wet, wild and wooly

I now completely understand why natural fiber yarns cost so much. It takes SO much time and energy just to process the fiber! I spent almost ALL my spare time this weekend just WASHING my two romney lamb fleeces I was so generously given. I used this method here: http://www.tengoodsheep.com/tutorial.html and it worked like a charm. I had to do it in my laundry room instead of outside, since it’s quite cold and wet here now. (Why didn’t I do it this summer? Oh yeah… Project Chicken Integration. 🙂 ) And I used lavender oil instead of the recommended patchouli or clove in the rinse cycle, since I prefer the smell. But, WOW, for someone who puts off doing laundry until her kids start complaining that they have no clean underwear, 6 huge buckets of cold water soaking and 6 hot water washes and rinses is a lot. I did manage to finish my kids’ laundry at the same time, much to their delight. Spending all that time in the laundry room doing unnecessary washing started to make me feel guilty about it. 😉

While the kids are now happily (hah!) folding their mountains of clean clothes, my beautiful lamb fleeces are happily drying on racks (surprisingly quickly after their spin cycles), dreaming fluffy dreams of being spun into yarn and turned into something cuddly. Here’s the white one (SO MUCH WHITER!):

white-romny-lamb-fleece2

And here’s the dark brown (boy, those guinea pig cages have really come in handy… guinea homes, chick brooders, and now wool processors!):

brown-romney-lamb-fleeces

It actually looks kind of gross in this photo, but the individual locks are gorgeous… and SO soft. Not scratchy at all when I rub them against my chin (my favorite test for wearable fiber).

But even with all that washing, there is still a lot vegetable matter hanging out in it. These lambs must have been rolling down hills together, or something.

romney-lamb-fleece

romney-lamb-fleece-brown

A question for those of you who have processed fiber… is it normal to have SO much embedded VM after washing? It seems like it really wants to cling to the wool, and every once in a while I even find it in commercial yarns. It’s going to be a painstaking process to card or comb it all out, that’s for sure. But I’m not really complaining. It’s quite enjoyable sinking my hands into all this lovely softness any way I can… especially now that it’s so clean and fragrant! And the results are going to be very much worth the effort:

romney-lamb-locks

So soft and lovely. And just look at that staple length! It’s going to practically spin itself.

– – –

OH! And check out the new sleeping arrangements in the chicken house… just in time for the cold, wet weather and Gloria to go into her annual feather-dumping molt. This is not a good pic, but I can only catch them all up there when it’s dark:

chickens-roosting

All three girls are quite inseparable now… my dream of backyard harmony has come true at last! The only thing that would make it more perfect is to start getting eggs again. Ah sigh… but poor Gloria.. she looks so much skinnier right now, and pretty silly with only one tail feather left:

gloria-tail-feather

But most definitely less lonely…

gloria-tail-feather3

The Mystery of the Egg Size Discrepancy

It’s been 8 months since my hens started laying, and it still completely baffles me why Cleo’s eggs are consistently so much bigger than Gloria’s, with the exception of her freakishly large “Frankenstein” egg, after which she skipped a day of laying and then laid a dwarf -sized egg. Cleo seems to be a superior layer in other ways as well. She’s much more consistent and hardly ever misses a day, but Gloria misses about 1 in 5 days on average. And I’ve already mentioned how Cleo’s eggs are even easy to peel when hard-boiled, which is unusual with fresh eggs in general. Gloria is a bigger bird, but has a smaller comb, and I believe she is not pure Rhode Island Red, but has some Barred Rock in her as well. So what gives? Does any of this make a difference? Any theories out there???

Gloria’s smaller, inconsistently sized and colored eggs are on the left, and Cleo’s perfect, large, consistently sized ones are on the right… but they both taste great, and once we crack them open, we can’t tell the difference!

free range egg size comparison

Even if she is not the best layer, Gloria is still a very sweet chicken who also enjoys a good bedtime story:

hen in hammock being read a bedtime story

Unwanted guests… time to move to the summer home!

