The Unusual Rooster (or crowing hen)

I heard crowing at dawn.  I stretched and smiled, hearing that beautiful familiar sound.  My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed.  I searched with sleepy eyes through the window trying to catch sight of who was actually a rooster.  Then…nothing.  No crowing for days.  None of the hens looked like a rooster and I have had six out of seven of them for a year and a half.

Twice now I have pulled my car into the driveway and heard crowing coming from my own backyard.  I throw open the gate and stand there as the hens chirp and ask to be let out of their yard.  Suspicious.  No rooster.

Last week I ran in to see who was crowing and one of the Jersey Giants was pulled up tall just like a rooster.  Ah ha!  But she lays eggs.  Addie came over and we looked at all the chickens.  No spurs, no crazy feathers, no prettier than other chickens chicken.  And they all lay eggs.

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I decided to look into this phenomenon. Addie has a few hen crowers.  The internet is filled with tales of crowing hens.  It seem that without a rooster to rule the roost a hen will become the queen.  She will crow to scare predators or to announce her dissatisfaction, or to let me it’s time to wake up and give them feed.  So this really is the best of both worlds, I get my beloved, familiar farm sound (just not every ten minutes throughout the day) without any of the testosterone jerkiness and she lays eggs.  How lovely.

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

The Motley Crew of Pumpkin Hollow

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I need this sign!

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Gandalf is over a hundred pounds now at seven months old.  He is adorable.  His crazy brother, Merlin is eight months old and thinks he is a jaguar.  Or a dog.  That boy is a little special.  Each morning my husband emails me from work and asks, “How are you and zoo?”

DSC_6169My three old kitties, that we had hand raised almost thirteen years ago, came home after being at the shop for over two years.  Let’s just say they don’t love Merlin.  Gandalf is loud and furry and naughty too.  I didn’t get chicks this year.  I think eight cats, a giant polar bear, and seven chickens will do me just fine for now.  But I tell you what, this zoo makes me laugh. Every. Single. Day.  It’s a motley crew over here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm!

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The Hens of Pumpkin Hollow

20180214_152811They, too, wait for spring when fresh greenery pushes through to be pecked at and enjoyed by the hens of Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  I love chickens.  And the thing we missed most when we were away from a farm was having chickens.  They make a farm a home anywhere you can keep them.  Their colorful feathers, changing in the sun, their strut through high weeds and the way they tilt their head to look at you with one eye.  They are hilarious in demeanor and each one is as different as my cats.

Yogi and Hindi are Jersey Giants and we refer to them as the Jersey girls.  They tend to stick together.  Their large black feathers sparkle emerald in the sunlight.  They lay large brown eggs.  They were late bloomers but seem to be catching up with others.

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Eloise was supposed to be a Marans but she lacks speckles and I think she is actually an Australorpe.  She lays small tan eggs wherever she pleases; outside the coop door, near the chicken food-as if the egg popping out surprises her.  She wants to be pet but then changes her mind.  She sleeps by herself and is a little…um…special.  But she is very sweet.

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Buttercup is the tiny queen here.  A clean, white egg can be found each day.  Her breed is Buttercup which is what led to her name.  She looks like a miniature leopard with a rose shaped crown.  She wants nothing to do with us.  Unless we have a bit of cracked corn.

Owlette is an Auracana.  This lovely breed looks like an owl and lays blue-green eggs.  I would like a few more of these ladies.  They are sassy and good layers.

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We have fallen for Salmon Favorelles.  These girls are beautiful in their French finest and petticoats.  They lay pink eggs regularly and are very friendly.  Bubba is especially sweet.  Our granddaughter named our chickens.  Bubba and Chichi are cute names indeed.

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We feed organic layer feed and organic scratch.  They eat scraps from the kitchen as well.  They have a large fenced in area that was likely a dog run in the past with seven foot fencing.  They live in an adobe house with trumpet vine that climbs prettily up the side in the summer.  We are all ready for a little color and for winter to pass!  They are able to wander the yard on the days the puppy goes to the shop with me.  I don’t trust his puppyness quite yet.  Chickens are very easy to keep.  They require little more than a straw strewn shed or chicken coop, fresh water, scratch, oyster shells, scraps, and feed.  They love dirt baths and bugs and sunlight.  They put themselves to bed in the evening at last light.  All you have to do is open the door in the morning and close the door at night.

