Will She Lay Soon?

The six pullets (I call them the Girls as opposed to The Gems in the Big Barn) are five different breeds, and they will reach maturity in the next few weeks. The first to lay will likely be the White Leghorn, Twiggy. She is my wild child. She’s as fast as Road Runner from the cartoon. I almost expect to hear “beep! beep! as she zips by. She’s flighty and yet curious. I adore her. As soon as the temperature dips to a bearable level, I’ll be outside trying to get her to calm down and slow down enough that I can get near her. I have a few tricks up my sleeve – but will not resort to Wile E. Coyote’s methods of TNT and chicanery.

Twiggy is 16 weeks old today. In the last few days I’ve noticed signs that she is near ready to begin egg laying. Her comb is larger and beginning to flop over.



It remains pink, but is no longer pale. It will be a bright red when she lays her first egg. Betsy Ross, the five-year old Bantam White Leghorn, used to have a bright red comb. It never flopped over – she’s way too petite and elegant for that! But, this summer it has shriveled a bit and taken on a purplish hue, which are signs of a hen past laying age. There she is, behind Twiggy, being sensible in this heat and sitting still on the cool, damp earth. Twiggy, of course, is in mid-stride. It’s not easy getting a photo of her!

two leghorns


Some of the other Girls will be late-bloomers. Veronica is a Cuckoo Marans, and according to the breed standard, her comb should be full and erect, but hers is barely visible on her head. It’s awhile to go before I see her dark brown eggs in the nesting box.



Th Girls are close enough to laying age that about two weeks ago I mixed what was left of the chick food with a bag of laying hen pellets. That’s almost finished, and they’ll be entirely on adult feed this week. The oyster shell dispenser is full. They’ll eat it when they need it. They’re getting plenty of greens and weeds from the garden, and watermelon rinds, etc. I’m careful to not feed table scraps with empty calories, like white rice. I want their first eggs to be strong. (For more about what to feed hens go here.) Now, I just have to sit back and wait. I just hope that Twiggy slows down enough to stop and lay her eggs in the nesting box, and not while on the move!

Put The Goats To Work?

I found this tidbit in The New England Homestead from 1938.


My goats could certainly use more exercise, and it’d be nice if they were even a tad useful around the place, but I fear that after five minutes of this that I’d be more exhausted than them!

Clear Eyes, Smooth Eggs

One week ago the hens in the Big Barn were battling a virulent respiratory disease. Two were near death. Today they all greet me  clear-eyed and hungry. Despite the heat, their energy is back to normal levels.

Ruby was the first to fall ill, and the first to rebound.



Amber, who one week ago was huddled in abject misery, is now back to her curious self.



Onyx, who went broody right when the ailment hit, remained broody throughout. Her eye was swollen shut and she had difficulty breathing, but still she sat in the nesting box. She’s still broody, but now her eyes are wide open and she glares and huffs at all who dare to pass by.



I stopped medicating them with antibiotics on July 17, and so am collecting the eggs, cooking them thoroughly (to inactivate any residual drug efficacy) and am feeding them back to the Gems. I’ll start using them for my own table on the 20th.

A few weeks before the respiratory disease outbreak, I wrote about the wrinkled, ridged and thin-shelled eggs that the Gems were laying. That was likely due to a virus, infectious bronchitis (iB). Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection follows the virus. I think that is what happened here.

In the last week, I’ve noticed a change in the eggs that the Gems are laying.  They are now perfectly smooth and sturdy.  I had thought that the iB was going to be a permanent presence in the flock. It looks like that’s cleared up too.



Tomorrow the Girls in the Little Barn will be 16 weeks old. Some pullets lay their first eggs by the age of 17 weeks (others won’t be until 24 weeks.) I’m going to put wooden eggs in the nesting boxes to give the Girls a clue as to where to lay. Keep an eye on the nesting boxes and let me know if you see anyone trying them out!

Taming the Grapevine

I live a few miles from where the Concord grape was developed back in 1849. They’ve become part of the wild landscape. In the fall you can smell their sweet, musky scent along the roadsides. Concord grapevines grow near the woods across the street from my house. The Girl Scouts always get to harvesting them before I think of it, which is okay, because they make jelly which they sell to raise funds, and I buy it at the Harvest Fair. Anyway, they’re welcome to traipse through the meadow and encounter poison ivy and ticks in order to collect the grapes. It’s a lot of work for a fruit with a tough skin and center pits which are large and bitter.

I decided that I should grow my own grapes. I found three hybrids through Gurney’s that are seedless, edible as table fruit, and yet grow in my northern clime.  I had a plan: grow the grapes along the Gem’s enclosure, which the plants would climb, and eventually cover. The vines would provide shade, protection from hawks, and fruit for me (and drops for the hens.) The grapes arrived last spring as small bare root plants. This spring they were reaching for the sky.

sky reaching


They were twining onto the strings that I’d criss-crossed the run with to deter raptors.



It was time to put in an arbor. My husband and son got to work.



You can see that the Gems have crammed themselves into the shade at the side of the Little Barn.


Just a few weeks later and there’s already new shady area under the arbor.



Grapes are forming. The hens look wistfully through the fence. Don’t worry, girls, I think that there will be plenty for you!