Today, when I took off the tarp to clean our chicken coop, I discovered a line of ants traveling up the sides of it to the roof, where they seemed to be nesting under the eaves. At least I think that’s what they were doing. They were carrying and swarming around what looked to be ant larvae. I don’t have a very good picture of that, since I was so grossed out that I quickly wiped them off before I thought about taking a picture first.

ants in chicken coop

These little ants drive us crazy, invading our house every Spring and Autumn, so my immediate reaction was to get rid of them, assuming they might drive the hens crazy as well. But maybe not, since as soon as I removed the straw, Gloria jumped up and started gobbling them up. Perhaps they make a nice midnight snack? But I wasn’t sure what letting them nest there would lead to (bites? other bugs?) so I took drastic measures, and decided to pressure wash the coop… every nook and crack. Luckily, it was a sunny day, the first in a while, so the sun could help us dry it out. Jonah was excited to help:

pressure washing chicken coop

pressure washing chicken coop

In between hosing it down, as it started to dry off, I also saw what looked like a red mite crawling around… and that I KNOW we can’t allow:

red mite in chicken coop

There was only the one, so I hope there weren’t more hiding, or if so, that our pressure washing got rid of them. We did it as thoroughly as possible, and wiped everything down with vinegar water. The chickens were VERY curious about this process, and wanted to be involved… whenever the hose was turned off of course.

hen inspecting upside down chicken coop

Gloria seemed quite concerned about the new orientations of her nesting box, and flew to the top whenever I tipped it over.

gloria_hen_nesting_box_upside_down

hen_coop_perching

She also seemed impatient for me to finish, as she had yet to lay her egg today, so I hurried to get the coop put back together, and put it back in it’s usual spot.

hens-nesting-box

My husband suggested that we might want to move it, and when I went out to check on it after Gloria had laid her egg, I saw the ants starting to crawl back up, so I quickly agreed. Probably time to move it to it’s Summer location across the lawn anyway, where it will be in the shade in the afternoons. I wanted to leave the tarp off, to further discourage the ants from a dry nesting place, but I had to put it back on once it had dried out, since this is our weather forecast for the next week:

rainy weather forecast on iPhone

Ah sigh… back to our usual Spring weather.

chicken coop under tarp

But after moving the coop, the hens really enjoyed the feast of ants that must have been living under their winter location. That’s one way to get rid of unwanted house guests. Eat them!

hens pecking ants

nesting drama : part 3

Last evening I went to collect Gloria’s egg from the “nesting shelf” and found that it had been cracked again. So I decided to block off the shelf completely. If they are going to fight over a nesting place anyway, it should be in their coop; the eggs are much safer there.

This morning, I let them out and went for my usual walk, hoping to find Cleo nesting in the coop when I returned. Instead I came home to this:

hen nesting on shelf

She had flown to the top shelf! I figured it would be too high up there, and not roomy enough to lay, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t comfy enough to nest though, so I brought her down, and filled in the shelf more. Apparently not well enough, because a few minutes later I heard a crash. She had knocked some things off the shelf, and was up there again, even though there was only a tiny space now. So I brought her down once again, and completely filled the space with heavy buckets. I then scattered some food in front of their coop and waited for a few minutes watching them. Eventually, she went upstairs in the coop. I assumed she went up to nest, and went inside to take a shower. I was about to step into the shower when I heard Gloria squawking loudly. Not too unusual while Cleo is laying, but then Cleo started squawking back, which she never does while she’s laying. When I got out of the shower, I saw them both pecking in the yard again, and went out to the coop to check for an egg. There was none. After a bit, she went up again, but came down after a few more minutes… still no egg. Maybe she thought she was going to miss out on something; that Gloria would be nesting on the shelf in her absence. Then, right before I left for work, I saw her trying to fly up on the shelf again. The whole family watched out the window this time, somewhat amused at her attempts to balance up there on the edge of a box, flapping her wings. Eventually she had to give up and fly back down.

I REALLY hope that’s the end of it, and that I find 2 eggs safely in their coop tonight. Otherwise, I may have to take drastic measures and lock them in their coop tomorrow. I know this is all my fault for letting them nest on the shelf yesterday, and I take full blame for my part in this drama, but I just want things to go back to normal!

ode to feathers

hen-feather-soft

fallen gracefully from the soft, thick downy place
that keeps eggs warm and babies cozy
and makes me giggle as it saunters with it’s sisters across the lawn

i lean down to gently pick it up from the grass
and marvel at its countless strands and intricate patterns
and to wonder at a new definition of softness
as I brush it over my hand and feel nothing but the breeze

oh, to capture these strands and spin them into the finest of yarns
to knit into a soft downy quilt in which to bury myself
and sleep through the night as safe and warm
as a chick under her mama hen

mama hen egg cosy… free pattern

What I originally set out to make before I became thoroughly distracted by the tiny chicken pattern was an egg cosy for my kids’ Easter eggs. I couldn’t find exactly what I was envisioning, nothing nearly cute enough to match the cuteness of the tiny chickens, so I looked to some of the other patterns for inspiration and then created my own. Of course I had to match the style of my tiny chickens as closely as possible. I’m now planning to put the tiny chickens in plastic easter eggs under the egg cosies, so the kids can let them hatch again and again.

knitted egg cosy

egg-cosies5

I’ve never publicly published a pattern I’ve created before, so this will probably not come across as completely professional, but it was so fun to make and I liked how it turned out, so I wanted to share it.

