10.10.2014

Because They're Chickens

I love real farmers. I love real farmers almost as much as I love real chickens. While my chickens regularly channel their inner Rhett Butler, leading us into fairly routine scenes where I play the role of Scarlett and they frankly don't give a damn, farmers take on an entirely different role, though with the same net result.

Honestly, there is truly nothing like a real farmer to make a novice, hobby farmer feel a little stupid. It might come as a surprise, but I have that kind of relationship going with the owners of our local Agway. The owners are real farmers, the kind that live on hundreds of acres and have scores of free roaming and ranging everything as well as the crops and equipment to go with it. Amy is the more social and outgoing one of the two. She is a friendly, plump, country gal, who's always seemingly happy to share her abundance of knowledge by fielding my ridiculous questions in a way that makes one think they are actually worth answering.

Her husband, however, is far more matter-of-fact and usually replies to my inquisitions in one of three ways: a simple word or two stating what apparently is quite obvious to everyone else; a quizzical look, as if wondering whether I am serious and whether he actually needs to answer followed by something that I am fairly sure is meant for mocking purposes alone; or, if I am really lucky, complete and utter silence, with the slight possibility of a grunt that I have come to believe contains everything I ever needed to know about my question.

And on a really good day, like today, I expertly extract out all three variations of "you're stupid" before going on my merry way.

Me: Good morning!

Farmer: Mornin'. (I think he might already be shaking his head at me but I assume he is happy to see me bright and early so I look past it.)

Me: Guess I should've known you guys would be open so early, you know, being a farm store and all.

Farmer: Yup.

He pulls out the two heating bases and metal waterer I had ordered in preparation for winter and sets them on the counter next to the cat food without me even mentioning them. I'm all, "Yay! He know's me! He knows who I am!" I am simply positive he feels the same sense of enthusiasm at this new point in our working relationship.

He just hides it really, really, really well.

Farmer: This all today?

Me: Oh, no, I need a bag of that……um……layer feed, um, crumble. (I can never remember exactly what he calls it…. never.)

Farmer: OK, one egg crumble. (Dang it, I was close!) That all?

Me: Yup. Thanks. Sooooo (and this is when you know it's about to go downhill) do the chickens ever burn themselves on the heating bases?

Farmer (insert quizzical look here): 

Me (after an uncomfortable silence): Or do they all huddle up next to it in order to keep warm?

Farmer: Well…..I guess if it gets really cold…they might do that. (Thinking it best not to seek clarification on whether he means burn themselves or huddle together, I move on.)

Me: So, do you do anything to prep your chickens for winter? (I have read all sorts of things about adding light that mimics the sun to rubbing petroleum jelly all over the chickens' waddles and combs so that they don't get frostbite but I decide not to mention these exact details…..)

Farmer (looking at me with his head slightly tilted to make sure I am serious; it's like he KNOWS my brain is swarming with nonsense): Nope.

Me: Do you let them out at all during the winter?

Farmer: Nope.

Me: Wow! Don't they go stir crazy in the coop all winter long?!

Farmer (sighing): I don't know, I've never asked them…….(he leans a little forward as if to let me in on some great farm secret) ……because…. they're chickens.


Have a great weekend y'all!

9.22.2014

The New Shed

It was a warm Christmas morning in early September. My dearest neighbor and I were chitchatting when she caught a glimpse of my Christmas present coming up the hill on the back of a flat bed……(so much like Santa and his sleigh it's uncanny, really…..)

I jumped up, grinning from ear to ear, an 8 year old all over again; rushed to get my camera, boots on, and out the door…..I think I might have invited my friend to stick around and watch the delivery but I can't be certain. She was too excited to worry about my lack of manners I'm guessing…..




The new shed, coming down the street….

….then down the hill that is our back yard…..

….and being backed up onto the gravel pad…..

……and dropped off…...

….and pushed around…..

….until it was in just the right spot…..

……for the chickens…..

"How do you like that chicken coop now, dear neighbors?" …Oh wait, that is not very Christian of me. (Kurt says I can't paint it on the side of the mini-barn either…..sheesh….men.)

This gift from my mom got a very similar response…..if I didn't love her (the hen, well, and my mom too!) so much, I might leave her on my neighbor's doorstep with a dozen fresh eggs, you know, as a peace offering…..snicker snicker.

Have a lovely week my friends!


