chickens, farming, Uncategorized

Missy, Peep, and Flower

A few weeks ago, I drove around the Lowe’s parking lot on a warm, sunny Saturday, looking for someone I have never met. They advertised a few pullets for sale online, and we agreed to meet up so I could look them over. Eventually, we found each other, and I parked our old 86′ S-10 flat bed next to their nice, shiny, white Ford Super Duty.

And in a small cage in the back of that Super Duty were three 4 month old pullets and three 2 month old pullets and I immediately fell in love. They were panting a little from being in the sun, but each one had sleek, clean feathers and bright eyes. One by one, I looked them over and put each one in the small cage I had brought. The same cage we brought 5 piglets home in last year – but that’s another story.

We settled on a price, shook hands, and drove back to our respective farms. I had a new sexlink hen, two barred rocks, two buff orpingtons and a white rock pullet, and they were perfect. I had to stop and get gas and ended up moving the cage to the cab of the truck so they would be out of the sun…. and so I could admire them on the way home

I drove straight up to the chicken coop and set the cage down in the shade. Since they were so much younger than the other hens, I decided to put them in the smaller coop with the bantam pair. They would have plenty of low roosts to learn how to hope on, and access to a small yard. I had already bought some chick crumbles, and set that up while the pullets settled down and cooled off.

One by one, I brought them out of the cage and into their new home. I don’t know how long I sat up there with them, but it had to be quite a while. I can’t help it, I love watching them sing and scratch and peck. I held the littlest orpington for a while and she didn’t seem to mind a bit. She even fell asleep in my lap, and I was considering just hanging out all evening. Eventually, she woke up, shook off, and hopped down to peck around with her sister. Heading back down to the house, I already had names in mind: the three older pullets would be Daisy, Lulu and Frieda, the three little ones would be Missy, Peep and Flower.

We got quite a bit of rain over the weekend, and on Saturday I got caught in one of the worst hail storms I have ever seen. I pulled up under a Texaco station with several other cars and ate carrot sticks while we waited for it to pass. When I finally made it home, it was close to 10pm. I changed clothes and put on a headlamp and a rain coat and headed up to the coop to latch the barn doors.

When I got to the little coop, I counted, re-counted, and realized that little Flower was missing. I ducked inside the coop and looked around, but she wasn’t inside. She wasn’t in the yard either, all I could think was that the fox had somehow gotten her. I looked in the surrounding trees, but in the dark and in the rain, it was difficult to see anything. And I highly doubted she would have known to roost up there.

I made one more pass over the field, searching for feathers, and was about ready to turn back to the house, when something told me to look on the far side of the coop. There is a stack of old shingles and a few overturned buckets, but I rarely go on that side in the daylight. I swept my headlamp over the area and did a double take – there she was! I almost whooped with joy, she was sitting huddled on a bucket and soaked all the way through. I scooped her right up, amazed that I had found her before a hungry predator did.

Walking back to the house, I tucked her into my raincoat and felt her little body shivering. Who knows how long she had been out there – it could have been all afternoon, or a few hours. I tried not to think about it. We came inside and Zoe was all over us, she wanted to know why I brought a chicken in the house. Sadie was fast asleep, so I went straight to the half bathroom. I wrapped Flower in a dish towel and turned on the ancient heater that is set in the wall. It smelled like burnt hair, but I didn’t think she would mind.

I left Flower in a bundle of towels and crept upstairs to hunt for a hair dryer. Sadie and I aren’t really big into doing our hair, so I was very thankful that it worked. I had to fight Zoe to get back in the bathroom, and when I switched the hair dryer on, the heater shorted out and quit. I went to the kitchen, got an extension cord, and ran that from my room back to the bathroom.

Flower was still wrapped up, I sat with my back against the door and held her in my lap. She was very quiet and very still. Zoe was sniffing under the door and whining, but she would have to wait. I towel dried most of the water off of Flower, then turned the hair dryer on low and started warming her up. After a few minutes, she began peeping again, and I relaxed a little. Once I got most of her back dry, she stood up and ruffled her feathers, shaking her head and stretching her wings.

I was sitting cross-legged with towels and Flower in my lap, but eventually, she hopped up to my right knee so she was at eye-level with the wall heater. As she continued to warm up, she began looking around and chirping. I couldn’t help but wonder what a bathroom must look like from her point of view, or if she understood why it was suddenly so bright after hours of darkness and rain.

She let me stroke her chest, and even lift her wings to be sure she was completely dry. I didn’t want to overheat her, but I also didn’t want her to be damp and catch a chill. She wasn’t bothered by my fussing one bit. At some point around 11:30, I was satisfied that she was warm and dry. I set her back on the ground and went to the kitchen for a bowl of warm water. Instead of walking back up to the coop for some feed and scratch, I took a handful of birdseed and went back to the bathroom.

