Monday, April 28, 2008

how was my weekend?

Oh, it was great, thanks. Really special. In fact, it was a lot like this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the quick and the dead

Well, it was quite a weekend. Our hatch that was due on Friday didn't start making an appearance until Sunday. Here is some of what we saw when things started moving along:

This was on of the first "pips" in the shell that we saw:

After a chick pips, it "zips" the shell -sort of pecks away in a semi-circle until it's able to start pushing its way out:

It's so exciting to see that first real fissure in the egg shell start opening up:

Then you start to see some feathers. Silkies have black skin (and even black bones, apparently), so even the lighter-colored ones look black when they're still wet at hatching time:

There's one little claw:

Free at last!

...except for this darned sombrero, which was a bit hard to shake:

Ah, nap time. Nobody told us they were going to look and act like drunken space aliens who'd been severely slimed on their journey to Earth:

This is a bit more comfortable:

And before long, there's a buddy in the 'bator:

By late Sunday night, we had three new chicks and one more pipped egg. The chick that took the longest to zip the shell (about 30 hours) had its feet curled into little clenched fists, so it wasn't able to get around like the others. I ended up splinting its tiny, weak toes to try to straighten them out, after being told that this should be done ASAP. For a while it looked like it was rallying: I'd dipped the tip of its beak in water and tried to introduce it to some warm chick starter mash so it could get its energy up. By last night, though, my husband and I agreed that it didn't look good, and despite all efforts my son went into the bathroom first thing this morning and woke me up to tell me that he thought it had died. Sadly, he was right. It was hard, but it wasn't a shock; and I also knew we'd done as much as we could for the little one. So, we had a chick funeral first thing this morning before school. My son asked me if the burial spot was a chicken graveyard now, since that's also where we buried his prize-winning rooster after it was killed by dogs last fall. I told him I guessed it was.

So, that was a little somber, but it wasn't the hardest part. The hardest part was when I went to check on the remaining pipped/zipping egg in the incubator. Since yesterday it had been making progress, but it was very slow progress. Last night, my mother-in-law and I debated about maybe putting it under the broody hen to see if that would move things along, but we eventually decided that leaving it undisturbed would be the better option. I wish I'd paid more attention and intervened, though, because it didn't take long for me to realize that, though it had about a centimeter of the shell zipped, there were no cheeps and no signs of life as there had been last night. Sure enough, when I took the egg out and started picking away at the shell with my fingernail, I could see that the little chick had died, probably at some point during the night.

Part of the problem, I believe, was that it had pipped the wrong end of the shell (the smaller, pointy end), which meant it didn't have as much room to move around and peck itself out. The chick was also huge (and perfect looking), so I'm pretty sure it suffocated in there. That was the part that got to me - the fact that I could have easily chosen to get in there and help it out if I had maybe paid closer attention and realized the chick was in trouble. That was the part - that sense of culpability - that had me sitting out on the back step with the dead chick still partially cradled in its egg bawling my eyes out. If only.

But I have to remind myself that I didn't know. That even experienced egg hatchers lose chicks at all stages of the incubation and hatch process. It's a beautiful and brutal thing, this life and death business. Now, it's time to tend to the life part, to the sweet little survivors:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

day 22 (or: and then there were six)

Chicken eggs need 21 days to incubate before they are ready to hatch. During those three weeks all sorts of changes are constantly taking place, eventually turning that microscopic little dot on the yolk into a full-fledged chick. Tons of genetic and environmental factors can influence the final outcome, however. For instance, if an incubator's temperature spikes a few degrees for an hour or so, there's a good chance all the embryos will die. I haven't had to deal with temperature spikes during my first incubation experience, but I have had humidity issues. One of the biggest was the discovery at the end of week 2 that my PetSmart hygrometer was defective. I thought I was maintaining a lovely 62% humidity for days on end, only to find out (when I finally got suspicious) that the stupid thing read 62 percent whether I put it in the 'bator or outside (where the humidity was right around 15%).

Anyway, we're at day 22 now, which means the hatch is officially overdue. But I'm not worried or anything. Nah. Not me. I've just been shining a light through the incubator window every five minutes because I have nothing better to do. Yeah, that's it. I must have stared for hours yesterday as the eggs started to rock and roll a little, and when the kids and I actually heard cheeping from a couple of the eggs this morning you would have thought Willy Wonka himself had just announced that we'd all won golden tickets.
It would have been lovely if my broody hen had been ready to set when the eggs arrived, thus allowing me to bypass all this anxiety and overwroughtedness (is that a word?). But she wasn't. She is now, though:

The other hen isn't broody at all, and I think it's because she views herself as just way too above all that sitting-on-eggs nonsense. That blue ribbon from the fair last year went straight to her head, I tell ya:

My mother-in-law (aka the genuine farmgirl in the family) came over to candle the incubator eggs a second time, this time with a more powerful candler. Unfortunately, when held to the light, most of the eggs glowed like little yellow Christmas lights (which meant there were no chicks inside). In fact, when we broke those 18 eggs open (outside in the fresh air, of course), only one of them contained an embryo, and that one looked like it had died in the first week. The others showed no sign of an embryo presence, much less development, which leads me to believe they weren't fertile in the first place, or they were scrambled by the post office en route from Florida to Arizona, or a combination of both.

