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August 28, 2015

When Souls Connect

I happen to believe that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. Sometimes, there is just a certain way that a person looks at you and there are no needs for words. Volumes are spoken, exchanged, and entire conversations happen somewhere on another level. Hearts and souls connect. I find these moments magical.

This happened when I met Olive. It had been a couple of years since we added baby chicks from the feed store to our flock, but this past spring it was time. We had lost Autumn, Dolly and Tilly and it seemed only right to add to the flock. I love seeing baby chicks at the feed store. There is something about the warmth of the heat lamp and tiny little fuzz balls running all over the brooder. I swear I can feel my heart smile!

The time had come to pick a Barred Rock. As all the other little blurs of fuzz were running around, I could see one little chick with her head cocked upward toward me. Our eyes met and she did not stop staring nor did I. I picked her up. She stared back at me with these intense slate colored eyes. It was as if time stood still. We connected. Our hearts had a conversation and there was no way that I could put her down only for a second. I was afraid I would lose her among the other happy cheeping fluff balls. I think they thought I was crazy at the feed store. She was only a $3.00 chicken. In fact, the sales woman said to me, "I don't think anyone picks out chicks like you. They usually just scoop them into the box." I told her maybe that's because no one sees what I see.

Fast forward to today. It has been almost 10 weeks and Olive still gazes at me with a certain intensity that I have never experienced. It is almost as if she is trying to understand and I'm supposed to explain things to her. I have already decided that she is wise beyond her age and species. I'm looking forward to getting to know her over the years and the lessons that she will teach me. This is one of my favorite joys of keeping chickens, learning through observation. Chicken school is universal.You just have to pay attention in class.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

August 21, 2015

Back to School Teacher Gift: You Rule!

Nursing my love of succulents and spreading the succulent love. The kids and I recently created this adorable back to school teacher gift. As we waded through the aisles of Staples, I could not resist those creative gears from turning. I think this will make a sweet surprise on the first day of school.  Don't you?

For the complete step-by-step tutorial, please visit my post on HGTV Gardens.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

August 17, 2015

The Hen's Reproductive System and Issues

If you think about it, chickens lay hundreds of eggs during their lifetime. Many times their eggs arrive just on schedule just as predicted; gorgeous warm orbs of goodness. Hens are amazing! Although rare, sometimes issues arise that leaves chicken keepers scratching their heads. The perfect place is to start is inside the chicken and what leads up to the laying of an egg.

Fact: The darkness of the egg yolk is determined by the amount of xanthophylls that a chicken eats. Foods high in xanthophylls include yellow corn, grass, and marigold petals.

An Overview: Egg Laying

The hen's reproductive system is made up of two ovaries and two oviducts. However, most times only the left ovary and oviduct are functional. Usually the right one does not develop fully. Yet, if the left ovary and oviduct become damaged, then the right ovary and oviduct can develop and function to take over egg laying.

The ovum is the yolk portion of the egg and that is made in the ovary. When the ovum is complete, it is released into the oviduct. This is called ovulation- the same as in people. While the ovum travels down the oviduct the other components of the egg are added including the albumen (egg white) as well as the shell. Just after the egg is laid, the hen's ovary releases another ovum into the oviduct within the period of about an hour. This is enables hens to lay an egg approximately every 26 hours

Fact: Hens need approximately 14 hours of sunlight to stimulate egg laying.

All About the Oviduct 

The oviduct is about 26 inches long. It twists and turns over on itself in the hen's body. It is comprised of 5 parts. I have listed them in the order from beginning to last:

Infandibulum: Fertilization takes place here. The egg is here for no longer than a quarter of an hour. This muscular part of the oviduct moves to "grab" the ovum. This is the first step to becoming an egg.

Magnus: This is the longest part of the oviduct and here is where the albumin is added to the egg.

Isthmus: The inner and outer membrane form here.

