Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting ready for the 4H fair

Before I start this blog, I need to explain what 4H is.  I'll do my best to tell you in my own words.  4H is a civic non-profit organization.  4H clubs are youth organizations that can be general or specialize in one or more things.    Some clubs I know of specialize in:  sheep, goats, horses, dairy cows, beef cows, rabbits, dogs... many types of animals (I'm sure you get the point), clowns, baking, insects, machine building, and the list goes on.

When I was seven years old my parents started the Bloomfield 4H club, which was a general club.  We did many things, varying from work with livestock to volunteering with senior citizens.  I have wonderful memories of baking and having our kitchen COVERED in flour, sugar, apples and messy kids.  The Auer Farm in Bloomfield used to groom a huge hill for us and we would sled in the winter.  The list of things goes on but my favorite thing to do was to participate in the Hartford County 4H fair every year.  

Over the years I showed sheep, goats, swine, and beef cattle.  I entered in a variety of items including photography, an electronic goat (I was so proud I make that thing), vegetables, canning, record book, and the list goes on.  Did I mention competing in public speaking contests to be Fair Queen? Looking back at everything I participated in I now realize I probably spread myself too thin at the fair every year but I wouldn't change it if I could.  

At the age of 18 years old I became a 4H leader and I did so for a number of years until we dissolved the club.  

Now that I work full time and parent full time, I unfortunately don't have the time to dedicate to being 4H leader.  Annually I try to find the time to volunteer at the 4H fair.  This year I will be spending Thursday evening and Friday morning signing in Canning and Freezing entries.  On Friday, I will be assisting with the Swine show (I normally announce the shows, record the placements, and help break up pig fights).  On Sunday,  my family and I will be walking to support the Austin Harlow Memorial Race (hopefully next year I'll have the endurance to run the 5 K race with the stroller).  Also on Sunday,   I will be doing something new for me.  I will be judging the swine showmanship competition for the premier showmanship contest (when the top showman of a variety of breeds show those breeds in a competition to be awarded the most "premier" showman).  

My dad died on August 19, 2010 (the day before the 2010 4H fair).  My parents started my family's involvement with 4H and they, especially my father, have always been very active with the organization. I have SO many fond memories of my father at the fair!  From camping and sleeping over in the barns with my friends and him (chaperone), to chasing around loose animals, to his silent loving support and the goofing around he was best known for.  He was the swine advisor for many years and was lovingly known as the "Pig Man".   My involvement in the swine barn is something I enjoy to do in honor of my dad.

So if you're free this weekend, August 17, 18, 19 2012 and you want to check out the Hartford County 4H Fair please feel free to stop by, say hi, and check out what the kids have been busy getting ready for all year.  If you're interested the 5 K road race and 1 mile fun walk is Sunday 8-19-12 at 9:00 AM.  

The fair is at the Four Town Fair Grounds on Egypt Rd, Somers, CT

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Land

A little over a year and a half ago Steve and I purchased 9.23 acres of land. The land had a new foundation already poured on it and a new septic tank put in.

Last year my brother, David, and I went out with a GPS to find the approximate property lines and search for any property markers (one of which is a big rock that I picked up to look for a marker under, lol). As we walked around the perimeter of the property we realized the foundation and septic were not placed on our land.

The guy we bought our land from had purchased a front lot and a rear lot of land. His intent was to break it into 4 or 5 lots and build houses. Well it looks like he didn't do his research because in our town you need a minimum of 5 acres to build a house on a rear lot. The front lot had 2.33 acres and our lot, the rear lot, had 9.23. The guy opted to just build 2 houses so, with the Town's approval, he went ahead and poured the foundations. The problem is the foundation for the rear lot was poured where he originally planned on putting the second house (when he was going to divide the lot).  This is on the front lot and not the rear lot.  :(

We were paying taxes on a foundation we didn't even own. After consulting with a surveyor, I was able to show the Town that the foundation was not on our land. Now our poor neighbors who own the front lot have to pay taxes on this hole in their yard that they can't legally build on! I feel bad about this.  Thankfully, our neighbors have been really supportive to us about this mess.  

This leaves us with a mostly wooded lot of land, with the exception of where the CL&P right of way is. I'm planning on clearing almost the whole lot, except where I'll be leaving trees up to block the view of the power lines.

