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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.