9.20.2014

Why Chickens….and Other Assorted Questions

People ask me all sorts of questions about the chickens so today I thought I would attempt to answer the most frequently asked questions. Feel free to ask more in the comments and I will try to find a moment to answer those as well!

Q.  Why chickens? 

A.  This seems like such a bizarre question. (No judgement of course.) First off, there is the obvious: 

Maybe I am crazy but a dozen fresh eggs every day is reason enough, right?
Second, there is something quite satisfying about learning new things, especially about another living species. Even the kids have picked up on some of the more interesting chicken facts, throwing around things like: "Did you know that Silkies have an extra toe?" and, "Did you know you can determine the color of the eggs by what color the chicken's ears are?! Our Silkies would have blue iridescent eggs…. you know, if they weren't roosters!"  (Ok, that might not be totally accurate either but it is fun to imagine! And we do in fact get some whitish eggs from our hens with white ears and some speckled eggs from the more confused hens.)
Note the white spots on the first middle egg and the color difference between the bottom two right eggs.  


Finally, unlike your more typical pets, Chickens create new conversation topics at neighborhood gatherings and can even become the life of the party (ok, maybe that is an exaggeration but really, if I didn't have chickens then this older ex-military guy and I would not have had an entire conversation about launching headless chickens into oncoming boats out of his military grade launchers because the recently beheaded chickens would do so much more damage (than live chickens) because they'd run around with their heads cut off spewing blood everywhere…..it's about levity folks, levity.)

Q. Have you always wanted chickens?

A. Well, no. When I was ten, I wanted a little red Mercedez convertible with a black top. And a two story water slide that went from my bedroom into an indoor swimming pool….never mind the fact that I don't really like swimming. By my teens, I wished for a '64 Mustang (although I can't complain about the red firetruck, er, SUV that I drove) and an insanely expensive violin. In my twenties, I would settle for a decent guy (thank goodness some wishes come true), an antique-looking dresser and a playful pair of overalls. So, no, chickens were never on my radar. Cowboy boots? Sure. A chimpanzee? Well, duh! What kid from the 1980's didn't want a chimp after watching Matthew Broderick in the 1987 movie Project X? No brainer. But chickens are a more recent phenomenon, one that comes from recognizing there is an entire world of animal husbandry out there that's going on without me!!….. Something that allows me to teach my kids hard work and patience and the pay off from both……ok, ok, really I just thought it would be cool to create a hobby farm for no apparent reason other than it would be something new……and maybe offer some more blogging material….oh, and eggs. There's always the eggs! 

Q. What is the best part of raising chickens?

A. This is a tough one. Our 24 chickens bless me with much more joy than I would have ever imagined. (Ok, truth be told, there are about 6 that truly add joy to my life…..and at least one or two who may have a special place at dinner one night if they aren't careful!) But really, they are the funniest creatures! For example, our coop has five nest boxes but almost daily I will find four chickens trying to squeeze in one nest box all at the same time while the other boxes sit completely empty. And when I come out to collect eggs mid-morning, there are usually 6-8 eggs in ONE NEST BOX! It's like they have taken lessons from my kids who continually occupy the same bathroom I happen to be in regardless of the fact that we have like half a dozen other bathrooms totally empty! And when I have a few hens roaming about with me and I start picking grass for those stuck in the coop, the outside hens (who have acres upon acres from which to feed) come running over to eat what I am picking…..because, again, like my kids, they want what the others are getting even if it is EXACTLY THE SAME as what they have in front of them.

But my favorite part about the chickens is our morning hunts. I take out my favorite six and we walk around the yard and a few of the smarter ones follow close behind my dragging boot. As soon as I find something, I squat down and give them my signal and they come running to catch whatever grasshopper or cricket is sitting there. But they are pretty awesome hunters even when I am not helping. One day, I caught a little cricket and took it over to give to my favorite hen, Superman, but when I got there and started to open my hand, Superman looked up at me with the biggest grasshopper I have ever seen dangling out of her mouth as if to say, "Seriously? That's the best you can do?" She's kind of a show off.

Anyway, that's it for now. I apologize for being so darn behind on the blogging. I know you have experienced too many sleepless nights wondering what happened to us…..we didn't fall off the planet or anything…..I just happened to take a new coaching position this fall because apparently free time is overrated, and I am insane, and so things have been a tad busier than usual. I will make an effort to write a little more frequently.

Next up: The New Shed (a.k.a. "How do you like that chicken coop now, neighbors?!")





