Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hatching Chicks

A new classmate
Prior to Jack Sparrow's demise, I collected a few of the girls' eggs that were likely fertilized by him. I really loved his coloring, so thought it might be fun to see if we could get a few baby "Jacks" by hatching them ourselves. It turned out to be much more complicated than I thought it would. 

(Note: I have a really old styrofoam incubator, that doesn't seem to maintain temp very well.)

21 days ago, I brought in 9 eggs and placed them in the incubator. Since the thermostat "seems" to be off, I bought an external thermometer/hygrometer to I could attempt to monitor temperature and humidity. I also picked up an automatic egg turner. Twice a day I headed to the basement to make sure the temp wasn't vacillating too widely, trying to keep an even 99-101 degrees. The basement is where I figured the ambient temperature was least likely to fluctuate. It's always chilly, but not terribly cold down there. The process was not quite a nightmare, but it was difficult. At least I wasn't opening the incubator (releasing heat and moisture) to turn eggs three times a day! Nevertheless, I was constantly tweaking the temp controller.

Having totally forgotten to go down and check on Sunday (due to a very "important" AFC playoff game, which, sadly, we lost), I ran down first thing Monday morning to remove the egg turner. To my surprise, and great disappointment, in myself, one of the eggs had hatched; the poor little chick had fallen upside down in the water in the bottom of the pan. I was in tears. Opening the incubator, I gently removed the tiny, wet body. As I was debating what to do with it, I heard a glorious cheeping from another egg! I turned it over to find that the chick was pipping!

Pipping. No change after 12 hours of watching the egg wiggle then rest, wiggle then rest.
Moving quickly, I removed the eggs from the turner and placed wet paper towels in the bottom of the pan. (No more drowned chicks!) Then I carried the incubator upstairs so we could watch this miracle unfold. So we watched, and watched, and watched. The egg chirped, wiggled, rested, cheeped, wiggled, rested. All day with no progress. I felt like a mama, pacing the floor waiting for labor to start!

After watching the struggle for over 12 hours, I decided to intervene. I researched to make sure intervention wouldn't be more harmful than helpful, then dove in. I heated up a rice filled cloth bag, found a dropper, collected some very warm water and a pair of blunt edged tweezers and went to work. Very carefully placing the egg on the warm rice bag, I used the blunt tweezers to peel back some of the egg shell, leaving the membrane intact. I worked a small "strip" where it looked like our little guy (or girl) had been attempting to chip away the shell. (I peeled about 1/4" strip of eggshell). Then I put a few drops of water on the membrane (to help soften it) and placed the egg back in the incubator.

After "helping" our little chick, we finally saw progress!

 Another hour later, little Puffin kicked his/her way clear of the eggshell. It was so amazing to watch: its little chest heaving as he struggled with his shell, little wet feathers peeking out of the cracks, the tiny egg tooth chipping away. Then suddenly, a flutter, a push, flapping of wings and Puffin was "born." And now we have one adorable baby chick. 

Here he/she comes!

About 12 hours old.
After 24 hours, moved to the new "nursery."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lamenting the death of Jack Sparrow

There are certain events that occur in a lifetime that mark the amazing journey. Recalling our homestead journey, I would probably note growing tomatoes in our tiny Baltimore townhouse plot, the tilling of our first "real" garden, making jam from our own strawberries, enough tomatoes to can, acquiring Bruce and Betty — our first bantam chickens, and raising our first flock of meat chickens as important events. And we now have a new experience to add: culling the flock. Ok, doesn't sound too traumatic or even dramatic, does it? But it has made me feel like a "real" homesteader.

Last spring we purchased a few new chickens for egg production. I also ordered a rooster so we could attempt hatching our own birds. To ensure that we would have a rooster reach maturity, I ordered an extra. Murray McMurray also enclosed an extra chick for added warmth AND a free exotic chick (a black polish crested), both of whom are roosters. Yikes! Four roosters, 7 hens. Not a good ratio. But, I decided to keep them all for the time being, and see how it fared.

One of the roosters we separated out to preside over our wandering flock — our old ladies that have free roam of our property. The other three remained penned in a pasture area, along with 4 hens and the pygmy goats.
Jack Sparrow, an Americauna

Rooster to rooster relationships were just fine, not so much man and rooster. Lovely, spunky Jack Sparrow took his kingship mighty seriously, and the Boy was the first to feel his wrath. How's that for dramatic? Boy was, actually, the first to experience Jack's protective nature — vigorous flapping of wings, pecking at feet (especially those clad in bright blue Crocs), and butting up against his lower legs.  I explained to the Boy that the rooster was just doing his job, that he saw us as a threat. We must be cautious, but patient, and fix the issue.

