Tag Archives: chickens

In Which They Grow Fast

I intended to post about our new chicks when they were, um, new, right before Easter.  But then the world was full of sadness and anger and the trees started trying to have sex with my lungs, and here we are, five weeks later.

Our new girls:

Smallburrow the Welsummer, tiny.

Whitfoot the California Gray, tinier still.

Smallburrow again, looking like a smallish hen rather than a ball of ridiculous fluff.

Whitfoot again, 80% totally reasonable young pullet, 20% ball of ridiculous fluff.

They are doing well.  They came off the heating lamp this week, and next week they will probably meet the older hens for the first time.  In the meantime, they have been having some field trips out to the backyard under a laundry basket to practice that very important scratching and pecking.

New Feathers, New Flights

My chickens are molting.

And frankly, they look ridiculous.

Feathers are scattered all over the chicken yard, and from some angles our buff orpington, Took, more resembles a bird you’d find in a bag in a grocery store deli than a healthy, living, laying hen.

As the new feathers grow in, they appear first as hard shafts sticking out of the skin awkwardly.  They don’t provide warmth or shed water yet, they have virtually no color, and if they are cut or torn, they’ll bleed.

And, of course, while the chicken is putting all her nutritional resources into growing new feathers, she doesn’t have the energy to spare to lay eggs.

So it’s a time of deprivation for us as the farmers, and uncertainty and hardship for our vulnerable, naked little birds.

Watching the chickens shed their old, damaged, dirty feathers and take the brave an unceremonious step to grow new ones seems appropriate, somehow, for the election season.

A change in leadership is like a change in plumage– possibly just cosmetic, possibly dramatically transformative, but always resource-intensive, inconvenient, and awkward.  And, even if it appears to be a cosmetic change only, the fact remains that molting every so often to refresh the feathers helps them function as they should, keeping the body warm and dry, and on a good day with a prevailing tailwind, carrying us upward and forward.

We’re well past the halfway point in this arduous process now.  We just have to keep going, get through it, and we’ll be better off for it.

And then a little while after that, we’ll have our dividends coming in again, eggs and governance.

Open Letters

Dear Mosquitoes,

I know my curves are delicious, but they are not for you.  Consent is important.

–E

 

Dear Smalls,

When I say “please don’t kick me”, gently placing the soles of your filthy feet against my body and then pushing off with them is an asshole move.

Love,

Mommy

 

Dear Costco,

You do not stock enough of the chocolate-covered almonds I like.  This is unacceptable behavior.

— A chocolate fiend

 

Dear Bernie Sanders,

YOU HAVE LOST, okay?  Kindly sit down.

— Everyone

 

Dear Proudfoot the Australorp,

Your job is to turn kitchen scraps and weeds and bugs into delicious eggs.  Nowhere in your job description does it say “be a total dick by hopping the fence multiple times a day in some vain attempt to eat the peas growing in the garden.”

Knock that shit off, because you are a dual-purpose breed and three of us eat chicken.

— Your humans

 

Dear Donald Trump,

OMG STAHP.  Get some therapy and work on yourself, and in the meantime don’t be airing that shit you believe in public because it’s dangerous and disgusting.

— Me

 

Dear Sharis,

That strawberry ganache pie you make is fucking delicious.  But every time I order it, your employees are like “Oh, the strawberry chocolate ganache?” and that undermines my faith in your food because, and I loathe that I have to even say this outright, GANACHE IS CHOCOLATE BY DEFINITION.

I notice that these same employees are never saying “Oh, you mean an egg omelette?” which would make exactly as much sense.  Omelette = eggs + milk + whatever, ganache = chocolate + cream + whatever.

I don’t expect you guys to be Julia Child; I am aware that it’s a diner, but not telling your staff what the items on the menu are is clearly not working out.

— Me

 

Dear student loan companies,

Yeah, I know that I will pay more over the lifetime of my loan because I’m on a reduced payment plan now.  But if I could pay more now, I wouldn’t have qualified for the reduced payment plan, so I’m not sure why you’re wasting my time and your money sending me mail about this fact unless it actually is the purpose of your existence to trigger my anxiety and depression.

Fuck you.

 

Dear the ’90s,

I still don’t miss you.

Smooches,

Elizabeth

 

Dear Gen X,

You used to be cool.  What happened?

— Milennials

Welcome, Spring!

Happy spring and renewal of life to all of you!