8.14.2014

Page updates

In case you are lacking in reading material and have never browsed my other pages, I have updated my "About My (non-living) Chickens" page. Feel free to check out some of the cool chicken gifts I have received over the years. I apologize in advance if I have missed some. I will update this periodically.

Also, I will try to get my "About My Flock" page up and running soon (and by soon I mean hopefully before the turn of the decade!)

Happy Reading!!!

Poultry in Politics

Chickens in the national news: Chickens may determine the outcome of the Iowa Senatorial race. I don't espouse to know much about politics and quite honestly, I try to stay out of it as much as humanly possible, but it seems like pretty common sense that if you are running for any office in a farm state like Iowa, it is probably a really bad idea to complain about people's chickens. See here for the whole article. But the thing that really gets me about this article is the picture of the "fence" around the chickens…..I mean, those poor little hens, totally unprotected from any Hawk, Fox, Coyote, Raccoon or other predator that might come crawling out of the woodwork. Sheesh! Mr. Braley, if he knew what was best for him, should be taking the side of concerned neighbor over the welfare of those beautiful fowl! And for the record, Mr. Braley, (and neighbors living next door to us as well), chickens make GREAT pets!

This article really hit home actually as we have had similar issues with our next door neighbors. Upon putting the coop out, they were very concerned over the chickens next door. (And by concerned I mean totally and completely annoyed.) Before we even had the flock outside they told us they were very unhappy about our coop and the idea of chickens running around the yard. I appreciated their honesty, and assured them that our chickens would not be on their property (and they have not….which we know because we had the property lines staked and left the lovely wooden stakes with the obnoxious neon orange flags in the ground so that there is no question…..you're welcome, neighbors!) We promised that the chickens would not be out unattended until we built our run and fenced them in (seriously, they should be thanking us for the free entertainment each time we attempt to herd the hens) but then they got upset over the idea of a fence and made sure to tell us that if the coop were a children's playhouse, they would have no problem with it but the fact that there would be hens in there was very displeasing. I helpfully suggested that they just pretend it was a children's playhouse…..that went over smashingly. 

We then had other neighbors tell us how they had heard from non-neighborhood people about our chickens….funny how things go in a small town.  But we had done our homework and knew that we were within our rights in the township and knew that now that we have chickens we are considered agricultural so actually are given even MORE leeway on some of the usual laws, like fences and buildings and such. But, since our neighbors have not been too supportive (mowing way over the line, pulling out the stakes and putting them back incorrectly or not at all and then giving us a hard time about the stakes being there….which of course, they wouldn't still be there had they not started messing with them in the first place) we opted to add a lovely barn-like shed to the coop area in order to better contain our chicken and farm supplies (of which they would have been informed had they not stopped talking to us or even waving back to us….). At any rate, we are still trying to be considerate of what it all looks like and have ordered something that matches our coop: a cute little red barn with white trim, the epitome of "city-slicker" hobby farms (as one neighbor called us.) But I will admit, my patience has been tried (which says a lot coming from a parent of five) and we are now keeping the roosters; after all, without them we couldn't breed the silkies…..oh, which means we had to get more silkies since all three of ours were roos….oh, and now we need another coop….. 

I assure you this could have been avoided…..well, maybe. But it does show that you really oughtn't mess with the poultry-people next door. You might just lose an election….or at least a view from your kitchen window. 


You can see the gravel in the back where the new shed will go two weeks from now. The smaller area of gravel is where we will move the chicken coop. It will all be enclosed for the chickens to roam freely. Happy hens means happy eggs….or something like that.

Liam hanging out with Larry, Moe and Curly
(or Midnight, Raven and Fuzzy if you are Lily……or Superman One, Two and Three if you are Solomon….it's no wonder why they multiple personalities!)

The three Stooges/Supermans taking out an apple they found

Olaf, one of our new White Silkie Peeps

Multigrain

The rest of the newest additions


Have a super, hilarious weekend everyone! 

7.10.2014

When it rains…..

It has been almost three months since the marathon and I have written what, once?!?! So much has happened, and admittedly I am behind in every area of my life. I am quite certain that when you break down Chaos Theory into tiny little pieces, at the very core you will find our family. A lot of Scientists are wasting their time…..they should just come visit Mars!

That said, here is the last couple of months, the good, the bad and the ugly, in a nutshell:

1. We considered getting some Guinea Fowl but acquired 4 Silkies instead (much to Kurt's chagrin…..) If you don't know what a Silkie is, click here.