I had called a builder to ask for an estimate of how much it would cost to have a small area cleared for a house, a septic put in, and a foundation put in (all things we were told when we were buying we already owned). I was told it would cost $80-90k!!! Are you kidding me? That's almost what we spent on the land.

Well I don't have that type of money so my attorney filed a title insurance claim because we didn't receive what we were told we were purchasing. I heard back on Monday and was told the insurance company is denying out claim. My attorney is going to see of there's anything we can do to dispute that.

I'm trying to stay positive about this land and I'm hopeful one day we'll be able to build a home on it.  On Thursday, I'll be meeting with the owner of a forestry company to see if they have any interest in clearing the lot.  A friend of mine recently used this company to clear his land and he ended up making a little bit of money off of the trees on his land. David and I went out on Sunday and threw markers up around our property lines. There seem to be some nice big trees on there so hopefully the forestry company will like what they see.  Please keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer fun

Hello!  I haven't written a blog in quite a while.  I didn't forget about the blog but as you know, life takes over.  I think that's a good thing.

We've had a busy summer so far.  Steve and I have both been busy with work (blah!) but more importantly we've been trying to enjoy the nice weather as a family (which is tough when you have different work schedules).

At the end of May, beginning of June we took a trip to Cape Cod.  Thanks to my awesome family we were able to stay at their house (and thanks to my friend, April, and family for watching the critters while we were gone).  In memory of my dad (who wanted to do a "Duck Ride" years ago in Philadelphia years ago but was denied by Steve) we went on a Duck Ride.

We went to the Cape Cod Chip factory, ate lots of seafood.  I guess you can say...
My cousins, aunt, and their cute but crazy dog Emme joined us.  We took a trip to P-Town and the highlight of the trip was when Andrew took the name of the town seriously.  He peed all over one of my cousins, lol.  Here's Andrew wearing his new pants he got after our visit to "Pee-Town":

Last thing about the Cape... most people who know me know I have an obsession with ice cream.  My cousins brought us to our name sake ice cream shop.

Update on our house:

We've been working hard to improve on our house.  We just had our 5 year anniversary of living here.  I can't believe how much work we've done to it in just 5 years.  To list a few we got a new sub-floor and wood floor in two rooms, a remodeled family room, some new windows & roofing, new garage doors & openers, the chicken mc-mansion, and many improvements to the yard.  Our soil is pretty much all sandy so it's taken us a long time to grow in grass (the last owners had ATV paths all over the lawn).  I'm pretty bummed because CL&P came out to remove some trees from our new lot (behind our current lot).  I offered for them to go a little off of their right-of-way for safety reason.  The first two days of tree removal were fine.  I came home on the third day and most of my grass was killed and my lawn looked like a sand pit!  Not to mention, they cut down trees and raspberry bushes on MY property (NOT on the right of way).  They also broke my Invisible Fence we had installed for the dogs.  I've left a couple of messages asking them to re-seed my lawn and haven't heard back yet.  Does anyone out there own a property that has a utility right of way?  If so, have you had similar problems? Anyone have suggestions as to how I can get them to fix what they've destroyed?
(it's worse in the back behind their machine)

Before I finish my blog, I wanted to share a video.  Please excuse me talking and Steve goofing around with Andrew in the background.  This is one of the two chicks that we raised in the house.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Failed Adoption

For those of you who are reading this and know me, you probably know that my family is a licensed foster home and we've been awaiting an adoption placement for years.  It's actually starting to feel pretty ridiculous how long we've been waiting but there's a reason for everything.  I just haven't figured it out yet.  Really this blog has nothing to do with our adoption process.   Yup, you guessed it, more about chickens.  (Oh no, am I starting to live vicariously through a hen?!  Lol, I hope not but then again I'm jealous that she gets to stay at home every day to raise her babies)

So last Saturday, May 5, 2012, we went to the Feed Warehouse in Southwick, MA to buy a few chicks.  The owner, Larry, had ordered Rhode Island Reds, Buff Opringtons, Barred Rocks, and Corinish Rocks (meat birds).  The chicks had hatched on Monday (the same day some of Judy's chicks hatched).  We purchased 1 Barred Rock (black chick with a white spot on her head) and 2 Buff Opringtons (yellowish in color).

