Wednesday, February 27

Hesitant Hubandry

It's alwasys something different......

Lately I have been hesitant to enter the coop. I do so twice a day to check feed and water and to collect eggs, but since the latest hen has died, I sometimes dread opening the coop door. The chicken that I found earlier this month did not survive. She had been attacked around the face and neck by what I can only assume were the other hens. The coop was shut tight against the cold wind and weather and there were no signs of loose boards or holes big enough for a predator to fit through.

I had placed her in a segregated area of the coop, made her comfortable and hoped she would recover. She was alert but very stationary and despite our efforts, she passed away. So I am reluctant to go into the coop. Since I can only assume it was the other hens, and I don't know what could have provoked them to attack a perfectly healthy member of their flock, I can't be sure that they will not do it again. To go into the coop and find another one of my hens bloody and defeated would push me one step closer to giving up on having chickens here.

I have always wanted chickens and they are a great addition - some would say a necessity - to our goal of a sustainable and sufficient life. Most of the experience has been wonderful but that part that sneaks in at unexpected times - death, sickness, disappearances - make me question my ability to deal with all the ups and downs of animal husbandry.

I can feed them, collect the eggs, shovel mountains of poop covered straw into wheelbarrows. I can enjoy their antics in the summer grass, I can buy, raise, and introduce new chicks to the flock without much aggravation, and I can use, through some fancy fencing, my chickens as little rototillers in my garden when the season is done.

So maybe I place too much emotional stock in my ladies. I talk to them and bring them treats and worry about them on a daily basis. Hawks, foxes, coyotes, loose dogs, wind chill, frozen water fonts, calcium intake.....

If I can't handle the ugly side of chicken ownership - mainly sickness and death - is it right for me to keep chickens? Should I have to be comfortable with all aspects of the obligation?

Friday, February 15

My seeds arrived from baker Creek the other day and I am happy to report that they had everything I ordered in stock. I also received two free gifts - American melon seeds and lemon sunflower seeds. I am so eager to get my hands in the dirt that I did just that. I bought a bag of seed starter, opened it up and filled some trays. There are a few smells in this world that I just love - fresh cut grass, a new box of crayola crayons, and a fresh bag of seed starter.

And of course, freshly delivered mulch.

It is early to start seeds so I got out my gardening notebook and went over last years notes: start peppers earlier, look into getting soaking hoses to replace sprinklers, don't waste time and space on corn, be ruthless on thinning....

Last year I noted the summer-like weather in March that destroyed the fruit trees and that the sunflower seeds were all dug up and eaten before they had a chance to sprout. I have a feeling the same thing happened with the beans but i can't prove it.

So much to do. A new starting and growing system, a new garden plan, and a new page in my notebook for 2013.

Monday, February 11

Not Again......The Chicken Pen Roof Saga Continues (and other nastiness)

The Saga Continues........

This latest storm dumped just shy of two feet on us, but with all the drifting, some places were over three feet. It made for some hard shoveling, and I am afraid that the chicken run netting has succumbed to yet another winter. I thought we had it figured out - larger netting, while still light and relatively inexpensive, was still strong and the larger holes let the snow fall through instead of accumulating on top and collapsing.

This snow was not falling for it. It was thick, heavy, wet snow that fell in monster sized flakes for almost 36 hours straight. I knew we were in trouble when i went out for the morning water check and saw accumulation where there should not have been. I used a large plastic leaf rake to knock the snow loose and let it fall though the holes, but I could tell that I was fighting a losing battle right from the start. Unless I stayed out there and raked the netting every five minutes, disaster was eminent.

I accepted defeat and let nature take it course, knowing that after the snow melted I would be outside in the mud removing flattened netting and trying my best to fold it for reinstalling in the spring. This has been an ongoing saga here, and I do battle every season.....

Part 1 - The Meltdown, or How It All Started
Part 2
Part 3

The chickens are spending most of their time in the coop due to the recent weather so I don't think they will mind. The only thing I do think they are minding is the close quarters. Granted, our coop is pretty darn big in terms of chicken per square feet. But like with any family, if you are 'cooped up' together for an extended period of time, someone is going to snap.