IMG_3577

picture taken by Númenor
picture taken by Númenor
picture taken by Ithilien
picture taken by Ithilien

IMG_3583


We used our backyard chickens’ eggs (these browns from our orpington, australorp, and SLW and a pale cerulean green from our ameraucana) and dyed them in glob paints pomegranate red, plum purple, berry blue, and basil green.  To make the dye bath, I poured each paint packet into a half-pint jar, added a tablespoon of vinegar to each (and then a teaspoon of baking soda to the blue jar because I forgot it’s mostly red cabbage), and added enough water to cover two eggs.  We let them sit for one or two 35-minute stretches.

Looking for Bats

If you’ve been following the weather news in the US this summer, you know that we’re having a strange year in the PNW.

Let me tell you what it looks like out here in Hood River:

Cicadas and katydids everywhere, but no grasshoppers or praying mantids.

No frogs, no salamanders, and the lowest water levels I’ve ever seen.

Hot, hot, hot, and as dry as old bleached bones.

Early pears and late tomatoes.

Eight solid inches of dry, shifting dust before my trowel turns up fertile soil.

Forest fires and droughts and worry, worry, worry.

Spiders EVERYWHERE, people.  EVERYTHING IS SPIDERS.

Blond freeway shoulders and crispy tree branches.

Algal blooms in lakes and even in the sluggish parts of the mighty Columbia.

Last month’s fire-blackened hills, still dark and barren and dry nearly six weeks later.

The mountains bare-faced and black on the horizon, ominous and brooding.

In short, it’s been a year for making sure that small children know the emergency preparedness plan, and scratching out anxious lists of evacuation supplies, and conserving every drop of water, and looking out of car windows and wondering how our beautiful home will survive this.

My touchstone through this trying season has been putting our flock away for the night.  In the cool breeze of dusk, I slip my feet into a pair of Robert’s old shoes, comically large on me, fill a quart jar nearly to the top with sweet-smelling scratch, and climb the terrace steps to the chicken yard.

I listen to the crickets and the calling of the poorwills and the nighthawks, I smell the neighbors’ barbeque cooking away, and I fill the hopper for the hens, who add their gentle berka-berka-berka chattering to the vespers.  I refill their water bottle, the cool liquid on my fingertips nearly salvation after a day of pseudo-desert living, and slot it back into place.  “Goodnight, chickens.” I murmur as I secure the henhouse roof, completing my task.

I put away the jar and the shoes in the sunroom, and as I walk barefoot across the deck to go back into the house, I stop and rest for a moment on the bench.  Often one or both of the smalls will join me, and we keep a steadfast vigil on the little patch of twilight sky to the northeast, over the confluence of the Hood and Columbia rivers, with its little border of aspen and pine.

Breathless and silent in the fading light, we wait.

Every night I wonder if they won’t come, if something has happened and they’re all dead somewhere or fleeing to better hunting grounds.  But every night, they come.

Fluttering across the clearing so fast our limited human eyes can barely see them against the darkening sky, the bats make their first forays into the night air.  They are most likely long-legged myotis bats, we have learned, this swift-winged vanguard of the night, but it doesn’t really matter what kind they are.  What matters is that they’re there.

Every night, without fail, the bats come out to feast on the crepuscular insects and spiders that have overwhelmed us this summer.  Even though these temperate bats are sensitive to human disturbance, and rely heavily on imperiled forest habitat and fleeting, drought-banished dew to survive, they have never failed me.

The piping voices of the tree frogs may be silent this year, and the afternoon frighteningly devoid of the chipping whir of grasshopper flight, but the bats are still here, and doing fine.

And, as I wait for rains that may never come, or may totally overwhelm the parched soil and wash away houses, bridges, cars, and human lives into the rapids, the bats bring me some fragile reassurance.

I look up, with faith and trembling, and when I see those tenacious flying mammals racing silently and chaotically through the dusky sky, I know that I am seeing part of that wild invisible web that sustains our fragile lives on this planet.  I know that I am watching nature take one of her courses, albeit a tiny one, and I feel a corresponding, wicked-winged speck of hope flash across the clearing of my heart.

Because maybe, just maybe, if the bats can make it, there’s some hope for the rest of us, though we are truly grounded and insensate by comparison.

And that is why I take time out of my busy day and away from my life of artifice to look for the bats.

What do you look for, to give you hope in these dark days?

Find the Magic

We spent our weekend (our WHOLE weekend, friends!) cleaning and reorganizing the house.

Yep.

That means there was plenty of dust and laughter and reminiscing, and lots of frustration and more than a little yelling, lots of going up and down stairs and hefting and hauling, some sadness and some serendipity, and the smell of vinegar and the sound of the Pandora station I created to bridge the gap between Robert’s taste in work music and mine.