As you may already know, the six chicks Judy hatched were hatched from eggs laid by a variety of hens and are assorted breeds.  It is possible to sneak day old chicks under a broody hen (a hen laying on eggs) and have her raise them like her own.  I decided to take a big risk and sneak the three new chicks under Judy to see if she would take them.

I attempted to place the chicks on Saturday night.  Chickens don't see well at night.  This makes them very vulnerable to predators and to crazy women placing random chicks under them at night.  I put all three chicks in one hand, lifted judy up slightly with the other hand and let the chicks snuggle in under her.  It couldn't have gone any smoother.

On Sunday, May 6, I went out first thing in the morning to check on the chicks.  I saw Judy walking around with a bunch of chicks.  I counted them... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.... umm there should be 9 right?  Ok, I counted again and yup only 8.  I realized Judy only had one black chick and she should have two.  I heard an assertive little peep coming out from behind the dog crate I have on the floor of the coop (where the brooding box is located).  Thank God the little black chick was back there and was alright.

I tried to convince Judy that this chick belonged with the rest but she chased her off.  I brought the chick inside the house and set her up in an old recycling box I had.  I tried placing the little Barred Rock with Judy again on Sunday night also but Steve came home on Monday morning and told me that she was rejected again.  Looks like we'll be raising her by hand.

Chickens like company so we knew we needed to get our indoor chick a buddy.  I considered taking one of Judy's 8 chicks to keep her company but decided I'd leave her alone to raise them and just buy a couple more.  Thankfully we didn't rush out to buy them because it was only a matter of time before the little Barred Rock had company.

On Wednesday, Steve called me in the morning and told me that he found one of the light colored chicks (possibly one of the Buff Opringtons) dead in the dog crate.  He wasn't sure who killed it but I'm thinking it was Judy since it was locked in the crate with her when he found it.  It had an opened wound from being pecked behind its head.

Steve removed the dead chick and watched to see how the remaining seven chicks were doing.  I'm so glad he stayed to watch them interact because he noticed Judy was rejecting another one of the light colored chicks (another adopted chick?).  She was trying to chase it off and was pecking its back.

 (scab on her back from being pecked)

Steve grabbed the chick and brought it in the house to live with the Barred Rock.  In time we'll know for sure if the three she rejected were, in fact, the three I tried convincing her to adopt.

I wasn't thrilled about raising the chicks in the house but Andrew likes to "peep" at them, pet them, and feed them so it's turned out to be fun.  If only I could teach him how to clean out their box.

 Please excuse the baby burp on the video :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Swarm

Hello everyone, this is Steve, Sue's husband and this will be my first ever blog.  This evening after working my normally scheduled midnight shift, and working the Granby Road Race I slept for a mere 4 hours.  At about 5:00 P.M., my mother-in-law called me at the house.  It's a swarm!!!   Although somewhat excited, I was mainly exhausted and not feeling up to the task.  But Sue came home, loaded me up, got me a Dunkin Donuts coffee and I was ready to go.

I'll give just a brief background about my newly found hobby.  In August, 2010, my father-in-law, Sue's dad, Richard died after a hard fought battle with brain cancer.  When Rich died, he left behind many loved ones, animals, and about 11 bee hives.  I took it upon myself to face my fear of anything that could sting me, and take over the duties of co-beekeeper along with my brother-in-law Dave.

Last year we extracted about 73 pounds of finished raw honey.  Being novices in the trade, we lost many hives over the winter and are now down to 3 hives.  Bees are fascinating insects and are essential to agriculture for their role in pollination.  When bees feel confined, and are growing their colony in the spring, they swarm to find better locale.  The queen leaves the colony, with about 60% of the worker bees.  So, what does a bee swarm look like?  Take a look, and by the way these photos were taken by Sue who was standing behind us, and foolishly not wearing a bee suit.

There are several thousand bees in this swarm.  This swarm posed a dilemma for Dave and me.  They swarmed in between the rafters of one of the barns next to where their original hive is located.  The rafters were located at the higher end of the barn, about ten feet high.  Dave and I used the reliable John Deere tractor, and placed a new hive box on a grapple bucket lifting it just under the swarm.  We then leaned two ladders against the bucket so that Dave and I could sweep the swarm into their new home.  Here is a look of our setup

With everything in place, it was time to get down and dirty.  We literally had to put our hands, gloved of course, in the eye of the storm.  At first our plan was to come up under the swarm, and place them into the hive box.  Given the number of bees we would probably still be there scooping bees in the hive box.  Dave said, and I would agree, that the feeling of the bees was almost like a beating heart, you could feel the fluttering of the swarm.  Our plan changed to just putting our hands toward the top of the rafters, and pushing down on the swarm.

