread.

"No, Sam, feed the chickens," I said as I handed him another piece of bread.

Sam again ate the bread.

Meanwhile, the chicken trio, beside themselves with bread lust, were crowded around Sam.

"Feed the chickens, Sam," I instructed again.

This time, Sam dropped the bread on the stoop and he and Tallulah both tried to grab a piece...which both of them accomplished.  This seemed to make Ruby and Spotty more agitated as they had consumed nothing.

"Sam, feed the chickens!" I tried one last time.

This time, Ruby grabbed the bread from Sam's hand, and she and Spotty took off  with the latter trying to steal the bread from Ruby while Tallulah was off eating her chunk.

I don't think Sam has mastered the whole feeding the chickens thing.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Virginia River Smallmouth Bass Fishing: Rain and More Rain (Blog 148)

For over 10 years year, fellow school teachers Doak Harbison, Tim Wimer, and I have gone on an annual summertime river smallmouth float on a waterway in Virginia or West Virginia.  This year we tried to go on the Rappahannock River, but high water and rain constantly thwarted our plans for the Rap.

Finally, we decided to go close to home on the James in Botetourt County.  The weather looked perfect: only a 20% chance of rain on Friday afternoon and a rainless Saturday morning, but an afternoon replete with thunderstorms.  That forecast was acceptable because we planned to complete our trip before noon. Friday's fishing was fine (and the weather was beautiful as the picture below of Doak and Tim shows).
And we even experienced a pleasant evening around a campfire.

But such was not the case on Saturday morning.  As a light sleeper, I was awoken early by the patter of rain.  And soon afterwards the rain began to fall heavier and we had to end our outing.  There is nothing like breaking camp and becoming miserably wet - the mosquitoes seem to flourish around wet humans.  But such is life sometimes, it has been a summer of tomatoes afflicted with fungus and river fishing trips that never were or ended prematurely.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Making Wild Berry Jam (Blog 147)

Bruce has been picking berries every day….. starting with raspberries, a rare and precious fruit, then wineberries, and now on to blackberries.  I rarely pick, leaving the plowing through brush and brambles to him, but once the berries come inside the house I am on deck.

This week I made a batch of blackberry jam.  Boiling the jars to sterilize them, boiling the mashed berries with sugar and pectin to make the jam, boiling the water in the canner to process the jars……at times I was boiling as well. 

Canning brings to mind the memory of my mother working in the relative cool of the basement over an old gas stove, the best spot to do a hot job in the days before air conditioning.  Like she did, I wear an apron to protect my clothes and keep a tea towel to wipe the sweat from my face .
 But the final result is worth the effort.  Little jars of summer, jewel-colored, giving a happy “pop” as they cool from the water bath.  Little jars of joy

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Of an Imperfect Daisy, Rabbits, and Coyotes (Blog 146)

I have been working on a magazine article on coyotes, which will be out sometime next year.  As part of the assignment, I have been trying to take pictures of some of the creatures that coyotes consume, which includes rabbits.  After all, what prey animal that exists doesn't eat Eastern cottontails.

Every morning I walk three miles after breakfast and often see bunnies along the rural road near our Botetourt County, Virginia home.  Finally, the thought dawned on me that I ought to take  my camera with a telephoto lens along on my morning jaunts.  Many, many mornings, the rabbits allow me to come quite close to them.

Predictably on the first morning that I toted my Nikon camera, all rabbits seen were at least 20 yards away and all bolted when I tried to move closer.  It was as if the D5100 pointed at them were some kind of doomsday weapon.

After several failed stalks, I gave up on the idea of capturing a cottontail on film - at least for that morning - and decided to see what else was about.  At last, I came across a common daisy, growing out of a thin layer of dirt intermixed with roadside gravel.

The daisy was rather shriveled in appearance, maybe because of its hardscrabble circumstances and its form was not typical as its petals were droopy.  But in this common plant's ability to eke out a precarious existence there on the roadside made it a noble photo opportunity.  There is often beauty in the smallest things.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Memorable July 4th at Home (Blog 145)

Yesterday, Elaine and I awoke to find that our basement had flooded and that our chicken run was on the verge of collapse - the torrential rains from the past few days playing a part.  Elaine spent much of the day vacuuming water from the downstairs while I had a friend come over to study about what to do with the run.

