Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Treehouse finished!

Good news is the treehouse (Christmas 2006 present for DS) was finished by January 10 and I took a few pictures on Jan. 14 for DH to show off at work. Yes, I realize this is old news but it did happen this year. And that makes it still new around here.

The house part is 6x8-feet and the deck adds about 2 feet on the front and 3 feet on the one side. So overall dimensions run approximately 9x10-feet. DH says he wonders if it will raise our property taxes...

I think he did an excellent job building it: quickly and with minimal expense. He used two black walnut trees in the backyard for the main supports and cut down a small walnut tree that needed to be thinned out of the sheep field. He set it in concrete tho we had quite a discussion on concrete's pros and cons. Couldn't get a definitive answer on how long it would last with or without the concrete so we went with it. DH promises to keep an eye on the wood and will set up another support should the log decay too quickly.

I didn't mind sacrificing the two walnut trees as they both had heavy iron rings mounted on them from where the previous owner had hung an old hammock. All the trees in the back are too tall and without low-hanging limbs to allow for a true treehouse so we went with this modified version. He used some lumber from an old shed he'd dismantled a year ago, shingles left from our new roof and any other salvaged material he could find. Total cost came in at under $200 and considering we'd priced a few of those free-standing swing/treehouse combos at $500-$1500 without nearly the space of this one, I have to say he did a great job at holding down the cost.

Friday, May 25, 2007

First day in the big pen!

Yes, more chickens. Our life has been revolving around these guys lately. People who come to visit say watching the chickens is better than tv. (I don't know how to compare as we haven't watched tv, other than dvd/vhs movies, in so long I can't remember what that's like -- tho I know when we're at a store with a wall of tvs playing we all turn away as the jumping video seems to hurt our eyes. . .)

We bought electric poultry netting from Premier1Supplies and tho neither DH nor I had any experience with electric fences, we managed to get it up and running without problem. We went with a solar battery energizer and one section of the longer-length netting at 164-ft. This makes a good size pen for these little guys but we may need to add another section when they're full-grown. Premier says the charger can handle up to three (3) sections, so we'll see how it goes.

For now, DS likes it and I think I will, too, as we can walk around and sit with the chickens (note lawn chairs) instead of having to stay outside the pen or hunker down under the overhead netting of the dog pen. The netting is set up in the same area of the front yard. Lots of nice shade and close by so we can just look out the window to keep an eye on them when we're kept inside by work. I can even see them as I type as they're only 15-ft away from the window by my desk. Here's what the view looks like:

To give them plenty of air, we're letting the nestboxes door hang open but DH stapled the landscape netting across the inside nest openings to keep them in and other animals out at night. First chick to hit the fence was Quirrell but as s/he's* an escape artist it was probably for the best.

*Quirrell has ear tufts and the beginnings of a beard so probably a green egg layer (Aruacana/Ameraucana mix) but as we ordered those straight-run we're not sure yet which ones are pullets and which are cockerels.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chicks ready for the big outdoors!

They've grown a lot in a month and the weather's improved to the point we're ready to let them out for their first day in their new pen. They spent the night in their portable chicken house and DS went out this morning to open the door.

I'm very glad to get them out of the garage! I read about the "chicken dust" that settles on everything but, thankfully, until the last couple of days, it hadn't been noticeable. Now I can see it in the air and on the shelves and everything else in the garage! Good to get them out in the fresh air -- that stuff can't be good for them to breathe all the time and it certainly isn't something I want drifting into the house through the open garage door. Can't imagine anyone keeping this many little guys in their house and how much dust and debris that would distribute around the home. . .

DH built the mobile chicken coop from USB and ripped 2x4s and elbow grease. Unlike the portable house in the backyard which is on wooden skids, he used 4 small lawnmower wheels to make this one mobile. The chain link dog pen was a giveaway. The chicks are small enough that they can squeeze through it so DH put a wooden stake inside each corner and to either side of the door, then used a partial roll of landscape netting (like vinyl chicken wire) to keep them in the pen. The pieces meet at the door and we use long vinyl-covered twist ties to close the gap there so we can open and close it.

Three overlapping pieces of netting cover the top of the pen and are weighted with wood to either side. Means everyone except DS has to stoop while in the pen but it keeps the chicks in and, hopefully any cats or other birds out. I don't think it would hold up to a larger predator but the pen is in the front yard only about 30 feet from the front door and 10 feet from the driveway. It's already proven its protection against T-cat, our hunter. He tried to get in by climbing the overhanging crabapple tree and didn't like getting caught in the net.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

How could I forget Dinosaurland?

Dinosaurland is the best! I can't believe we didn't get around to taking DS there until now.

20+ years ago I went there anytime I was headed north with my DSis and her kids. They knew all about Dinosaurland and wouldn't let her pass Winchester without going there on the way or on the way home. Somehow I managed to let it slip my mind until I was reading a list in Charlottesville's The Hook, I think it was, about summer car trips. And there it was!

So there's DS in front of the sign. Must have taken 4 dozen pictures if not more during the almost 3 hours we spent there. He wanted a picture with all the dinosaurs and he wanted to tell DH and me all about them. Not to mention read all the signs and do a little prey/predator acting. Finally I sat down along the path and watched as he and his dad stalked each other through the dinosaur displays. One would turn away while the other would run ahead and get in position for a staged dinosaur attack.

DH had never been there either -- didn't even know it existed until I told him how we were going to spend the day. Fortunately he enjoys a bit of play-acting and is always willing to traipse along after DS on one of these field trips. Didn't hurt that the gift shop had a small book shelf stocked with Virginia and military history tomes plus a section with a variety of beer-making supplies and wine yeasts, etc. He even wants to go back again. And DS is already asking when.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Chickens in the backyard, chicks in the garage. . .

It started innocently enough. I've always wanted a few hens, just for the eggs, you understand. And after years of telling DH how much he'd like them, too, he finally agreed.

Of course, the annual homeschool picnic at the Salatins' Polyface farm that always starts with a farm tour might have had something to do with his capitulation. He loves all things "sustainable ag," don't you know.

So we ordered 25 brown egg layers from McMurray Hatchery and I couldn't resist adding 6 straight-run Aruacana chicks to the mix. That makes 31, plus McMurray will send a "rare breed" chick with any minimum order of 25, so we were expecting 32 little chicks on April 16. Instead we received 44!

The fine print says they may need to add a few chicks to any orders that don't divide by 25 evenly. The shipping box sizes make it necessary to have certain numbers in order to keep the little guys warm on their cross-country trek. So we keep combing the catalog trying to figure out what kind of chickens we have. Guess we'll know more when they all have their regular feathers.

That covers the chicks in the garage -- soon to go out to the portable coop DH has been working on in odd moments for the last week or two. The backyard girls came from a family that had hatched them from eggs last spring but didn't want to keep them any longer. They offered and I jumped at the chance to have eggs before August!

So Madame President and her committee arrived a week or so ahead of the chicks we'd ordered. DH put together a small hen house in the backyard and the girls came home to roost. (sorry, couldn't resist!) Madame President is, I think, a silver-laced wayndotte (or is she a cuckoo maran? her eggs are very dark brown...) Miss Dolly is a barred Rock, the three brown hens are Aruacanas. They have the poofy cheek feathers (do I know how to describe poultry or what?) and lay lovely light green eggs. Jabberjaw, the white hen, is an unknown, tho she lays brown eggs so maybe she's a type of Rock, too?

Whatever kind they are, they're doing their job of laying eggs -- every day we get either 5 or 6 eggs and they're so entertaining! DH even says he likes that they "talk" to him while he's working in the yard.