Yarn: A small amount of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift (or similar) 100% wool in whatever colors you want for body, comb & beak (I used a pale yellow & light turquoise for the bodies, deep red for the combs, and dark orange for the beaks, with a bit of black silk/alpaca mix yarn for the eyes)
Needles: size 2 (2.75 mm) double points or long circular using magic loop method (my personal preference)

Body:
CO 40 stitches with the main color.
K4, P4 (5 times) and join in the round.
Continue pattern for 8 rows.
Change to K all the way around for 16 rows (I did 12 rows here for the yellow hen, but I found I liked a little more egg coverage).
Bind off 24 stitches
.
K 16 stitches and join these in the round for neck
.
K 8 rows.
K2tog 8 times (8 stitches)
.
K2tog 4 times (4 stitches)
.
Break yarn and thread through 4 stitches, pull closed.

Finishing body:
Mattress stitch at base of neck along the back for 8 stitches with edges tucked in, then pull edges up to be visible and lightly close by sewing a running stitch back and forth underneath the edges. This gives a slightly raised look to the tail.

Wings: (make 2)
With the main color, starting 5 stitches down from the top of the back, and 6 stitches from the tail end, pick up and knit 8 stitches.
Row 2: Knit (starting a garter stitch).
Row 3: K2tog, K 4, K2tog (6 stitches).
Row 4: Knit.
Row 5: K2tog, K 2, K2tog (4 stitches.)
Row 6: Knit
Break yarn and thread through 4 stitches and pull closed. Weave in loose ends.

Comb:
Pick up and knit 4 stitches along the top of head with red yarn.

comb1

Row 2: Knit
.
Row 3: Knit
.
Bind off.

On one side of the head there will be stitches of the body color showing through, so cover these with the red yarn by looping over them when you weave the ends in.

comb2

Eyes:
About 3 stitches from comb and 4 stitches from front of head, wrap one stitch with black yarn 3 times. Repeat on the other side of the head.

Beak:
With orange yarn, starting 1 stitch below eyes at the front of the head, pick up and knit 2 stitches down vertically.

beak1

Using iCord method knit 3 rows.

beak
Break yarn, thread through 2 stitches and pull closed.
Weave in loose ends back toward head, and weave a couple more times around the base of the beak to make it a bit triangular.

Wattle:
Just below beak, pick up and knit 2 stitches down vertically.
Using iCord method, Knit 2 rows.
Break yarn, thread through 2 stitches and weave in loose ends back to head.

wattle

Finish head by lightly stuffing it, and weave some of the loose ends from the embroidery underneath the stuffing back and forth lightly to secure it.

Place cozy over plastic egg or hard-boiled egg. It looks best with the pointy end toward the tail. This would also work well to keep a cooked egg warm and cozy.

egg-cosies2

egg-cosies3

egg-cosies4

Hopefully they will make it to Easter. My cats seem to have adopted them:

cosies-butterfly cosies-lola

tiny chickens

I stumbled upon this free pattern for a tiny knitted chicken here: http://blog.makezine.com/craft/project_excerpt_teeny-tiny_moc/ and I made my first one tonight:

tiny knitted chicken

I am in love! I’m going to make as many as I can to put in the kids’ Easter baskets. I might even put them inside real eggshells like these people did: http://gingerknitters.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/how-to-make-cascarones-with-knitted-mochimochi/

put-chicken-in-egg

frankenstein egg… the fascinating conclusion

We cracked open Gloria’s Frankenstein egg this morning and… no monster chick, no baby T-Rex, not even a double yolk! Just one VERY big yolk. However, it seems to have had a strange effect on my family after eating it:

family mustaches

I guess Gloria has been foraging large amounts of that “Portlandia” hipster juju that’s been growing roots in the soil around here lately!