After I worked on two magazine articles, I went gathering wineberries for two hours and ended up picking a quart, which we froze for the winter.  If I can average gathering a quart of wineberries a day for the next fortnight, then do the same with blackberries for the following two weeks, we should have enough in the freezer for future pies and cobblers.  Of course, some of the berries will be made into jam.

The highlight of the day was going to our daughter Sarah's and her husband David's house for dinner. Our one-year-old grandson Sam is now walking.  It is fascinating to watch him follow our conversations now and to see him laugh when we laugh.  It is all part of learning how to be a social human.

Our chickens, despite their coup problems, even enjoyed the Independence Day celebration, as they were rewarded with a slab of watermelon.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Virginia's Wild Berry Season Begins (Blog 144)

For the past few days, I have been wandering our 38 acres in Botetourt County in search of the first wild berries of the season.  Elaine and I try to gather about 10 to 12 gallons of berries every year, and we are anxious to start our picking.

So far, only about three cups of raspberries have trickled in, but today I espied the first two ripe wineberries of the summer.  And I noted that the blackberries have started turning red from green.  Even a few dewberries have changed to red.

Picking wild berries is part of our quest to be as self-sufficient as possible.  Coupled with the deer and turkeys that I kill, what we grow in our garden, and the eggs our chickens produce, we do all right in this regard.

Right now, it is impossible to tell if we will be able to gather enough berries to supply all our jams, pies, and cobblers for the next year.  I also noted this morning that competition exists for our fruits. At one of my favorite wineberry patches, which lies adjacent to our food plot, a rather large creature had cut a huge swathe through the vines.  No doubt a black bear has found our patch.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Leader of the Flock...Boss or Johnny? (Blog 143)

Our heritage Rhode Island Reds are now 11 weeks old, and in not too many more weeks, our two cockerels, Boss and Johnny, will be crowing.  Elaine has made it abundantly clear that she does not care for Boss, who stands beak and head taller than Johnny and much more than that over the three hens.

Elaine calls Boss a "bully" for his constant badgering of Johnny and, frankly to a lesser extent, every other member of our flock of five.  I don't imagine that Boss will ever stop bullying Johnny, but I do believe he will become more solicitous of the hen trio, as they and he mature.

I am not sure at which age a cockerel will start sharing his food with the hens, as our late industrial R.I.R rooster Little Jerry was very attentive to the hens and as soon as he would come across any morsel would sound the food call.  But I can't remember at what age he began to do that.

The picture below shows Boss on the far left.  Johnny is completely out of the picture (the birds are in our chicken tractor) as he spends a great deal of his time avoiding Boss.  In any event, I want to keep both Boss and Johnny, but the time may come when Johnny is kept in a separate enclosure.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Elaine Names the New Chickens (Blog 142)

Well, Elaine has officially named the five heritage Rhode Island Red chicks that we ordered from California.  The two cockerels have been dubbed Boss (for obvious reasons) and Johnny (after the main male character in Dirty Dancing.  Boss is currently riding roughshod over Johnny and won't let the latter move about without giving him periodic angry stares and the random chest bump.

Two of the pullets have been named Sweetie Pie and Baby (as nobody puts Baby in the corner, again from Dirty Dancing). Sweetie Pie is the prettiest of the young females.  She has a white face, whereas everyone else features a brown one.  It will be interesting to see if her face remains that pale.

The fifth chicken Elaine has given the appellation Tootsie, from the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie.  Brice Yocum, whom we bought the chicks from, told us he was unsure of the sex of this bird (they were eight weeks old when shipped, now they are  10 weeks old).  Elaine's reasoning was that since Tootsie could be either male or female, Tootsie would be a nice safe name.

However, I am now about 80% sure that Tootsie is a female.  Boss has shown no interest in thrashing Tootsie, which is another clue that she might be a female.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Heritage Rhode Island Red Chicks Growing Restive (Blog 141)

We have now had our five heritage Rhode Island Red chicks (they were 8 1/2 weeks old when they arrived) for nine days and they are growing quite restless.  During the day, we keep them outside in our chicken tractor as much as is possible, but in the evening they come inside and spend the night in a fenced end enclosure in our basement.