I've heard of two different approaches to this problem. Well, three, but we'll get to that one in a minute. There's the "I'm not a threat, see I bring gifts of food." approach, getting Mr. Rooster to eat treats from the hand. He eventually learns human = food not threat. Then there's 'the carry a big stick (or a watering hose) "I'm the boss" ' approach. Which basically proves that you are bigger and badder than the rooster, so he backs down. Initially, we opted for the first approach. And it really worked — for me. He trusted me, would come running for treats when he saw me enter his domain. He let me gather the eggs with no problems. But, Jack Sparrow was not going to be fooled by the Boy and Husband. His attacks became a bit more fervent, even when they moved into "I'm the Boss" mode.  When Jack began flying into their faces I knew we needed a new plan, the third option, culling the bird.

I tried to give him away, but the only taker was a family with small kids. Not a good fit, especially if they were male (and/or wore crocs.) So, as a last resort, we took him to one of Husband's coworkers who had no issue with eating him. And I learned the lesson that little Fern resisted in Charlotte's Web. When raising animals on a homestead (as producers, not pets) sometimes the flock (or herd) must be culled.

A young, windblown Jack

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Finishing Geography....on to Decimals

We are finally wrapping up Geography! Yay! So far this has been the most difficult block for me to teach. There are so many perspectives on how to approach the subject. It was hard for me to define what I wanted him to take away. States and capitals? Industries and economy? I researched what the local school system teaches, what Waldorf schools teach, then made up my own priorities. I finally settled on wanting him to understand what defines various US regions: land forms such as the Mississippi River and Sonora Desert, the industries that developed from the natural resources (e.g.,crabbing, lumber, cotton), and  cultures and customs (and how they developed through our immigrant traditions blending with native culture, customs from other immigrants, and necessity.)

Not wanting to fall out of the school mode completely, over the Christmas break the Boy read a few collections of American folk tales. We enjoyed well known stories, such as 'Paul Bunyan' and 'Brer Fox,' and others we didn't know such as the legends of 'Pecos Bill' and 'Coyote and Bobcat.' He so enjoys reading that he never sees it as "school" work. One of the beautiful blessings of homeschooling is that life and learning just blur together.

Some of the books we read:
The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn — Robert Burleigh
Sweet Land of Story: 36 American Tales to Tell — Pleasant de Spain
The American  Story:100 True Tales from American History — Jennifer Armstrong
Big Men Big Country; A Collection of American Tales — Paul Robert Walker
Classic American Folk Tales —Steven  Zorn

His main lesson book is filled with regional maps and descriptions. He learned how to copy an illustration using a grid and make a gestural drawing. He concocted a few foods from various regions, gave a presentation about New England (and fluffernutter sandwiches) to our homeschool group, as well provided fluffernutters for sampling, watched "Stephen Fry in America" series on Netflix, read regionally inspired books and the folk tales collections. We sang a few folk tunes (Remember "Erie Canal," "I've Got Spurs" and "Home on the Range?" To finalize everything, he is composing a retelling of his favorite folk tale (Coyote and Bobcat) and will illustrate it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Getting Back in the Groove

The holidays are now happy memories, tucked away with the boxes of handmade ornaments, fir scented candles, and empty cookie jars and candy dishes. Gifts have been sorted and neatly tucked in drawers and closets. Holiday linens and dishes washed, dried, and stored until next year. Waking this morning to a neat, bright house, we diligently threw ourselves into our schoolwork. 

No, actually our tree is still fully decorated and dropping pine needles everywhere. The cookie tins still contain a few crumbly chocolate chips, the sunporch is littered with boxes and gift bags, and I just today put away the first of the Christmas linens. Today was Husband's first day back to work after a wonderful week at home, and we certainly did not do any "formal" school work.

Getting back in the rhythm of things can be really hard. The Boy is enjoying playing with his new gifts: legos, stuffed animals, colored pencils, board games. He's not ready to sit at the table for a two hour main lesson. I'm not ready to sit at a table for a two hour main lesson! But we do need to get back to it; we've not yet hit the halfway mark (for our PA required number of days) and my goal is to do so this month.

With the house in disarray, and neither of us willing to knuckle down to "desk work," we spent the day tidying up: sorting gifts, putting away the laundry, and eating the last of the cookies. We also made crystals (from a kit he received as a gift from his Granny), some music theory work, made a pot of potato leek soup, and put some eggs in the incubator. I also put some books around the house, American folk tales and the like; he finished reading the final one this afternoon. So I guess we did do some school work!

Other projects for the week will include preparing new water color paints, creating a presentation for our home school group at the Collinsville Library, drawing interpretive pictures of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and practicing piano.

To get us back to school mode, tomorrow we'll light our morning candle and recite our verses before tackling the animal care. Each day I'll add a bit of work: adding to our weather tree, painting, form drawing, morning walk. We'll use our afternoons to gradually pack away our Christmas decorations, rearrange the furniture, and re-establish our school space (our dining room). By next week we should be in full swing — learning about decimals!