Tag Archives: chickens

the end of a chapter, good-bye goats and chicken

On Sunday, a gal who last year bought one of our goat babies, took our whole herd of four goatie girls home to her  farm an hour southwest of here.  We helped load the girls into the truck, waved goodbye, and then Sophie and I went inside and curled up on the sofa and cried.  It was a really hard decision, one we talked about for more than six months.  One of the reasons I chose this gal to take them was that she was happy to take them all together—two mama and baby pairs, the two babies having never left our place, never been away from their families—I was glad, when they were shaking in anxiety in the horse trailer, that they were standing together, pressed close, not alone and separated.  But still, yesterday and today I have felt both relieved and terribly sad.

Sophie was two when we first got Lucy and Fancy.  Lucy was only eight weeks old.  I would put Luc, barely walking, on my back and three of us would take our goats on walks through the forest every day.  Over the next five years we mid-wived goat births, played with goat babies, learned to milk them, plus how to make different kinds of yoghurt and cheeses.  When Luc got old enough he and Sophie would spend hours out in the goat yard playing with our growing herd, and since we stayed home a lot in those days, it was wonderful to have this source of fun and adventure right here in our yard.

The last year or so, however, more and more it has been me going out to feed and milk, as Sophie and Luc have grown into other interests.  It isn’t that I wanted my kids to do more of the work—I enjoyed the work of it, exercise that benefited other creatures, plus being outside early in the quiet mornings, I liked all that, the smell and sounds of the barn—but taking care of the goats was becoming something I did away from my kids, instead of something I did with them.  That wasn’t what I wanted.  And although we all loved them, the kids want to go into town and play with friends more and more, rather than stay here at home, not to mention traveling, something I’ve never been comfortable doing with lactating goats.  “Goats” was becoming an item on the incredibly crowded to-do list.  But Fancy, Lucy, Emma, and Sally are people, not to-do list items!

So we talked about letting them move on, about our priorities, about what was best for them, for us, for Sophie, for Luc, for me.  And we talked about it some more.  And some more.  And finally it seemed like it was time.

I went and sat in the barn on the empty milking-stand yesterday.  There were still whirls in the straw on the ground where they had made their beds their last night there.  But they’ve gone to a family with six children, horses, other goats, and dogs, a farm with pastures and barns, to a gal who grew up with goats and is comfortable with them, calling them “her babies.”  I think they’ll be fine.  I think I’ll be fine.  But I miss them.

In the same week we sent our last chicken, Whitey, to live with my Aunt and her chickens.  Whitey was our last chicken left standing, and it didn’t seem right to be a chicken on her own.  Chickens want other chickens around, and we didn’t want to get more chicks.  Sophie and I don’t eat eggs anymore and Luc increasingly won’t.  Not to mention that Henry wants to chase them….

So our little micro-farm has been disbanded.  For now anyway.

It’s so weird not to go out and milk goats in the morning!  Weird not to be worrying about them on cold nights, or timing my day around when I have to be at the barn. Weird not to hear animal sounds from the barn out there.  It’s so quiet!

All things pass.  What will be our next adventure?  Maybe bees again this spring.  And maybe a few beds of greens….

Or maybe something else entirely.

eggs, before and after

Eggs come in all sizes.  Long-time readers may recall that we keep chickens, sweet chickens who like to be picked up and petted, and who lay eggs of all colors, no kidding.  We also have a friend who keeps emus.  Crazy big birds who lay giant, teal colored eggs, one will make whole quiche.  And, recently, we met a gal who keeps pheasants.  Little tiny taupe-colored eggs, so cute. It happened that we had some of all these in the fridge the other day, a very eggy situation. Sophie wanted to document this momentous eggtastic moment, and I agreed.

Here are her little hands, trying to show how much smaller the little eggs are compared to our chicken’s eggs.

Keeping chickens is totally easy, by the way.  If you like fresh eggs, I highly recommend it.

So that was the eggs before picture.  Here is the eggs after picture, or what we made with some of our eggs this morning:

Blueberry pancakes!  With faces!

Two blue eggs are in there, hiding, totally transformed by Paul’s culinary magic…

You can also see in the picture how ridiculously messy our table is, covered in a constant flux of art projects, meal-remains, mail, books, etc.  Life is full, what can I say.

A mess never stopped a kid from enjoying a pancake with a face, that’s for sure.

the saga of Whitey the Chicken continues

We met her, have seen her flock and her beautiful eggs. We’ve laughed at her slap-stick predicament. We’ve read about her alternative lifestyle love-life. We’ve even seen her recent embarrassing condition. Now, today, we have the torment of Whitey. Only this time, I’m not kidding. But before I go any further, let me reassure everyone now: Whitey is fine. I can see her through the yurt window as I type this. She is scratching and pecking, just like always.