Our three production Reds (Ruby, Little Spotty, and Tallulah) were not kind to the five birds when they arrived. Ruby, in fact, pulled a mass of feathers from the newcomer we have named Sweetie Pie.  We were fearful that Ruby would have killed the smaller members of the quintet if we had left the new flock in the chicken run.

Yet this morning it is obvious that the heritage flock cannot remain inside much longer.  When we came downstairs to check on them, four of the five were perched on their fence.  It seems it will be only a matter of time before they decide to "bust out" of their enclosure permanently and wander around the basement.

What to do, what to do.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Heritage Rhode Island Red Chicks Arrive (Blog 140)

Yesterday began Elaine's and my foray into raising heritage Rhode Island Red chickens.  Brice Yocum, who operates Sunbird Farms in California, shipped us five eight-week-old birds which arrived in much confusion.  Brice shipped them overnight on Tuesday, but the quintet did not arrive on Wednesday or Thursday morning.

When we began to fear for the birds' survival, as they were traveling from California to Botetourt County, Virginia, Elaine received a call from the Troutville Post Office that they had arrived and needed to be picked up by noon.

Once here, though, the youngsters seemed none the worse for their cross country junket, and after I put them in the chicken tractor, the chicks began busily foraging. Our daughter Sarah and grandson Sam also came over to see the newcomers. The next problem was introducing them to our two-year-old chickens: Ruby, Little Spotty, Tallulah, and Dot.

Predictably, Ruby, our alpha female, erupted in loud squawking and bit a chunk of feathers out of one of the chicks.  Dot, who often pecks us, attacked one of the chicks and was about to do so to another one.  But Dot had picked on the largest of the chicks, which I already had identified as the alpha male of the two young roosters that arrived.

The cockerel stood his ground at Dot's advance, flared his wings to make himself look bigger, and, to my great interest, Dot quickly backed down.  This cockerel clearly has potential as a future flock leader.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

First Strawberries of the Season (Blog 139)

This Saturday, Elaine and I spent the morning performing chores that I had neglected because of my turkey hunting trips in Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee.  We put new mats in the hen house, planted sweet potatoes and chives, and I swept out the wood chips and straw that had accumulated in the garage.

But the most pleasurable thing I did was gather the first strawberries of the season from our garden.  As always, I brought the berries to Elaine and told them they were all for her.  Typically, given how sweet she is, Elaine offered to let me have them all or at least to share them.  But the first strawberries of the season should always go to someone who is my best friend/girlfriend/helpmate/wife.

We have a lot of projects to accomplish this Memorial Day Weekend, as I don't return to teaching school until Tuesday.  We are going to gather up leaves from our woods and dump a huge pile in the chicken run.  I am betting the birds will be thrilled to explore this gift to them.

Then I have to do some wood cutting, as several more dead or dying trees on our 38 acres need to be cut, and they are just the right size for firewood.  But the most wonderful part of the holiday is spending lots of time with Elaine.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eating Locally (Blog 138)

Yesterday for dinner, Elaine and I sat down for a meal where most of what we ate came from local food sources.  The entrée was venison burger, which came from a deer that I killed on a farm 4.1 miles from our house.  Topping our burgers were onions from our garden.

Our green vegetable was asparagus that I picked a few minutes before from our backyard garden.  Elaine sautéed the asparagus in olive oil.  Also from our garden were some chives that were harvested at the same time the onions and asparagus were.  The chives went on our baked potatoes.

Of course, it is too soon for potatoes from any garden in Southwest Virginia where we live, and our whole wheat bread didn't come from our land, either.  But all in all, I think the meal was a good example of leaving a small carbon footprint.  The only downside was that we were too full to have some blackberry jam (made from blackberries I picked behind our house last July) slathered on toast.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

West Virginia Turkey Hunting in the Rain (Blog 137)

After finishing up my turkey hunting in Virginia last week, I turned to spring gobbler hunting in West Virginia this week, taking a half day off school as part of our personal leave program on Friday and spending all morning in the woods on Saturday.