This evening I went to the coop for feeding and water check and discovered one of my ladies in laying in the corner with her head down. I could tell she was moving but not very much. I had the little man with me so i did not draw attention to her and I let him help fill the feeders. He was back in the house removing his snow boots while Roy and I went out to see what was happening with her. It looked like she had been attacked around the face and upper neck - she was bloodied and anxious. I checked all around the coop for signs of a predator or any loose boards but everything was secure. None of the other ladies were injured, except for one poor girl who went through a big molting and now has the spiky feathers starting to come back. She looks awful, but otherwise fine.

The only thing we could think of was that she was attacked by the other chickens. I have no idea why - the ladies have a nicely established pecking order and this chicken was not near the bottom. She is an average brown laying hen or regular size and good temperament. Could they be taking out their 'cooped up' frustrations? Picking on one bird at random? This seems pretty serious and aggressive for cabin fever!

Roy was not sure if she was going to make it - even though she was alert. We checked and her eyes seemed not to be damaged. I have a section if the coop penned off to put new birds in before we introduce them to the flock, which is secure. We placed her in there with food and water and some fresh straw so she will be left alone and tomorrow morning I will check on her when I change out the frozen water fonts.

I guess that the saying "when it rains, it pours" also applies to snow. Roy came home from a business trip early with a case of pneumonia and he was out of commission for days. The baby has a tooth cutting fever. Seamus has an intestinal infection that makes him ravenously hungry and he attacks the legs of anyone opening the refrigerator. The little man has been having a flare up of horrible behavior for the past week or so making his teacher and the ladies at the library story time roll their eyes when they see us coming. And now my poor chicken, who i hope pulls through.

Me? I have been taking massive doses of vitamin C to ward off any germs that come my way. If I get sick, this whole ship is going down.......

Odds and Ends

The miscellany that accumulates.......

The weather has been a roller coaster lately - over a foot of snow one day, and 50 degrees the next, sleet, wind storms, bitter cold and black ice. The wind made one day last week interesting in that after hauling all 4 recycling bins to the end of the driveway, the pick-up company never showed. During the day the wind picked up and sent all 4 bins flying, scattering all the recyclables across the yard. We had cat food cans in the side field and empty peanut butter jars in the neighbors driveway. We had baby food jars in the pine trees and the little man had a great time chasing runaway milk jugs across the side yard.

We rounded everything up, put it back in the bins, which were now safely in the barn, and I made a strongly worded call to the recycling company.

Seamus had made himself quite at home - lounging on the furniture, swiping food from Buffin's dish, and generally making Cheese's life a hissing fiasco. He has been holding his ground with her and I think she is finally starting to come around, a little. She glares at him from behind the couch and he seems to openly taunt her with his innocent looks.

He spends a lot of him time under my feet. Or, i should say, under the feet of anyone who looks like they might be headed in the direction of the refrigerator. This little guy can eat. Anything. The other day i caught him licking the bowl of leftover mac and cheese. Roy saw him eat a black olive. I watched him take a tortilla chip from the little man and carry it off into the laundry room. He goes back to the vet soon for his checkup and hopefully he will get a 100% healthy report.

The coyotes have been howling every night for the past week and our neighbor, who owns the property around us that the coyotes live on, has informed me that some of them have got to go. He has noticed way too many of them for this area and they are venturing out during daylight hours. In the past, he has allowed hunters to take a few coyotes when the population reached a high level, and I am afraid that time is here again. I hate to see the taking of any life, but with the world the way it is today and the close proximity of people, livelihood livestock and domestic pets to these wild creatures is something that needs to be dealt with.

We hear them howling out back, sometimes just a faint noise, but sometimes very, very close to the house. When the latter happens, the cats become very uneasy and I run through a mental checklist - the chickens are in the coop and the door is secure, Bailey is in the barn with the overhead door mostly shut, all my indoor cats are present and accounted for.......