It also means that the smalls spent the weekend Being Tested: listening, following directions, performing difficult tasks, staying focused, managing their compulsions to derange sorting piles and run around unaccustomed places, being responsible for their choices, and proactively communicating their own needs.

Unsurprisingly, then, today everyone woke up feeling pretty grumpy and low-energy.

On grumpy, low-energy days, even ones that you have earned by dint of hard work and awesomeness, it can be difficult to find the magic in your life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

So this afternoon, while I was feeling like ugh and yuck and blerg and blah, I walked around my home and captured these little bits of magic:

artwallAn updated art wall (now with figural art, perspective cues, symbols, and some child-written labels!).

knitting in progressA big project edging toward completion.

soft toys in a rowRe-discovered pretend friends.

new saltNew salt, white and pure and beautiful.

lettuceLate-planted seeds racing toward the sun.

garlic harvestThe first garlic harvest of the year, laid out to dry.

toys put awayCreative tools ready for new inspiration.

took and henhouseA laying flock.

reading nookA quiet, comfortable hideaway for book lovers.

spring raindrop baby dollSweet reminders of a spring well-spent.

blackberry blossoms and ripening fruitAnd the promise of blackberries to come.

Happy summer to you and yours!  May you find the magic wherever you look!

 


Stay tuned for more on the knitting!

Soft toys from L to R: homemade rocket ship (following this tutorial), sea turtle, warty pig, trilobite from PRI, and manatee from Sea World (from a trip I took in my childhood; I would NEVER go there by choice).

Toys from top L, clockwise: train, dragon, bushel basket, American maple hardwood school blocks, rocket ship, homemade storage cubbies.

Reading nook: The Hare and the Tortoise, Goodnight Oregon, C is for Cthulhu, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Basket is an old one from Ten Thousand Villages, shark bean bags are homemade based on this photo.

Spring raindrop baby was homemade, inspired by the work of a now-retired Etsy seller.

 

On Staying Out in the Rain

Chickens are not very sensible animals.  Simple and paranoid in their natural state, the domesticated birds have been bred to be stolid and unconditionally produce a high yield of meat and/or eggs.  The result is an animal whose main mode of interaction with the world is to peck everything on the off-chance that it might be food, and if it isn’t, to peck it again later on the basis that eventually, everything becomes or attracts food.

And they are undeterred by rain.

buff orpington pullet getting rained on and not caring

Even when it’s really cold and there’s not much to be gained by pecking things outside, that’s what chickens want to be doing.  Even when they are bedraggled with mud and soaked through to the skin, they’re like “Whatever.  We’re waterproof.  And we have Things To Peck.”  And they’re right.  They are waterproof.  But an important corollary to being waterproof is remembering to get warm and dry again.

We have, on more than one occasion, opened the henhouse on a drizzly morning on the supposition that the chickens would go back inside and warm up if they got too cold and wet.  This is apparently a bad bet, as our biddies are so single-minded that they will continue the peck-and-peck-again-later routine while soaked, shivering, and sneezing, and then we have to bring them into the bathroom and dry them off before they retire for the evening.

Ameraucana getting toweled off by Númenor

It’s not that our chickens don’t get enough to eat without foraging, and it’s not that they are bored (birds don’t really get bored, it turns out).  They just make bad decisions and sometimes need to be rescued because they are tunnel-vision focused on what’s in front of them.

Sounds familiar, right?

If I’m honest with myself, I feel a bit jealous of the pets and small children I know.  It seems that they always have somebody watching out for them and ready with a towel or a handkerchief when the need arises.  We grown-up humans seem to muddle along as best we can, helping each other when we can spare the attention and feel welcomed to, but mostly just mired in our own problems, pecking and pecking away, oblivious to the risks and recklessly optimistic about the outcome.

Where can we go for help?  Who do we turn to, to nurture and care for us?  If history is any indication, we can’t count on god, the government, or anything we buy.  As frightening as the prospect may seem, we’re stuck with each other: partners, siblings, friends, family, strangers.

One of the skills people often fail to cultivate in our society is asking for help: we are taught that independence is a virtue, that relying on other people is a sign of weakness or an imposition on their time.  So we don’t bring up the child we buried because people don’t know what to say.  We don’t admit that we’re terrified of moving away from the only home we’ve ever known because everyone seems so happy for us.  We don’t talk about the worries and the stresses that keep us up at night because we know they are irrational or can’t be helped.

Sometimes we have to rely on the people we know to see when we’re struggling and offer to help.  Sometimes we are busily pecking away, oblivious to the rain, and need to be rescued from our bad choices.  Sometimes we all need some help getting warm.

ameraucana splash pullet getting dried off with a rag by me

So look out for each other, people.  It is cold and wet out there.