Friday, I called two different gobblers in but did not see either one of them - not surprising given the mountainous terrain I was hunting in the Mountain State.  Saturday was a miserable one, spent on a cold, breezy, rainy mountaintop.

Around 8:30, I heard a hen yelp and several minutes later two hens meandered in.  Unfortunately, no gobbler was in tow, so the females left the way they came after taking a look around and not seeing the fellow hen (me) that had called to them.

I knew the conditions would be miserable, but I enjoy spring gobbler hunting so much that I went anyway.  Over the years, I have killed very few spring gobblers when precipitation was taking place, but the more I dogo in the rain, the more I am beginning to believe that precipitation is largely irrelevant to turkeys.

The exception would be when a heavy rain is falling.  I have never seen any gobblers when that was taking place, only a few bedraggled hens.

I will be able to take one more vacation day from school and one more Saturday is left in West Virginia's season if I want to punch a tag as the coming week is the last one in the season.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Success in the Virginia Spring Gobbler Woods -Finally (Blog 136)

I have failed to punch that third and final tag all sorts of ways this spring in Virginia's fields and forests.  I have moved at the wrong time, not moved at the right time, set up too far away and too close to birds.

But Wednesday morning things finally broke my way.  I had set up a good hour before sunrise near a known roosting area.  I had anticipated that the turkeys would be well up the hill some 75 to 100 yards away from me and that they would make their way toward me as I called.  I had chosen this particular spot because it is near a field that these turkeys like to feed in early in the morning.

However, my distance estimation was totally incorrect.  A gang of four to six jakes were roosted just 25 yards from my position.  They never made a peep all morning, just flying down right in front of me to my surprise.  I shot the closest one and my Virginia season was over, except for taking a friend afield and hopefully my son Mark and son-in-law David.

Meanwhile I have gone to West Virginia, coming agonizingly close to killing a bird on Thursday when I  took a half day of vacation time from school.  Saturday, I was never in the game as the wind howled and the toms gobbled only on the roost.

I have two Saturdays and a 1 1/2 days left of school vacationto take a West Virginia bird.  Will I have enough time?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Frustrating Virginia Spring Gobbler Season Continues (Blog 135)

Well, since my report last Saturday on my abysmal Virginia spring gobbler season, things have only grown worse.  The low point for the week would have to have been Wednesday when I sat down in the dark under a flock of gobblers.  They all flew down into a field, but by the time it was light enough for me to see that they were toms, they were on to the blob - me - that had been sitting among them.  As far as I could tell, the entire assemblage consisted of jakes.

Today, Saturday, I worked one gobbler for nearly four hours.  But, in reality, what I thought was one mature gobbler turned out to be four jakes, one of whom sounded like a mature bird.  About 11:15, I finally called them in, but they started fighting among themselves and stopped their progress toward me.

Adding to the frustration was the fact that I put my scoped shotgun on several of them, but they would not stand still - except for one lucky jake who paused behind a deadfall.  It was his lucky day - but not mine.

There's always the next outing, which will be Monday before school.  Things can't go on like this...or can they?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The 12:04 Gobble (Blog 134)

I have endured a very rough, frustrating start to Virginia's spring gobbler season, and today, the second Saturday of the season, was typical of how the first week has gone.  In Virginia, we have to be out of the woods at noon, and I arrived at my vehicle right on schedule.

While I was putting my things away, a gobbler sounded off right behind the car.  Then he erupted again a few seconds later.  Not wanting for the tom to come running toward my car, as he seemed bent on doing, I hurriedly departed.

The irony was that those gobbles were the only two I heard the entire day.  I was afield on a Franklin County farm that is my favorite place to turkey hunt; yet not one tom uttered a peep all day during legal hours.

I have been rained on the past week, endured two hot, muggy mornings and a cold, windy one this morning.  I  called in a number of toms on Friday, but they all were directly behind me.

The good news is that I will be afield on Monday before school.  And hope is something I always have.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Opening Day of Virginia's Spring Gobbler Season (Blog 133)

I began turkey hunting in 1986 and over the years, I have rarely missed an opening day of Virginia's spring gobbler season...and this year was no exception.  And over the years, I have only killed a gobbler on three opening days, roughly one per decade...and this year was no exception.