Having had dealings with an either sick or overly friendly coyote a couple of summers ago, I know enough to see the sense in keeping the local population in check.

We sadly lost our Wok the other night in a kitchen fire incident, that was entirely my fault. I was heating up the oil to try a new sirloin stir fry recipe that Roy suggested, and things got too hot, too fast. As i was slicing and dicing the green peppers at the counter, the oil in the Wok erupted into a ball of flame tall enough to reach the cabinets over the stove. I shouted, Roy can running, the kids started crying, and the flaming Wok went flying out the back door, landing in the snow with a smokey hiss. The smoke detectors went off, which made the kids even more frantic, and we aired out the place with fans while we calmed down the baby and little man.

The Wok is ruined, but i managed to save the sirloin.

Friday, February 8

23.21 Pounds...

...of 100% organic turkey. Killed, plucked, prepared and bagged in one giant plastic bag.

It was a gift from a friend of Roy's at work who decided to raise his own turkey's this year. And we got one - a 23.21 lb. turkey. Frozen solid. I could hardly lift it into the chest freezer when he brought it home.

We are very grateful for this bird in that it will provide us with many, many meals.

Defrosting took about 2 days and I cooked it plain on 350 for about 5 hours. It was delicious.

And we have enough vacuum sealed bags of cut turkey in the freezer to last us into the early summer. (I find that ironic in writing that it was frozen, then thawed, cooked, and cut up only to be frozen again, piecemeal.)

Hot turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, potatoes and turkey with gravy.......

Any more interesting turkey recipes would be appreciated.......

Thursday, February 7

13 Skills

logo from

Things that may have been common knowledge to our Grandparents generation are a mystery to a lot of us. This is one of the reasons that I wanted to learn more about homesteading in the beginning - I was totally dependent on cheap junk and food that wasn't really even food - just a concoction of chemicals and corn syrup. I knew how to crochet and I knew that I liked to grow flowers, and it went from there.

In learning and growing and trying new things, I have found out first hand just how important and rewarding it is to know you can do things for yourself - whether they are homesteading basics like canning or modern necessities like learning how to change the brake pads on your car. It is important and I think it will become more and more necessary in years to come.

Prices are going up across the board - gas, food, clothing, chicken feed, car repairs, diapers - and the more I can do, grow or make for myself, the better I feel.

I recently found this site through The Survival Podcast, which encourages all of us to learn some new basic skills. Now, I listen to this podcast occasionally - when there is a topic being discussed that I am interested in. I like the guy who does the show, but sometimes he can get a little intense. So, listen, but don't let him 'freak you out'.

The Life Skills Challenge 2013: " is the Home of the 13 in 13 Challenge Sponsored and Created by The Survival Podcast. Join us as we help to restore a can do spirit to our modern world by committing to learning 13 new life skills in 2013."

I encourage you to check out the site, and even if you don't sign up, there are a lot of great ideas and topics of discussion to motivate you.

Wednesday, February 6

Crochet Owl Hat

I wanted to share this great pattern that I found while searching for a hat pattern. I wanted something for my niece and she loves owls. And hats. And anything home made.

The Repeat Crafter Me blog is an excellent source for all things creative, especially if you have little ones and you are looking to fill some of those long winter days. Just the crochet and crafting ideas will keep you going well into spring.

Monday, February 4

Storing the Glads

A little late in coming but I finally got the gladioli bulbs sorted, cleaned and stored away last weekend. Little man and I dug them on an unusually warm day last December, after we had already had a few hard frosts.

I have only had glads for a few years, even though they are such a beautiful addition to the flower garden, because I was put off by the work in digging them up every year. I am a big fan of the perennial garden - the more that will come back on it's own, the better. I have enough work to do in the veggie garden without having to worry about some strange looking bulbs.

However, much like the lady in the video, I finally got a package of the bulbs at the end of season clearance sale at Tractor Supply. They were cheap and I thought "what the heck." If they grow, they grow. If I forget to dig them up, then I am only out $1.59.