Anyway, so there we were - down to six eggs. It was sad to see the incubator so uncrowded all of a sudden, but that's the breaks (especially with shipped eggs, as I've learned). The good news was that we saw definite chickage in the remaining ones. That's when the last, longest part of the wait began. I was glad to get away to Phoenix for a couple days, and then a new job started up, which kept me further occupied. There was a 4-H meeting to get ready for, too (I lead the local horse group), and that turned out to be fun. My husband gave a shoeing demonstration, and we all stood out in the arctic wind, proving what tough equestriennes we are (yeah, right).

There was a new tomcat to figure out, too. This is Mogi (short for Mogollon, which is pronounced Mogiyon)... named because the Mogollon Rim just south of Flagstaff has the dubious distinction of being one of the most lightning-struck places on the planet, and I think Mogi looks just like a grey thundercloud over the prairie.

He may be something fancy, too, like one of those Russian Blues. All I know is he's young and sweet, and he definitely seems to be sticking around. Also, those fuzzy little round things between his hind legs will be snipped off very soon.
But still, despite all these distractions, I have continued to worry, and I continued to obsessively research all the things that can go wrong not just during the incubation process, but during the actual hatching process, when you'd think you'd pretty much be in the clear. But Nooooooooooo. Chicks can drown in the air sacs before they pip the egg (make that first little hole). They can suffocate inside membranes that dry out too quickly after pipping (back to the humidity issue), and they can fail to fully absorb the yolk or hatch with their intestines hanging out. Nightmare-creating stuff, I say. I told my husband that I would have made a completely neurotic hen, so it's a good thing God made me a female human instead.

He chose the strategically intelligent response of total silence.

Then I started to worry about my kids. They've been so patient and excited during these past three weeks that the thought of a failed hatch hurt my heart on their accounts. So, I hemmed and hawed, and deliberated and thought...and then my neighbor mentioned that the feed n' grain in town was due to get another shipment of day-old Silkie chicks in the next day.

You just knew this was coming, didn't you?

There's four, one for each person in the family. Mine's the big yellow one, and I've named it Ivan the Terrible due to the fact that it unmercifully tried to peck the sh*t out of all the others their first day home. If it turns out to be a pullet and not a cockerel, I'll call her Ivanka.

I dare you to tell me the last time you saw something cuter.

I'll let you know how the hatch goes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

better stand tall when they're calling you out

Okay. I totally have no clue how to get the concert pics off my cell phone and onto my blog. What a dork.

Anyway, here's a bad video clip someone took at Saturday's show. Like I'm one to talk.


Friday, April 11, 2008


I'm so psyched. I'm sitting here in a Phoenix parking lot waiting for my husband to finish up one of his Microsoft re-certification tests, so I thought I'd get online and try to figure out who's going to be opening for Bon Jovi tonight.

It's DAUGHTRY!!!!!!!!

Okay, I thought I was excited before.....

:-D !!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

a normal-sized fig leaf would do it

Wait for the anteater.

Wait for it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

adventures in egg candling

My mother-in-law, who is a true, authentic, dyed-in-the-wool farm girl, came over this afternoon to candle the Silkie eggs that have now been sitting (and hopefully growing) in the Little Giant incubator for eleven days (that means we're officially more than halfway to hatch day - hooray!). In case you're not familiar with egg candling, it basically entails shining a bright light through an egg to get some idea of what's going on inside. Ideally, you want to see a growing embryo in there, and some people on the egg boards I frequent (yeah, I know, I'm a total poultry geek) even report seeing a little beating chicken heart!

I tried candling a few of the eggs in the dark of the closet yesterday with a flashlight, but it was a very disconcerting experience. You know when you get a bad headache and decide to look up your symptoms online, only to discover that you surely have a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit and about 36 hours to live? Well, I've been doing way too much incubation "research" online lately, so I was sure that each egg I shined light through was either a) an explosive about ready to blow, or b) a total dud that had never been fertilized in the first place.

Fortunately, my MIL was able to dispel some of those fears. She came over with her homemade candler, and the kids and I followed her into the guest bathroom, turned off the light, and watched her expertly "read" our 21 potential peeps. So far it looks like we have only two or three true duds (eggs that were never fertilized while still developing inside the mama hens). It was hard to tell if the remaining eggs contained live embryos or not, but there was definitely something in there.

On another farmy note: I was watching RFD-TV the other day, and they were doing a show for corn-growers (did I mention I'm easily amused?). One of the farmers commented that corn has recently gotten very expensive - no kidding! Gallon jugs of corn oil from Wal-Mart (which we use for supplementing our 27-year-old gelding's feed) were going for $5 last year. Now, they're $8!