From the beginning, nothing went right.  I had a poor night's sleep as on Tuesday I had to resume taking medicine for my Lyme Disease.  Friday night, the medicine "kicked in," giving me stomach cramps for much of the night.  When I arrived at the Franklin County farm, I headed for a spot where I killed a tom in late April last year.  But some 100 yards from the car, I remembered that I had left my camo gloves in the vehicle.

After retrieving the gloves, I headed for my spot, and the morning started well with four toms gobbling on the roost.  But about the time they flew down, both of my legs started cramping and I was unable to keep my knees up with my shotgun resting on them.  After a long and frustrating morning and with my legs still cramping, I headed back to the vehicle so as to be out of the woods at noon, as is required in the Old Dominion.

I placed my gun, seat cushion, daypack, and car keys in the back seat...then found that the car had "locked itself," which resulted in a half-mile walk to the farmer's house.  Fortunately, I had left the driver's side window cracked open, so an acquaintance was able to jigger the lock to open by using a clothes hanger.

I am due to kill another gobbler on opening day of Virginia's season around the year 2020.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Gobbler Hunting, Bird Watching, and Snow Falling (Blog 132)

Last week, I wrote about the last snow of winter, which I surely thought it was, but as I write this from Elaine's and my home in Botetourt County, Virginia, snow is falling...on April 4.  I normally go to Tennessee to spring gobbler hunt and this year I did the same the first three days of that state's season.

Like here in Virginia, the weather in Northeast Tennessee was very cold, but fortunately, thanks to my good friend Larry Proffitt's turkey hunting skills, I was able to kill a nice gobbler on opening day of the season.  But Sunday was cold and rainy and Monday was cold and windy.  The most interesting thing that happened on the trip was Larry and I seeing four albino turkey hens - a first for me.  They were all in the same flock and with a bearded hen.  What an interesting genetic study this particular flock would make.

Since coming back home, I have spent a great deal of time bird watching.  This morning, I thrilled to the dulcet sounds of a hermit thrush and observed such interesting birds as golden crowned kinglets, plus observed five black vultures perched in a sycamore tree next to our house.  Nothing had died, or nothing that I could see or smell, but it's never a pleasant thing to come out of your house in the morning and seeing black vultures waiting expectantly.

Snow, albino hens, and hermit thrushes...interesting things always happening in the outdoors.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chickens and the Last Snow of Winter (Blog 131)

This past Sunday, Elaine and I spent much of the afternoon, trying to keep the netting covering our chicken run from collapsing.  For the third time this winter, a heavy snow fell, collecting on the netting and weighing it down.

The first two times this happened, the netting collapsed and consequently caused the post holding our solar power unit to fall as well.  It was a miserable experience for Elaine and me to slog about in the snow, trying to right the fence, repair the netting, and replace the netting in a number of places. The whole process was upsetting to our four-hen-flock as well, as egg production was negatively impacted.

So on Sunday, once every hour either Elaine or I would go to the chicken run and gently shake the snow off the netting.  Although some holes in this defense web did occur, when Monday morning arrived the netting was still in place and the chickens had been protected from airborne predators.

In about a month hopefully, our heritage Rhode Island Red chicks will arrive.  We can hardly wait to begin the process of raising them.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Building a Turkey Blind, Planting Onions, Watching the Tarheels (Blog 130)

This Saturday morning, I mapped out my weekend.  The first thing on my agenda (which I have already accomplished, was to set up the framework for a turkey blind.  Behind Elaine's and my Botetourt County home, a path intersects with our seeded logging road - and that is where I positioned several evergreens this morning.  Later, I will lay some other limbs and boughs there to finish the subterfuge.

After I finish writing this blog, I will plant 80 white onion sets in the garden.  I plan on letting our chickens out in the garden, so that they can swarm off the earthworms that no doubt will be displaced.  Interestingly, of our four hens, Ruby is the only one that is a fanatic worm eater.  The other ladies will take a worm if they have the chance, but Ruby will specifically target worms as she is sifting through litter.