2. Stripsies (a seven week old kitten) entered our lives…..(again, sorry Kurt! But how could you resist that tiny ball of fluffy love?!?!)
This is before he met the Solomonster…..now I am pretty sure he sleeps with one eye open.


3. Stripsies fell off the second story loft to the first floor. (He landed on his feet…..one life down, eight to go!)

4. We discovered that one of our Silkies, who was still living upstairs in the guest bathroom, was clearly a Rooster. Now what?!
Lily is determined that the Roo stays because: "But Mom! He's part of the herd!" Close enough.


5. Leroy got mauled by a raccoon. (We think.) Emergency surgery, a ridiculous amount of stitches, two drain tubes and $500 later, (and many days of finger crossings since he refused his medications), he unfortunately recovered.


6. Kurt and the boys were in a head-on collision with an intoxicated driver. My 5000 pound SUV was totaled but they all walked away with minimal bruises. (Oh and some traumatic stress…..and perhaps a wee bit of whiplash.) We love our Toyota! Ten years of loyal service and one, huge life-saving moment. Totally worth every cent we spent on that truck!


7. Our basement got flooded by an unruly toilet upstairs…..but on the bright side, we learned we own a lot of towels.

8. We tried to move the Silkies into the coop with the chickens and discovered that chickens can be fairly vicious. (The Silkies then took up residence with the bunny in his outdoor mansion……he's not too thrilled but we are pretty sure he will get over it.)

Don't let their apparent peaceful obliviousness fool you! They are monsters I tell you!  (Not really…. unless you are a Silkie!)
9. Our one working washing machine broke which made us bite the bullet and buy a new set. But we were able to donate a washer and the matching (and still working) dryer to a friend who acted like Christmas came early because as luck would have it, her dryer broke the very same day.

10. The tiniest of the Silkies got slaughtered by a raccoon who apparently tried to pull it (unsuccessfully) through the cage wires…..don't worry, I didn't take any pictures…..but the other Silkies and the Bunny have not been the same since!

11. After Fluffy's demise, we stuck the Silkies in with the other chickens. So far, they are all still okay (although Fuzzy, the last remaining, tiny, gray chicken is more or less attached to his/her black body guards…..)



12. Solomon claimed one of the Silkies as his own, and named him Superman.


13. Oreo and Stripsies shared a Vet appointment, which is really not news but I took a picture and thought I would share.



14. I learned that you really oughtn't put a 10 pound bag of bird seed in the passenger seat of your BRAND NEW SUV and then drive like you always do…….lesson learned.




We are off to Sun-struck-crazyville, I mean, Florida next week so I will update as I can.

Have a great day/week/month.

6.18.2014

You Might be a Redneck If…..

Today I have to add my own list to Jeff Foxworthy's redneck humor because apparently living in the country does that to a person……so, here is my personal list of "You might be a redneck if…."

You might be a redneck if…..
-You run out of chicken wire while coon-proofing your rabbit hutch so you grab your roll of camouflage duct tape to finish the job.

(When I texted my verifiably normal friend the sentence from above, she replied, "Um, or if you use the word coon in a sentence" and I had to scratch my head because, really? It's not the fact that I have camo-duct tape?)

You might be a redneck if…..
-Your cat gets mauled by a raccoon a few days before your Silkie gets slaughtered by one.
or
-You not only know what a Silkie is, but you have some as pets!

You might be a redneck if…..
-Your 9 year old begs to get rabies shots

(Apparently some kids just don't understand that raccoon maulings happen…..you just have to learn to live with 'em…..one of life's many great lessons….)

You might be a redneck if…..
-You try to explain to your kids that it isn't normal that your friend has a "death tree" (where she hangs various dead animals in it to rot cleanly so that she can get the skeletons) but that it's okay because you learn different kinds of lessons at her house than you would elsewhere…..like don't die there because you might get hung in a tree!

You might be a redneck if….
-Your son brings up the fact that your friend launches her own mortars from her backyard and you explain that it isn't very safe because one time she accidentally shot one into her neighbors house and set it afire and your son is like, 'oh, that's nothing compared to the time she accidentally blew up an ATV during a bonfire' and you correct him because it wasn't an ATV she blew up but her boyfriend's monster truck…..

You might be a redneck if….
-You feel safe dropping your kids off at aforementioned friend's house so that she can watch them.

Have a great day, y'all!