Don't even get me started on hay prices. Sheesh.

Friday, April 04, 2008

yesterday I got so old...

I guess I've come down with a touch of the post-birthday blues, since yesterday turned out to be quite nice - no marching bands, no bi-planes writing my name in the sky, but there were beautiful homemade cards from the kids, a lovely cake and more concert tickets from the husband (to see The Cure in June)!!! They were my favorite band of all time about twenty (GAH!) years ago, and I haven't seen them live since the early 90's, when I went with a guy who wore more eyeliner than I did. Oh, wait - DUDE. I am so totally going to wear the Punk Rebel Sketchers I bought in California last year when going through a personal crisis!

It promises to be much fun (and a little strange if my husband actually joins me, since he hasn't had a single punk/new wave tendency in his life).

I also got these lovelies from a dear friend of whom I'm now quite jealous since she has a pair of baby ducks and got to see them swimming around in her sink today:

I'm feeling a little broke this weekend, so I think it will be a quiet one involving egg turning, sleeping in and catching up on some work. Oh, and I picked up a copy of The Assassination of Jesse James to watch, since I didn't get to see it while it was on the big screen. Can't wait to see how my old teacher Ron's book translates to film. I recently finished another edit of my lit fic-turned-YA manuscript, so that's off my plate for a while and onto my agent's. The editor feedback thus far has been incredibly helpful, so I have hopes that it's getting closer to finding a home.

Have a lovely spring weekend, Everyone!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

for those about to rock

I turn 38 tomorrow. Yup. Inching ever closer to the big Four-Oh. That's okay, though, because Oprah assures me that 40 will be the best year of my life. So, I'll have that going for me in a couple years.

For my gift this year the husband is giving us a trip down to Glendale to see Mr. Bongiovi and the gang. I can't wait. We saw them in San Jose a few years ago for the Have a Nice Day tour, and it was - DUDE - totally radical. I just hope Richie can hold it together long enough to play that night. Last time we saw the band he had just broken up with Heather, and it wasn't pretty. He still worked that six-string over, though.

I've been prepping my eardrums for the big event by traumatizing the speakers in my truck with the following:

A little Nickelback (because nobody holds a candle when it comes to Joseph Cambell-ish testosto-ballads. Gah - Chad Kroeger's voice makes me all goosebumpy. What a nice Canadian export.)

Queen (because Freddie was magic, and they walked the line of hard rockin' vs. sweet sentimentality so flippin' well)

Night Ranger (because, I'm sorry, who DIDN'T pound out this particular drum beat on their steering wheel in the 80's?) (Also, this video was partially shot at my high school's rival - Tamalpais High - which, incidentally, was where my junior year prom date went to school... and I've now officially crossed into TMI territory)

Finger Eleven (because they are essentially the love child of Franz Ferdinand and Metallica, with a disco ball hung over its crib. Also, David Sylvian - the patron saint of the Pretentious Twits of the Late 80's Association (PTL8A - of which I was a card carrying member) - has filed a paternity suit.)

And then I've been warming down with a little Jason Mraz, because...well, I don't know, actually. It could be that he has finally achieved universal domination by brainwashing all of us with this song. Even if that's the case, I still totally dig the chicken-and-egg theme.

the return of rhythm

I was going to write a post called "Goosed" a few weeks ago. It was going to describe my experience of standing at the horses' water trough as it filled and hearing a far-off sound that was almost foreign but not quite. The sound tripped some ancient sensor in my brain, which suddenly started going through all the accumulated audio files, trying to place it.

Finally, I looked out into the sky above the prairie and spotted the source: one lone goose, the first I'd seen since this time last year, headed toward the bird sanctuary next to our house. He was flapping and honking, honking and flapping, as if to say (warning: shameless anthropomorphizing ahead), "I'm here! I'm here! I'm here." (Or, "I just flew in from Mexico, and boy are my arms tired.") His honk sounded like someone opening a big, rusty metal door over and over again, and it was a glorious sound. It was the kind of sound that made me want to honk right back at him or maybe start dancing in place. It was the sound of nature's orchestra getting ready to warm up the instruments.

The music hasn't begun in full yet, but activity in that orchestra pit is heating up. After our brutal winter in which all music and rhythm seemed to be pummelled and then buried under icy sludge, I'm almost getting used to the sound of birds calling to each other first thing in the morning; The sight of green grass clumps here and there on the property no longer startles me; My crocus leaves poked through the ground last week, and I spent a few hours yesterday with a couple of little girls - spring's sparkling, unencumbered poster children - planting some late, pink tulip bulbs and gathering eggs from the coop (eggs which made a great snack when we came back inside and cooked them up).

There's no way to capture this fleeting return of the rebirth season really, no way to preserve it in Mason jars or on film as the commercials would have us believe. I guess the best I can do is give it a shout out. So, "Yo! Spring! Good to see ya back!"