When the onions have been planted and Elaine's and my lunch of venison burgers has been consumed, I will work on some magazine assignments that I have, then watch some games in the NCAA tournament.  But what I am really waiting for is the start of North Carolina's basketball game against Kansas on Sunday.  As a Tarheel fan of now 46 years, I am fearful of the Jayhawks, but we will see how things develop.

Not an overly exciting weekend, but a nice one out in the country.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Waiting for the First Gobble of the Spring (Blog 129)

Every morning when I go out to let our Rhode Island Reds out of their hen house, I pause to listen for that first gobble of the spring.  Surprisingly, I have not yet heard a gobbler sound off behind our Botetourt County, Virginia home.

I am not at all concerned, though.  There is a rhythm to the natural world and its creatures, and if there is anything I have learned from a lifetime spent outdoors, it is that wild animals are on their own time and not ours.

In the nearly 25 years that Elaine and I have lived here, we have heard turkey gobblers sound off on cold January days, hot July 4 afternoons, during springtime thunderstorms, and early fall mornings.  Why do turkeys - and other creatures - do what they do? Who knows... such is the mystery of life.

Interestingly, the hens behind our house have been quite boisterous at times, as well as being quite numerous.  Perhaps the toms have not been talking because there is no need to.  Again, I don't know.

But I do know that I will be hunting in Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia this spring, and this spring will be like every other spring season - unique unto itself.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Going Fishing for River Smallmouths (Blog 128)

Tomorrow, Sunday, will be my first river smallmouth fishing trip of the year.  With fishing shows to attend, school to teach, wood cutting to accomplish, small game animals to pursue, and magazine articles to write, I have not been able to seek out my favorite game fish until tomorrow.

Today, I have spent a great deal of time looking over my various tackle boxes and placing lures in my small hard plastic boxes - my go fishing boxes as opposed to my storage boxes. I also have put fresh line on the two spinning rods and one baitcaster that I plan on bringing tomorrow.

I will be going fishing with Britt Stoudenmire of the New River Outdoor Company.  Britt and I usually go river fishing early every March, and we usually, thanks to Britt's uncanny ability to locate quality smallmouths, do quite well.  I hope this March's outing will be similarly successful.

Mentally as I write, I am going over in my mind what my game plan will be for tomorrow.  I am hoping, given the warm weather, that I will primarily be able to toss hard plastic jerkbaits, which I am very comfortable doing this time of year or perhaps even crankbaits, which is another comfort bait for me.

Hopefully, the smallies will not be tight to the bottom, where I will be forced to inch jig and soft plastic chunks along - not one of my strong points.  Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Timber Stand Improvement (Blog 127)

This Saturday morning friend Bob Boeren came over to help me with some Timber Stand Improvement projects.  Bob, who has recently started a business, Ranger Bob's Forestry Services, ( has long been a big help to me with habitat improvement projects.

This year, since I am recovering from Lyme Disease, I want to finish all my habitat projects before the end of March, since it was last April when I was bitten by a tick that caused me to come down with the affliction.  Of course, I will be spring gobbler hunting in Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee, but I do want to limit my time afield as much as possible when the ticks become active.

Anyway, the best project that Bob and I completed was daylighting a white oak that was surrounded by red cedars.  Bob said the oak would likely flourish now and might even produce acorns within a decade.  That sounds like a long time, but in the long lifespan of a white oak, that is no time at all.

Bob also showed me how to better cut through downed logs and even helped with a magazine article I am doing on bowhunting for deer.  All in all, it was a very productive day.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Spent at Fishersville Show (Blog 126)

Today, I drove to Fishersville, Virginia  for the Western Virginia Sports Show held annually in February at Expoland.  For the September issue of Virginia Game & Fish every year, I profile four of the hunters who entered trophy bucks.  

It is fascinating interviewing these fortunate and talented individuals and learning, so to speak, the stories behind the stories.  Another great thing about the show is that I am able to meet guides, outfitters, and folks in the fishing and hunting business in the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.     

I also am able to touch base with friends in the outdoors business, as today, for example, I was able to talk with people such as Jim Clay, Sherry Crumley, and Dennis Campbell.  I also talked to some outfitters that I hope to go fishing and hunting with in the future.