Flower was walking around, exploring and pecking fuzz off the rug. I sat back down and lifted her on my knee again, holding out the bird seed. She knew what to do – she went to town on that bird seed. She was laser focused on the bird seed and gobbled that handful right up. I went back to the kitchen, got another bowl, and brought it back to her. I set the bowl on the tile and she sat on the rug right in front of it, pecking away.

After a few minutes, she slowed down and stopped eating. I swapped the bird seed out for the water, but she didn’t seem too interested. I didn’t want to take her back to the coop without getting some fluids in her, so I cupped some in my hand and she started drinking from the drops falling from my palm. We did that several times, spilling enough water that it made its way between the tiles to my pants.

Finally, around 11:30, I was satisfied that she was warm and dry enough, and full enough, that she could spend the night in the coop with her sisters. I put on my rain coat again and tucked her inside and we went back up the hill. I woke everyone up again, but wanted to be sure she would settle in next to them so she could stay warm. I set her on the perch with her sisters, and she sidled over next to Peep and settled down. I made sure everything was locked up before heading back to the house, to my warm dry bed with my dog, relieved that Flower was back where she belonged.

chickens, farming, Uncategorized

1 Chick, 2 Chick

When chicks are no longer chicks, but they are not yet hens, they are pullets. Adorable, awkward, patchy feathered, long legged teenagers that are still trying to learn to navigate the world. I got my first four pullets last Saturday¬†and I couldn’t be more in love with them.

Considering the fact that we have not had any new chickens since August, it was more than time to get some new girls for the coop. After losing a clutch of eggs one of my hens had been setting on, I decided that would be the last time we tried raising babies. We need some girls who haven’t quite started laying yet, but are more than a few weeks old to hold their own.

I could raise chicks, it’s doable, but it would require some major renovations. The chickens live in a converted horse barn, so you can imagine there are several gaps in the boards where little babies can slip through.

Plus, if for whatever reason, Mama doesn’t want to raise them, you’re looking at a minimum of one heat lamp – which requires power to the barn, which we don’t currently have – a secure but well ventilated cage for them to grow up in, and food and water that can hang from the ceiling so they can’t knock it over then poop in it. Like I said, major renovations.

Well once I picked up the first batch of 12 week old ‘babies’, that was it. I think I’m hooked. I got two more ducks, then met a lady at Lowe’s on Sunday evening to get five more pullets. I just got back from meeting a girl at Dollar General to get a Buff Bantam Hen and Rooster. Bantam’s are known for being adorably teeny tiny: think pony-to-horse-ratio, except with feathers. Too cute. I named them Leonidas and Queenie, a big name for a little pair.

Last week I met a family at Weigels in the pouring rain to trade homemade strawberry jam for a Barred Rock Rooster and 3 hens. I might have a problem. I AM planning on stopping soon. Honestly, we need some new blood in the coop but we’re not set up for a big-time egg production. At least, not yet.

We do have a smaller chicken coop that Sadie used years ago, it’s near the barn where all the chickens are now, and it’s very old. We found a picture of Uncle Jack in front of it that was taken in 1966, and it didn’t look new even then. It’s a rectangular building, smaller than a one car garage, with a sloped roof and wire windows above the doors. There is a wall down the middle so you can separate different flocks.

With young pullets on the way, I decided to give the smaller coop some much needed TLC. Older, established laying hens aren’t a big fan of teenagers running around, so it’s a good idea to let them do a little growing up before putting everyone together. The smaller coop has a shelf for laying on one side and a perch on the other. The roof had holes and the siding near the ground was soft with rot.

I went to work. We have extra tin from when Sadie re-did the roof years ago, I put that up first. Then I dug around the outside of the coop and replaced several boards that were beyond repair. I nailed baseboards along the outside, then put the dirt back to hopefully deter the lazy predators.

Once I started on the inside, I realized it was a two-day-project. The coop faces east and sits with it’s back on the upper part of the hill. Most of the ground eroded around the front, leaving huge gaps between the front doors and the dirt. I pulled old board, bricks, and blocks out, making a burn pile nearby away from the surrounding trees.

After making such a substantial mess, I dug out and laid more baseboards on the inside. Fresh shavings went down, and that made all the difference. I cleaned the laying buckets out and put new shavings in there too. Then I went to work on the perches.

Chickens go to roost every night. They have poor eyesight in the dark, so they find somewhere way high off the ground to spend the night. Little pullets still sleep on the ground, but they would grow and soon want somewhere safe to roost. Instead of using cut lumber, like we have in the big barn, I found some fallen tree limbs and nailed them to posts on the right side of the coop.

I’m not a carpenter, but when I was finished, it looked fantastic. It looked like a tree house! I went from floor to roof, as the pullets grow, they will begin roosting higher off the ground. Like a feathery graduation.