Shell Gland aka Uterus: Here calcium from the hen's bones is used to add the shell to the egg. The shell's color is then applied. The egg spends up to 20 hours in the shell gland for it's finishing touches.

Vagina: The vagina is all muscle and helps to push the egg out of the hen's body. It is also where the protective bloom is added to the egg that seals out bacteria, viruses and so forth.

Fact: Sperm glands are located where the shell gland meets the vagina. Here a hen can store a rooster's sperm for up to 2 weeks! As the hen lays her egg, sperm is simultaneously excreted from the glands back up into the infandibulum to fertilize the next egg on the journey.

The Reproductive Oops!

Double Yolker: When a hen releases two eggs (ova) into the infandibulum at just about the same time.

No Yolk: When a bit of the oviducts lining has sloughed off and the hen's body is fooled into thinking it was an ovum. Tiny eggs with no yolk are typically called fart eggs or wind eggs.

Shell-less Eggs/Rubber Eggs: Usually an indication of a nutritional deficiency- Calcium, Phosphorus or Vitamin D. New healthy pullets also lay these eggs until their bodies get the "hang" of it. Read more about these eggs here.

Blood spots: Can occur when a hen is more physically active during ovulation. A bit of blood from a local blood vessel is deposited. They are safe to eat.

Meat spots: Found close the albumen of the egg, it is simply a bit of oviduct that sloughed off while the egg was in production. They are safe to eat.

Egg inside an Egg: Wow! This one is rare. The egg that is just about ready to be laid, is turned around and goes back up into the oviduct for a double application of albumen and shell.

Salpingitis & Lash Eggs:  Salpingitis simply means inflammation of the oviduct. This is usually caused by E Coli or Salmonella and sometimes a virus. Sometimes it requires antibiotics and other times it resolves on its own. During this time hens can lay a "caseous mass of pus" this is what folks call a lash egg. Laying a lash egg should not be a death sentence. These hens can live years after they lay one.

Egg Bound: When a hen is unable to pass an egg due to size. A soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt can sometimes help. Sometimes the egg breaks inside prior to passing. When this happens, parts of the eggs, including yolks and shells make their way back up into the reproductive tract and can lead to infection called egg yolk peritonitis. This can be fatal.

Cystic Oviduct: When the right ovary and oviduct try to function in addition to the left. This can lead to ovarian cysts and a swollen abdomen for the hen. They can sometimes be drained by a veterinarian.

Vent Prolapse: Often the first sign of prolapse can be blood streaked eggs. Although this is normal when pullets begin to lay. A portion oviduct protrudes from the vent. To treat and prevent other hens from pecking, remove the hen. Place her in a dark place with food and water to help prevent egg laying from being stimulated. Apply 1% Hydrocortisone cream to the vent twice per day. For severe cases seek assistance from a veterinarian.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

August 11, 2015

Summer Pasta Salad

Some nights it's just too hot to cook. I also don't like to go to the grocery store in the summer. Instead, we tend to eat from our garden. A few nights ago I made a simple pasta salad for dinner. It hit the spot!


  • 1 pound of cooked elbow macaroni
  • 1//2 cup of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 small cucumber cubed
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 red or green pepper diced
  • 1/4 cup of scallions
  • 1 tomato diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil- preparation: chiffonade
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • Favorite seasoning salt (we like Lawry's) adjust to your taste
  • Pepper to your taste
  • Favorite Italian dressing (We like Newman's Own- Family Recipe Italian)- a great pasta salad shortcut when you don't want to make one from scratch!
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar- makes it a little more tangy and jazzes it up.


In a large mixing bowl combine the seasoning salt, red wine vinegar, and pepper. Stir well.

Next add in cheese, cucumber, red onion, scallions, tomato, peppers and herbs. Next add the macaroni and about a 1/2 cup of Italian dressing.  Mix well.

Add more Italian dressing to coat the salad well. The macaroni will absorb the dressing.