I can't reveal here the stories behind the stories on those trophy bucks, of course, because that article will go in a magazine, but I can state that visiting the Western Virginia Sportshow is a great way to spend a winter day.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cutting Wood on a Saturday, Part II (Blog 125)

Today, Saturday, I continued to work on providing our firewood needs and in freeing up some hard mast trees.  Soon, March will arrive and my Saturdays will be filled with river smallmouth trips and some native brook trout fishing, but, for now, I want to finish some timber cutting chores.

The first task was to cut up an ash that crashed into a  ladder stand several years ago.  The wood has seasoned nicely, though the stand has long since made its way to a recycling bin.  After that, I cut up a downed oak and a fallen ironwood tree.  Ironwood must be the hardest wood I have ever tried to saw through.

While toting the wood back to Elaine's and my house, I spotted a small oak that I had never noticed before.  Four small red cedars and two Virginia pines encircled the four-foot-tall oak, so I felled them all in order to give the young oak a real chance to grow and hopefully thrive.  I just really enjoy releasing a tree so that it can perhaps reach its potential.

After that it was time to babysit my grandson and to watch North Carolina host UVA - which resulted in a Tarheel victory.  Nothing momentous happened today, but it was surely a great way to spend a Saturday.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cutting Wood on a Saturday (Blog 124)

Saturday afternoon, my beloved North Carolina Tarheels were being blown out of a game against Miami, and I must confess that I turned off the game part way through the second half and began early what Elaine's and my scheduled Saturday chore was...cutting firewood.

I used to despise winter, especially after the late muzzleloader and squirrel seasons ended.  But now, I truly enjoy this time of year.  I like going behind our house and cutting up for firewood hardwoods that have fallen.  Today, Elaine and I worked on a fallen ash and a downed oak, plus a black walnut that had been damaged during the high winds that took place last June.

The downed oak was easily turned into firewood and is already stacked in our garage.  The ash was much larger, so it will be split Sunday afternoon.  The black walnut is too green for firewood this season but will serve nicely next year.

Another activity that we enjoy doing is looking for opportunities to do some Timber Stand Improvement.  Two Virginia pines that are crowding a quartet of oaks are just begging to be cut, and that deed is on our list of future Saturday activities.  It was definitely good to go into the woods after a disappointing UNC loss today.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Heritage Rhode Island Red Chicks? (Blog 123)

Currently, Elaine and I are in the midst of a debate on whether we will try to purchase chicks to raise this spring.  I told Elaine that the final decision is hers because given that I am away teaching school Monday through Friday, she will be the primary caretaker.

Right now, Elaine is leaning toward us purchasing some heritage Rhode Island Reds.  In May of 2011, we bought 10 "industrial" RIR chicks.  We only have two birds left from that purchase (Ruby and Little Spotty Hen) as two chicks died not long after the purchase and the other six were roosters.
We bought two young hens in August of that year (they were crosses between Rhode Island Reds and Whites).

The quartet has done a great job of producing eggs up until the last three months or so.  But the production that was once three or four eggs per day has dropped to only six or seven eggs a week.  Part of the decline has been because our hens are moulting, but part also is that egg production decreases once hens reach two years or so.

We have always been interested in "heritage or traditional" apples, so we thought that we would like to try raising heritage RIRs.  The problem is that we don't know where to buy heritage chicks.  If anyone can help with this, we would appreciate that individual e-mailing us or leaving a comment.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chickens and Snow (Blog 122)

We have experienced two snowfalls in Botetourt County over the course of the past week or so, and the precipitation has been very stressful for our quartet of hens.  The first snow was the most traumatic as about three inches of very wet slush fell which caused the netting over the run to collapse.

The collapse of the netting caused the post where the solar unit is located to crumple, which, in turn, caused the solar unit, which protects the perimeter through the means of two wires, to fall to the ground.  The falling of that post caused the gate to the run to not shut correctly.

So Elaine and I after dark that snowy day struggled to reset the solar unit post and to fix the gate to the run.  When we peaked inside the hen house, we only saw three of the girls with Little Spotty Hen no where to be found.  We feared that she had been injured or even killed by all the "collapsing" that was going on.

Finally, Elaine found Spotty under the hen house.  The next day she was limping, so indeed she may have been injured.