Unfortunately, we were not able to do this without some casualties.  When a honey bee stings or dies, it releases a pheromone to let the rest of the colony know there is danger.  Soon, all you can hear is the distinct hum of bees flying near your ears.  After the initial sweeping of the swarm, Dave and I backed down the ladders and looked at our progress.  We also looked at Dave's gloves, if he didn't have them on I think he would be in a little pain.  Take a look, all of the little white sacks you see are the venom sacks from the honey bee.  Once a honey bee stings she (because workers are females, and male or drones don't sting) loses her life.

After the first sweep, we were able to get most of the swarm and hopefully more importantly the queen in the hive box.  The majority of the swarm were in the hive box, the bees you see on the corners are fanning it down hopefully getting ready to make it their home.

Dave and I decided to let the swarm calm down before doing our second sweep.  This time, we used a long putty knife, which was Sue's idea, to push the bees into the hive box.  This proved to be very effective.  That's me scooping, and Dave next to me.

Dave finished the scooping, and even though we didn't get every single bee, which you won't, we were confident the queen was in the hive box.  If we are right, the rest of the bees still on the rafters will move to the hive box with their queen.  When everything was done, here is what we had in the hive box.  The queen hopefully made her way down to the lower box to start making brood, and before you know it we will now have a fourth hive!

Two of our three hives have honey supers which are ready to harvest, so stay tuned and stop by to buy some when it's ready just in time for allergy season!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Oh how fast they grow" (said in my best old lady voice)

Ever since the time I was pregnant people have always warned me that "It goes by so fast".  I've always said I understand and I'll try to cherish every moment.  I really do cherish every moment of my son's life, but I still don't think I fully grasp how fast the time is going by.  My son, Andrew, is already 15 months* old!  Just 2 years ago this week, I was in Week 4 of my pregnancy and Andrew was just  beginning to form his major internal organs.  I was feeling tired but I had no idea I was even pregnant.  It's so amazing to think how much life has changed in just 2 little years.  

Andrew had his 15 month appointment today.  We're blessed that he's a happy and healthy kid.  He's in the 91st percentile for his height and the 65th for his weight.  I wonder if he'll stay big for his age.  No matter what I really look forward to watching him grow.  

         *side note: I've always believed once my son turned 1, I'd just say he's 1 and drop the month talk.  For those of you who aren't parents, it's much harder then you'd think to say your kid is 1 when he's 15 months.  There are so many changes that happen every month that you end up talking about age in months.  I still find it annoying that I talk in months when he's over a year old but I just can't seem to stop. 

Chicken Update:

I checked in on the chickens when I got home from work and saw that another chick hatched (an orange one).  :)  Broody Judy gave up on the last two eggs which gave me an opportunity to cleaned out the old shells and the last 2 eggs.  One of the eggs had a crack in it.  I opened it up a little bit and confirmed that the chick died.  I'll spare you the photograph (unless you want it) but it was a little black chick. 

Here's Judy exploring with the chicks.

Can you believe just 22 & 23 days ago eggs were being laid that resulted in these little peepers?  

Children and chicks: "Oh how fast they grow"

Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 21 for the rest

Today is day 21 for the remaining half of the incubated eggs. The first thing I did when I got home from work was check on the hen.  I noticed she had moved to the other corner of the box.  I saw two empty eggs left behind from where she had been and a black blob in the back corner of the box.  I really couldn't tell what the black blob was but I was thinking perhaps the black chick died.  Thankfully I didn't reach in to take it out because it was a big load of chicken poop.  Lol, who knows maybe it would have made for a funny blog.

I moved Broody Judy and saw a total of 5 chicks.

All of the chicks that hatched today were white.  I saw black marks on at least 2 of them.  They'll start exploring over the next couple of days and I'll be able to get a better look at them.  

I hope you enjoyed reading as they hatched.  I'll keep posting more pictures as they grow.  Oh and we're buying some more chicks on Wednesday.