Serve cold.  Enjoy!

August 10, 2015

Critter Ritter Giveaway from Luv Nest

It's the height of the summer and also the height of chicken pests. So often these tiny chicken pests such as poultry lice, mites, and fleas that affect chickens go overlooked. However if left unchecked, their populations will boom and thrive to establish their own families to overwinter on your chickens and in your coop. There are plenty of things you can do to help keep pests at bay including keeping a tidy coop, checking your flock periodically for pests, utilizing food grade DE and adding an herbal blend like Critter Ritter to your coop.

Critter Ritter is made by the husband and wife team of Luv Nest. They are based in New Hampshire and have been working together to create delightful herbal coop blends for your chickens. The Critter Ritter includes Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Meadowsweet, Red Clover, Red Raspberry Leaf, Rosemary, Thyme, Comfrey, Nettle Leaf, Calendula Flowers, and Lavender. It's easy to use. Simply sprinkle it in the nesting boxes and around the coop.

Here, Sunshine is inspecting my handy work. I don't worry about doing a great job at sprinkling it. The best part is the chickens are happy to help. They naturally scratch in the shavings to help spread it around. Sometimes, they even eat it and that's okay too. The herbs are a great way to supplement their health and diversify their diet.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

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Disclosure: The opinions in this post are all my own. I have not been paid to write this review. Luv Nest is a sponsor of Tilly's Nest and has provided samples of their blends at no cost to me.

August 6, 2015

Teacher Gift: Terracotta Apple

Do I dare say that it is almost time for back to school?
Well, this sweet apple will bring a smile to any teacher's face on the first day of school.

Inspired by the garden, only a few things were needed to make this clever apple.
A small terracotta pot and saucer
Red spray paint
Garden twig

Twine is looped over the top of the twig to help keep the lid secure when not in use.

You can fill the apple with erasers, paperclips or even gummy worms!
For the complete tutorial, please visit my post on HGTV.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

August 3, 2015

Dookashi Giveaway

Have you heard of Dookashi? Well neither had I until a few months ago when the company owners reached out to me to try a new way to manage my chicken's waste. I must say that I thought that I had managed my chickens' waste with a good system. This product has made it even better!
My first impressions:
I was surprised to see that Dookashi looked like small brown grains. I opened the bag and it smelled just like a multi-grain breakfast cereal. It was dry and very light. I was also thrilled to see that some of the products were organic and also non-GMO. The ingredients are simple and effective: organic probiotics, black strap molasses, water (although the product is dry when sold), and select wheat bran.

Putting Dookashi to the test: The directions had me apply it to clean coop litter after a cleaning. I sprinkled in about a measuring cup under the roosts. Over the next few days I observed. Unlike the products containing zeolite (active ingredient) that seems to make the coop litter more moist and even wet, the Dookashi disappeared in the litter. Days and weeks later the bedding is still nice and dry. Fast forward, it is late-July and we are having a hot and humid summer. I have been using Dookashi in the coop now for over and month and a half and I am still loving the results. More recently, I added it to my chick brooder and then their mini-outdoor run. I am very pleased with the results.

Keeping the Coop Clean: Once a month I do a big coop and run cleaning. Here's how I do it.  I also tidy up every morning. It takes no more than 5 minutes to remove the chicken poo from below the roosts. One day I left the manure in the bucket instead of composting it right way. I added a bit of Dookashi to the bucket with fresh manure and waited. I was impressed that the odor seemed to vanish as well as flies within a half a day's time.

Impressions: I would highly recommend this product to all backyard chickens keepers to try as an alternative to the popular products that contain zeolite. I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely be using this product in the coop, the run and in the brooders.
Oyster Cracker gives the eye of approval!
To try a free sample of Dookashi click here. (scroll to the bottom middle)

Order Dookashi and use the code: TILLY for 10 % off.

You can also enter to win a 4.5 pound bag below.

Good Luck!

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