Yet another snowfall took place this Friday with the hens spending much of the day either in their house or under it.  It is very clear that our Rhode Island Reds do not like snow.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Chicken that Won't Go to Bed (Blog 121)

In Elaine's and my fascinating foray into rearing chickens, another aspect of chicken behavior has manifested itself.  My job is to let our flock out of the hen house in the morning while Elaine's is to put the gang to bed in the evening by making sure all four hens are ensconced in their abode.

But for the past six weeks or so, Dot, who ranks last in the pecking order, has refused to go to bed no matter how late the hour.  Elaine has become increasingly frustrated by Dot's obstinacy, so I have been more and more taking on the evening chore.

This is how things typically unfold in the evening.  Ruby, our alpha hen, goes to roost in the house a good three minutes before any other hen.  Little Spotty, who ranks third, enters next and immediately pitches up next to Ruby.

Three or four minutes more elapse, then Tallulah, second in the pecking order, goes into the house.  It is at that time that Dot goes to the far end of run and awaits at the door.  Elaine refuses to pick up Dot and place her in the house.  And then the two of them engage in a battle of wills concerning which will do something next.  Often the two of them are out there until after dark.

Friend J.J. Alderson who lives a few miles from us says that she has a half dozen or so chickens that likewise refuse to go into their house.  Her misbehaving flock flies up to a table outside the Alderson house and wait for J.J. to see to their bedtime needs.

I won't participate in Dot's stalling tactics (who knows what is going on in the mind of a chicken anyway), scooping her up when I enter the run and placing her on the gangplank leading into the house.  Dot always goes straight in when I do that.

I was wondering if other chicken owners have experienced this behavior and if they could e-mail Elaine and me about their experiences or perhaps post comments here?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bunnies and Bushytails Behind the House (Blog 120)

With Virginia's long deer season over, I can now enjoy some of the most relaxing hunting possible - pursuing rabbits and squirrels behind our Botetourt County, Virginia home.  Late in the afternoon today, I am going to take a walk on the seeded logging road that runs throughout our 38 acres and visit brier patches, clearcuts, and brush piles for bunnies and hardwood hollows and pine glades for bushytails.

Few pleasures in life are as soothing as being able to walk out your back door and go hunting and fishing.  When Elaine and I were considering whether to buy this land in 1988, I told her how meaningful and special it would be to me to own it.  Of course, the land was expensive, like just about any property, but she was sweet  to let me have it.

In the 25 years we have owned the land and the 24 that we have lived on it, I have made numerous habitat improvements, thinning trees so that the survivors could produce more mast, having clearcuts done to benefit songbirds and game animals, creating a food plot, and planting oaks and white pines. In January and February, I have planned more Timber Stand Improvement projects.

So today around 4:00, I am going to walk out my back door and take that walk.  Whether I bring home any game or not is irrelevant- the joy of being outside, as always, will be paramount.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Virginia Deer Season Ends (Blog 119)

As I write this, it is 4:40 A.M., and I am preparing to take my son and son-in-law deer hunting in Craig County, Virginia. Today is the last day of the late muzzleloader season.  After killing a deer on Monday, I am satisfied with the amount of venison in Elaine's and my freezer, so I won't be carrying a gun.

The temperature, according to, will be around 10 degrees in the mountains of Craig this morning, and I am not looking forward to venturing out in the frigid air.  Though we will be dressing as warmly as possible,  I wonder how long we will last out in the elements before the car heater beckons.  Making things worse is the fact that the wind is howling.

I started deer hunting on Labor Day Saturday, participating in Roanoke County's first urban archery season.  I was aloft in a tree stand about 30 minutes before sunrise, and the temperature was about 65 degrees.  By the time I descended, the temp was around 80 degrees, and the mosquitoes had begun to eye my skin with increasing aggressiveness.  No need to worry about them today.

I am looking forward to going squirrel hunting on Saturdays in January.  One of the great joys in the sporting life is pursuing wintertime silvertails behind our Botetourt County home.  On a warm, say 40 degrees, Saturday afternoon, I like to sit under an oak tree, reading a book and periodically scanning the area for movement.  If I don't bring home any bushytails, no big deal.