So when we get to the bad part, breathe.

Okay, so a couple of days ago, the kids and I got home from galavanting around town. We’d been gone for a couple of hours and it was getting late so I gathered the milker up and headed out to the barn for the evening milking. Only to find this: poor Whitey was caught in the electric fence. I dropped the milker, screamed for Paul, and ran for the fence cut-off. She was sitting, beak open, grunting as each hit went through her, another charge every six seconds. It took me about twenty seconds, three hits, to cross the space to the plug and I was crying and shouting by the time I rammed the cord out of the socket. It was terrible.

She had clearly struggled at first as the netting had cut into her sides in two places, but she was shut down at this point, not moving. We got her untangled and she staggered into the chicken house and managed to get onto the lowest stoop where she leaned her head against the wall and shut her eyes. She wouldn’t drink anything. I thought for sure she was going to die. I kept going out to check on her, taking her water and raisins, but I don’t think she recognized me. I don’t think she recognized food.

There isn’t a whole lot to a chicken, but there is a sense of someone looking back at you—a chicken person, to be sure, but a person all the same. The next day, Whitey was gone. Blank. A friend of mine described to me a relative of hers coming home, fifty years ago, from electric shock treatments. Her short term memory was gone, her long term memory shaky at best. Passive, forgetting to eat, blank. Describes Whitey perfectly.

For two days she just clutched the stoop and wouldn’t come out.

But then she started coming back. She drank some water. She got to the top stoop in the chicken house. Even better, she came out of the chicken house and started scratching a bit in the dirt. Like it was a habit she couldn’t recall the purpose of, but hey, what the heck. And then I saw her go for a worm I had draped out for her and I just CHEERED. Yeah, Whitey! She’s found her will to live! She’s been getting stronger every day since. I can not believe it.

One time—I am such an idiot—I picked up a solar fencer (that’s the box that provides the charge to an electric fence) without checking to see if it was off, and yep, it was on. It was heavy and so I braced it against my chest, ready to carry it over to where Paul was installing it, and it did what any good solar (re: it doesn’t have to be plugged in to work) fencer does: it gave me a shock. WHAM. Strongest sensation I’ve ever had, including childbirth. For a second there was nothing, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t move. Then the pulse passed (these fences send out pulses, not a continuous charge, thank god) and I screamed and threw the fencer fifteen feet away from me in this instinctual shove. And then I threw up.

That was the weakest fencer we’ve used. It was not strong enough to keep Fancy the Goat in. She would just run it and go through. So we borrowed a fencer from a friend who said, “It’ll make their balls drop off.” Yikes. (Of course, our goats are girls, but we got the idea.) Nope, Fancy just ran through that one, too. So we got the mondo fencer we now have. Fancy laughed at our pathetic efforts and ran it.

How? How could she stand it? She weighs half what I weigh! Are human nervous systems that different from goatie ones? When we first put that fencer on, I was standing next to Fancy once when she got shocked, I was maybe a foot away from her, and all the hair on my body lifted with static electricity as the charge passed through her body and into the ground. Freaked me out. Of course, this was a stupid way to put in a fence, because Fancy was basically just leveling up each time. “I’ll take another level in b-a-a-a-d ass, thank you.” That’s when we got the netting (instead of the simple wires) and finally we had a fence that would contain her. (Also, she got more mellow and stopped wanting to get out. Having babies does that to you.) You better believe I kept/keep my children away from that fence! They’ll probably have to have therapy to get over this weird fear of fences I have instilled in them.

But this mondo fencer is the one Whitey got caught in. This little chicken could have been there for an hour. She could have taken hundreds of hits. A thousand. How could her tiny body possibly survive this?

Maybe Whitey, like my friend’s relative, has no memory of the fence. Maybe the last few days are just as gone for her as she has been to us. I hope so, anyway.

But there she is, acting like a chicken, pecking and scratching through the compost. Clucking. Doing her chicken thang. As if nothing has happened. Chicken of steel.

I’m so glad she is pulling through! It seems crazy to care so much about the fate of a chicken, but I find that I do. On the other hand, I feel very grateful that the biggest trauma in my life is about one of my chickens. Some people have bombs falling on their houses, or their children are starving, or they have some horrible form of cancer. I’m lucky, right?

Maybe Whitey is, too. I mean, she got hand fed raisins and worms, got petted and loved on for her recovery. Sophie sang her songs. It could have been worse.

(Whitey might not agree.)

this chicken is molting

It’s embarrassing not to look your best. And a molting chicken is bedraggled and generally pitiful.