After hanging the self feeder and water-er, I just needed a yard for the Pullets to spend the day in. As you can imagine, exercise is very important for chickens. Although they won’t lay for a few more weeks, hens need about 8 hours of sunlight to produce an egg. Plus, it’s good for them to scratch around for grass and bugs.

I used some of the chain-link fence panels from when Sadie and I dismantled the dog lot, there were 5 left with one big gate. I prefer wooden posts and chicken wire, but the panels worked just fine! The last thing it needed was a rusty piece of farm equipment. A small hand plow did the trick, and I stopped to survey my work. It was about 6pm, everything looked great, except for the big mess pile. Casey was sleeping on the lumber I didn’t use, and there were bricks, old cool-whip cartons and buckets everywhere.

Scraps of wood went in the burn pile, I stacked the bricks behind the coop (if you live on a farm, you should never throw away extra bricks. Ever. For any reason.) and piled the trash in the trailer that was hooked up to the 4-wheeler. Before I knew it, it was 7:00, and I put a wire dog kennel in the back of Sadie’s van to go pick up my new pullets. I was filthy, sweaty, covered in dirt, and grinning. The best days on the farm end with sore muscles and brand new chickens.


chickens, fall, farming, hay

Hay, Woah

This morning, after a weekend out of town, I woke up and fed the dogs and cats, then headed up to see the chickens. I filled the duck bath and brought 3 eggs back down with me. Farm life resumes whether you are there for it or not, but it was nice to come home and feel like I hadn’t missed anything. Sadie told me the neighbors were planning to cut square bales of hay that afternoon, if we wanted any for the winter, we needed to bring the trailer out. I left work a little early and got home to see our trailer parked near the barn, stacked to the top with fresh-cut hay. I changed out of my office clothes and grabbed an apple to munch on the way to the coop.

I let the chickens out to pasture, then let the hen and her 2 chicks out to explore the yard. I named the babies Zelda and Zoe, because hopefully they are the last ones of this year. The chicks learned how to take a dust-bath, which was kind of hilarious to watch.

Sadie and I then walked to the barn and looked over the hay; it’s about as fresh as it gets. It smelled so sweet, and dry, and most of it was still green. Inside the hall of a barn was a trailer twice the size of ours, stacked across almost the entire aisle. Well, we certainly had enough for the winter – 175 bales in all.

Since our neighbor is keeping a horse in our barn, he came to help us stack it. We unloaded our trailer first, and cross-stacked the bales in the corner of the barn. Up and up, I couldn’t even tell you how high. Once our trailer was empty, I climbed onto Joe’s trailer and started throwing the bales across the aisle to the other stack. Sometimes they landed, sometimes they rolled off. Soon, we got sweaty. Little innocent broken pieces of hay started sticking, and then its in my hair and down my shirt and poking my socks inside my boots. The bales are dusty and heavy, bound in dull orange string for your hands to slide under. Grab, lift, sling, stack. The barn became filled with the sent of sweet, cut grass. We made a sort of ladder so I can get to the bales on top, with Fall coming on the breeze, that won’t be far away.

We stacked until the sun went down, and it became too dim to see. The important thing is we have hay, and the second most important thing is that it is high and dry, out of the weather and away from hungry mouths. The dogs and I rode in the back of the hay-strewn trailer up to the house, and I realized it was the first hay ride of the season. I took my boots off in the kitchen and left a pile of hay by the table. My fingers, arms, shoulders, and back felt tight like baling twine. My arms were scratched and my neck itchy. I laid back on the cool tile and Casey came to lay with me – muddy from the creek. Sadie walked into the kitchen and thought I had passed out, it scared her so bad I had to swear I would let her know next time I wanted to lay on the floor.

We decided – well, I decided, – that we should have BBQ Chicken for dinner. It was almost 9 and I could just about taste it. Sadie yelled at me from the basement, and I put shoes on to head down there. Apparently the freezer wasn’t running. This isn’t any ordinary freezer, it’s the legendary basement freezer where they would put bodies if it was some kind of horror show. The light wasnt on, there was no humming, and it was about to be a very long night. We found and extension cord and ran the freezer plug to a new outlet, just in case all of the electrical work we’ve had on the house somehow affected the basement wiring. No luck. Sadie went to the shop, cats in tow, and brought down another extension cord.

With her in the basement and me upstairs, we tried running the two extension cords up to the living room where we knew the plugs definitely worked. After some weaving, we ran the cord back up the stairs, under the door, across the dining room and into the living room. I went back to the basement and held my breath: we heard the freezer humming. “Does the light come on?” Sadie shouted down the stairs – it took a second to lift the lid up because the handle is broken, but sure enough, the light came on. I sent the news upstairs to Sadie and she said “Haleluijah!”

We had grilled cheese for supper, the BBQ chicken can wait for another night.