I planted them and forgot about them, and they grew and bloomed nicely the first season. And I forgot to dig up the bulbs and they spent the winter in the ground.

The next season I was not expecting them to grow, thinking they were all rotten and destroyed under the ground and fully prepared to start a patch of poppies over their garden spot, when they grew! And I got another beautiful display of red flowers that the hummingbirds love.

This year, I didn't want to press my luck, so we dig them up. Of course, not really knowing what I was doing, I went to the modern homesteaders mecca - the internet. A very nice lady on You Tube taught me how to dig, dry, sort, clean and store the bulbs.

I dried them on a large old metal screen from an old window in the basement from the time we dug them up in December until last weekend. Probably more than enough time for them to dry, and not because I was worried about the proper drying time. I just never got the time to get down there to sort and clean them.

I made sure each bulb was in good condition and free of dried dirt and leftover roots. I saved each big bulb and medium sized bulb, or corms, and then I went to work on the little guys, the cormlets. I saved all the ones I thought would be good to plant next spring and I tossed any that looked too small. I had a ton of the cormlets so there was not going to be a shortage.

I stored the bulbs in two mesh bags from the produce department that once contained grapefruit and tomatoes on the vine. The bulbs need to breathe, but they can also not be exposed to light or heat. So they are now spending the winter in the windowless closet of our un-insulated side entry way.

If I did things right, I will have enough bulbs to plant two separate glad area this spring.

But wait, won't that make for more digging in the fall? Ah, now I know why people sometimes avoid glads...... it's a vicious, multiplying cycle......

Saturday, February 2

Seamus Harper MacKenzie, III.

We have a new addition here at the house - an unexpected one - but a nice one all the same.

Last Saturday I sent Roy and the little man up to a local cow farm to pick up 10 bales for fresh straw for the chicken coop. The phone rang about 20 minutes later. It was Roy asking if I wanted a kitten.

Now, Roy is one of those people that is always insisting that we should not have a lot of pets. He argues that it is a lot of work, it can be expensive and it can be an emotional rollercoaster. At one time, we had three dogs and three cats and it was a lot of work.

So for Roy to ask if I wanted this kitten, he must have fallen in love it first sight. This must be some kitten! Knowing that my answer would be yes if he did ask, this call cemented the deal.

The little guy rode home in the car on little mans lap. It turns out that when little man got out of the car at the farm, this kitten found him and would not leave his side. All through the cow barn he followed the little man around, trying to climb his leg and weaving between his feet. The farm owners told Roy that he was three months old and that they needed to find him a home. He was just too friendly. They were afraid that he would be stepped on by one of the cows or run over by a tractor.

He arrived at our back door smelling quite badly and the first thing we did was give him a warm bath. He was not thrilled but he needed it. The rinse water was a dirty brown and it took several scrubs before he was clean. After much thought, I named him Seamus Harper Mackenzie, III.

A vet appointment was scheduled for the following Monday and it turns out that in addition to fleas, he had a respiratory infection and an eye infection. He was given medication for all three things and we left with the little guy mewing what i can only believe to be obscenities at the vet staff.

As thrilled as we all are with his arrival, the other two cats are not so sure. Buffin, who is a little mellow since he is older, did not want to be in the same room with Seamus for the first three or four days. He would hide and peek out around chairs and kids toys to get a look at Seamus and then duck back into hiding. He is now, a week later, comfortable sharing the same room with Seamus and they have even been seen eating at the same time from adjacent bowls.

Cheese is another story. She does not like Seamus one bit. The first time she saw him she puffed up her fur, hissed with teeth barred, and then took off through the kitchen. This is the same reaction we have gotten every time they happen to see each other. Seamus is curious and wants to introduce himself and Cheese puffs up the what strikingly resembles and large furry beach ball and races away.

Seamus has already made himself a member of the family - he is so very friendly and has no reservations about cuddling up with either one of the kids on the couch.

Next step - getting Seamus and Cheese on tolerable terms.