For comparison, look at Whitey in full feather:

Wow, what a difference! Molting happens every fall for chickens who lay eggs. They lose their feathers and grow a new set. It takes about a month. The first time one of the chickens molted, I thought something had attacked them, partly because of this:

Feathers everywhere! I started keeping them inside their fenced chicken yard and watching for foxes. Then, despite their confinement, another of the chickens started looking like she’s been through the washer’s spin cycle, and I realized my mistake.

Now I know what to look for. Poor thing hangs her head and clucks around, miserable. She was downright camera shy, while all the rest of them pushed and shoved, “No take my picture, look at me, aren’t I pretty? Take me!” After a couple of minutes of this, Whitey went and hid under a wheel barrow.

I understand. I mean, I wouldn’t want someone to take my picture if I looked like this. I told her it was for the education of the masses. She hid in the chicken house. I think the conversation went pretty well, considering.

The new feathers come out tightly rolled. They look sharp, like they would hurt, but they don’t seem to.

Still, in the midst of her disgrace, Whitey continues laying her daily egg. She’s such a trooper. Only, instead of laying them in the egg boxes…

…she’s laying them everywhere else. On top of hay bales…

…under the hay bales…

…in the yard…

…behind the Noah house.

Poor baby. She’ll be better in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, she will not be taking phone calls, nor receiving guests. So don’t bother.

fowl weather friends

You may recall that of our five guinea chicks, only one survived the unknown-guinea-eating-monster attack. We were quite concerned about our lone guinea. Would the chickens shun her? Attack her? Could she find a place among them or would she be on her own–not a good situation for a flock-loving-critter such as herself.

Little could we have guessed that Whitey would take the little guinea under her wing. Here they are, hanging out:

Where one goes, the other goes. At night they roost next to each other up on the top rung in the chicken house. Unlike chickens, it is extremely difficult to tell if a guinea is a boy or a girl, so I’m not really sure of the nature of their relationship. Parental? Best friends? Mad hot chicken love?

Here they are looking at me looking at them.

They’re saying, “What the heck are you doing?” Looks like our lone guinea is going to be all right after all.

lucille ball moment

When you have a barn, you have flies. And since our barn is not that far from the yurt, we have noticed an increased yurt-fly population. Ewww. Paul bought a number of fly swatters and some fly ribbon, and after killing 15 flies in the bathhouse–double ewwww!–I had the brilliant idea that now was the time to put up the fly ribbon in the barn. Woe be unto me and those who live near me.

First, in case you don’t know, fly ribbon is incredibly gooey, sticky, and curly. It pulls out of a thing like a film canister, and has a thumbtack stuck on one end, presumably for sticking the ribbon up with. Lots of first timers make that mistake. It does not, however, have any poison or fly killer on it, so the ribbon itself, before the flies die on it, isn’t that gross, except for the idea of all those fly corpses stuck to it, which is enough to make my stomach roll. But really, they are only sticky paper, so sticky that if you touch it, long, spidery thin strings of goo come off, like fur.

Anyway, I’m an intelligent woman, I figure, no sweat. I open one up and start pulling the tab. The ribbon kind of ooozes out of the film canister. So far, so good. I locate the thumb tack, and we are in business. Then, somehow, instantly, my hands are completely stuck to the thing. I start unpeeling one bit, only to have the curliness act as a spring and boing another bit off and around my wrist. I have to kind of reach around myself to get at the canister, which is now swinging like a pendulum, and I actually do several turns, a dog chasing her tail, before I catch it. But in catching it, the other end spring up and manages to attach to my hair.

My hands are now stuck together, the ribbon is wrapped half way around me and is hanging from my head, the canister dangling in my face, taunting me. Where is the camera when you need it? Or maybe it’s better if these moments remain undocumented.

Okay. I think, maybe if I stick the thumbtack in, I’ll have a fixed point from which to pull the stuff off of me. So I manage to reach up and get the thumbtack positioned as high as my arm can reach, up along the wall of the barn, despite only being able to use one eye, the other being obscured by the canister.

It won’t go in. I swear to god, they have blunted the tip of this thing and included it just to torment me. After exerting maximum effort, nearly bloodying myself in the process, it is in the wall only, perhaps, 1/8 of an inch. Seeing this I have this wave of frustration and I rip all the stuff off, including some of my hair, take off my boot, and hammer that mother fucker in. There! I win!

Five minutes later, Lucy goat walks out of the barn completely wrapped in fly ribbon. Sigh. I get it off of her. It is completely covered in goat hair and not one fly. I dump the ooey gooey mess into the compost bowl for the moment, thinking maybe it will get some of the flies that like to hang out there, while I wash my hands.

Of course, a million things happen and I forget it is in there and I take the compost out to the compost pile.

