Archive | February 2017

Winter Chicks


The chicks I was forced to hatch in January due to the loss of my best rooster are a month old now.  There are nineteen babies.  One died at day three, a common time for newly hatched chicks to perish if they have an internal birth defect.  The rest of the flock seem to be doing well.

The first month of their lives was spent in cardboard boxes in our house.  Their lives began in a bathroom in two joined boxes with a 60W light bulb for warmth.  At two weeks they outgrew that space.  I moved them to two larger conjoined boxes in our unheated woodshed.  With foam board insulation around the boxes and a 100W bulb they kept warm.  When the temperatures dipped below 30F in the woodshed I ran an electric space heater.  The babies thrived and grew quickly.b

Two days ago we moved them outside to an insulated hen house.  I’ve sealed all the windows and doors with plastic sheeting, used plywood to create a space with a ceiling about three feet high, and installed a 250W heat lamp.  At night I close off the heated area with plastic burlap to a space about 3 ft x 5 ft under the lamp.  Their water and food are inside with them.  So far they have stayed warm and their water hasn’t iced up.  We are lucky to be in a thaw period with temperatures in the 40sF during the day and no colder than 15F at night.a

The little guys are growing fast, making more insulating feathers by the minute.  They love the freedom of forty square feet of floor during the day.  I can hear them chirping away as they romp and flutter about in the hen house.

Chickens love apples and these babies are no exception.  They will peck a whole apple away in a day.  They also quickly learned to drink from a pan.  I teach all my baby chicks to drink from a pan by placing the beginner waterer they first learned to use inside the pan.  In no time everyone drinks from the new water source.  They eat chick mash like little feathered piggies.

These winter necessity chicks were a real burden to raise in the house, but I think the effort will be worthwhile.  At least four of the babies appear to be little roosters that look very much like the father we lost to a weasel back in December.  They are silver splash in color with lots of white on their breasts and body feathers.  I am hoping to produce some laced chicks from the splash color.  Although splash and laced are not accepted purebred Ameraucana chicken colors, I find the laced coloration very beautiful.  Each white feather has a band of black around the outside edge.d

So, if I’m lucky, breeding the splash color may result in laced babies one day.  Hopefully on a nice warm spring day and not in the depths of winter!



Up until now we’ve been lucky here in central Maine to have avoided excessive snowfalls this winter.  Several large storms have hit us, but the precipitation turned to pouring rain.  The nor’easter that started smacking us last night is all snow, pouring snow.  We have blizzard conditions with heavy snow and wind reducing visibility sometimes to only a few feet.

The storm, named Winter Storm Orson by some person at the Weather Channel, started yesterday afternoon and has so far dumped about 18″ of light, fluffy white stuff on us.  Since the system seems stalled in the Gulf of Maine, it continues to coat us at a rate of several inches per hour.  I spent an hour-and-a-half this morning out in the teeth of the storm moving snow out of the driveway with the farm tractor.  Not a fun time.  It’s easier when the tractor can be faced out of the wind, at least.  Otherwise so much snow hits the face that it is blinding and hard to breathe.  I managed to clear a passage through the depths so we can get out in an emergency.

a2Clearing the vehicles will take a few minutes.  They are rapidly disappearing.  Our Subaru Impreza is barely visible in the drifts.  The back door to the house was buried about half-way up and could not be opened.  Luckily we could get the front door open to get around back and shovel.  The snow is above knee-level on me.  I have to wade to get around.

We know for sure this is a big storm because the Post Office and UPS have suspended operations for the day in this area.  If the mail can’t get through, no one can make it.  The road is deserted.  I’m happy people are using their heads and staying home.  The snow piles are so deep on the sides of the road that our mailbox has disappeared.  We are expecting another five solid hours of heavy snow.  Guess I’ll be on the tractor in the driveway again before the day is through.

Holly’s Ills


Here is Holly, our 7-year-old German Shepherd, on her special stool for eating.  She must stand with the front of her body elevated to about a 45 degree angle while she is eating and for about twenty minutes after to help her food go down.  She has megaesophagus.  The muscles of the esophagus have relaxed and don’t swallow properly.  Food builds up inside her throat, swelling up her esophagus instead of going into her stomach.  This leads to regurgitation of undigested food and can cause inhalation pneumonia.

She has had this problem for several months.  At first we thought it was caused by Lyme disease.  She was diagnosed with that illness in the fall.  Since then she’s undergone two 30-day courses of antibiotics.  Her symptoms improved about fifty percent from when she was the most ill.  Then she hit a plateau.  Last week we went back to the vet for more testing.  The vet had to shave spots on both front legs to get the blood necessary to run a full panel.

The results came back essentially normal.  We were all scratching our heads over this dog.  She had low normal thyroid function.  Her energy levels have been low and her coat is poor, although she is underweight and has muscle wasting which could explain those symptoms.  Or the symptoms could be due to low thyroid function.  We decided to start her on thyroid supplement for a month to see if it made a difference.  The twice-a-day dose is not too much trouble because the pill is tiny and goes down easily.  We have noticed that she seems a bit brighter and more energetic the past few days.  The megaesophagus has not really changed.

I have been doing considerable research trying to figure out what is wrong with Holly.  There is a small amount of information about low thyroid dogs and concurrent megaesophagus in the medical literature.  In general, this condition is unusual, but not unheard of.  German Shepherds are one breed more often affected.  In most cases supplementing thyroid hormone does not affect the megaesophagus.  In a few cases, the regurgitation of undigested food held in the throat disappeared after the thyroid levels were improved, although radiologic evidence of megaesophagus remained.  In one cited case of a seven-yr-old female German Shepherd, not only did her overall condition improve on the medication, but the megaesophagus resolved.

So there is some hope that things might improve for Holly.  She does a very good job of climbing up on her stool for meals and standing there until she is told ok to get down.  Most of the time she eats all her food, it goes in and stays in.  Sometimes we have a mess to clean up.  The fact that she seems in better spirits is heartening.  Sure hoping that Holly’s case follows a successful path.

***On Feb. 18, 2017 Holly lost her struggle with whatever illness was debilitating her.  She passed peacefully and in the spring will be laid to rest in the cemetery with our other dearly departed pet friends.