Five minutes later, Whitey the chicken runs by, wrapped in part of the fly ribbon and dragging the rest behind her. She is running for her life, certain it is a monster come to kill her. So there I am, chasing the monster that is chasing my chicken, trying to get the fly ribbon off of her before she kills herself, her squawking and shrieking, me calling her, the kids laughing at me like I’m put on earth for their own personal entertainment. Which, I suppose, I am.

We were all, eventually, fly ribbon free. But it took a while. They really need to put a warning label on those things.

food is weird

Goat milk, fresh from the teat (at least Fancy’s milk), tastes amazing: sweet, mild, and creamy. There is no hint of ‘goatiness’ as there is in the stuff you get at the store. And if you drink it within minutes of milking it, it’s still warm.

Which is kind of weird. When milk, eggs, chicken cutlets, hamburger, etc. comes from the grocery store, wrapped in plastic and styrofoam and cellophane, it is divorced from its animal, fleshy, origins. It’s as if that milk always existed in the carton, was never connected, except in some distant, second-cousin-once-removed kind of way, to cows. Of course my brain knows that this is silly, but the sense of the physicality of the milk–a body fluid, after all–is absent. I mean, knowing your eggs come from a chicken butt is all theory until you see a chicken poop one out.

I have to keep telling myself, as I drink the wonderful milk that I love, that it is okay, normal, that I am part of the food chain, that people have drunk goat milk for thousands of years. But part of me is still that little girl that, when asked where milk comes from, says, the grocery store.

But then there is also the strangeness of having these animals we love, pets really, animals we are managing and harvesting in this way. If we had a rooster (we don’t because the last thing I need is another person waking me up) we would have viable eggs and I would have to face my chickens every day thinking sorry, but this morning I ate your children. Some people eat their excess goats, or sell them as meat goats, and thank god we aren’t doing that because I couldn’t face Fancy’s sweet eyes with that same thought. But still, the whole thing is weird. It’s like that bit in “Notting Hill” where Will says, “So, these carrotts were–” and his strange date answers, “Murdered. Yes.”

Is it an excess of compassion that makes thinning the vegetable bed difficult? Tossing out those brave little seedlings, reaching up for the sunlight… But now I’m taking body fluids and potential progeny, like a vampire. Mostly I’m fine with it, or I couldn’t do this farm thing at all, but sometimes I feel bizarre milking Fancy like I’m some hugely overgrown baby. And sometimes I think she sees me that way.

Food is weird.

bootstrap building

We use recycled building materials every chance we get. For example, here is our chicken house.

chicken house

It’s quite nice, with outdoor and indoor roosts, an enclosed yard, a sliding door on the house to close them all the way inside when the winter is cold, and a hinged flap that lets you check for eggs without going inside–that’s over on the left of the picture (with steps so the kiddos can check on their own. They love that). The nesting boxes are right on the other side of the flap, so the chickens lay the eggs, and we lift the flap and say, “thank you, chickens!”

The whole arrangement cost about $10 (for hinges and screws). Plus Paul’s labor and creativity, of course.

How did we do it? Here we go: the house itself is the box the yurt came in. The tin roof came off an old, falling down house. The cedar posts are from downed trees, courtesy of Hurricane Fran a few years ago. The screen door and the roof bracings were made from scrap wood gotten out of dumpsters. The bowling ball came from the dump.

Huh? Bowling ball? (If you can’t see it, I’ll give you a hint. It’s blue.)

I wish we were doing all this recycling for purely environmentally green reasons–and we are, doing it for those reasons–but mostly we’re just really broke. Sad, but true.

And I should add that Paul does 99% of the hoarding and collecting. My part in all that is mostly to complain about all the junk in the yard. And then enjoy the cool places he makes. Of course, the chickens do most of the enjoying on this one. Thanks, Paul!

easter egg chickens

We have four Ameraucana chickens, named (by my daughter) Goldie, Whitey, Coco, and Floppy. Goldie, Whitey, and Cocoa were named for their colors, Floppy for her tendency, as a chick, to flop around. Naming is so easy when you are four years old. However, my husband declared that Whitey’s full name is Whitey on the Moon. I think he is right.

Here is Whitey.

whitey

And here are all Goldie and Floppy, next to Whitey on a log. I couldn’t find Cocoa. She likes to keep to herself.

chickens

The girls give us 3 or 4 eggs a day, and, I kid you not, they lay pastel colored eggs. This shot was taken fresh from the hen house.

eggs.jpg

Since we let the chickens wander around most days, they sometimes make themselves secret nests, which we find, days later, full of hoarded, beautiful eggs, treasure in the leaves, or under the house, or in a sand bucket. It’s like an easter egg hunt, all year round.

And the eggs are delicious.