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We are vegan but we do eat the eggs from our own chickens.  Our chickens lead a very nice life with pets, treats, and lots of wandering adventures.  They will live here their entire life and so in that way they are lucky.  No factory farms, cages, enclosed barns, or slaughter for them.

So now as spring approaches we have the question to answer; do we “adopt” five more chicks even though the hatcheries are horrific and provide five chickens with a beautiful future or do we wait and see if we are sent five chickens that need rescuing?  There are many moral decisions to be made on a small hobby farm.  We do know that chickens make this mini-farm a happier place to live.  A farm without chickens is not quite a home.

The Farm Sanctuary

20171019_132845I can’t find anything written about it but word from the farmgirls in town is that we can now have two goats or sheep and up to twelve chickens.  Being such a farming community I was surprised that the town was so behind Colorado Springs and Denver when it came to legalizing farm animals in town.

Now this new news may not mean anything to our immediate future.  First and foremost we must pay off our debt.  I have a pretty lofty goal of paying off everything but the house this year.  Fifty grand is not easy to come by but I am determined to scrape and save and send farewell payments to our student loans.  Debt is most certainly a jailor and it is keeping us from our dreams.

And that dream might just be a farm sanctuary.  Years ago, huddled in the cold basement of a friend’s house who was letting us live there until we could get back on our feet, we drew out an elaborate plan one cool autumn night.  A farm.  The only thing we have ever wanted.  Rented farms were fun and disastrous.  Not having money made it difficult as well.  We imagined and created a farm that was a non-profit.  Something folks could get behind.  Our family-run farm would be complete with large vegetable, herb, and perennial gardens.  There would be a building to teach classes like homesteading arts, gardening, art, writing, cooking, herbalism, and preserving.  A place to serve meals and a place to house interns.   A general store would sell preserves and tinctures and produce.

The animals we accumulated on our past farms were never to eat.  At the end we had twenty-four chickens, two sheep for wool and entertainment, two goats for milking, and four ducks for eggs and laughs.  This time around we wouldn’t have the milking goats.  Cashew milk tastes pretty good.  But there are plenty of little boy goats that may need rescuing.  A wethered (neutered) goat is just like a puppy.  I eat the eggs of my beautiful chickens because, honest to god, they don’t care.  Eggs from the store-even organic, free range- come from horrid, cruel environments.  But my hens are named, snuggled, and live out their whole life with me.

If the animals are in a safe, happy environment and people can come to a farm and have a great vegan meal and play with farm animals and see the souls, personalities, and life behind each individual, that could make a profound difference.  To show folks that one person can make a tremendous impact on the environment, saving endangered species, save the lives of thousands of animals over their lifetime, and completely restore their own health would be the best possible work for me.

I know this is a big dream.  (Add to it that we want it in a warmer climate like southern California) I don’t usually dream quite this big.  It probably will not start this complete but will manifest and grow into itself.  We have been learning and preparing for this dream for the past ten years.  Here on this little urban sanctuary I have room for a few more rescued chickens.  Perhaps some ducks.  Maybe a wether.  Really, not much more if even that.

But first things first.  Create a written plan.  Learn how to start a non-profit.  Pay off debt.  Dream big.  Enjoy the present.

The Great, Great Pyrenees (traits and fun facts)

Message_1514674093077I love the individual traits of dogs.  I am fascinated that certain characteristics could be bred into a dog over thousands of years.  I enjoy watching those traits emerge.  The little souls and personalities may be different but there are definitely set patterns.  We decided to get a Great Pyrenees.

We have long looked at that breed when we had our “real” farms but never ended up adopting one.  I wondered about getting one that would live in the city, would he be happy?

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The Great Pyrenees was a mountain dog in the Pyrenees mountains between Portugal and France.  They were bred to cross mountains and guard sheep.  Their double dew claws on their back feet are attached with bone and make them able to stretch out their feet and easily climb rocks.  We have not a huge expanse for them to wander, nor sheep.  We do live in an area, lovingly described to us by a fellow who was out mountain biking while we were hiking, as Colorado’s unknown playground.  It is gloriously spring-like all the time here and we have thousands of trails.  I happen to be extremely energetic and really needed a pup to walk me!  Gandalf and I walk three to four miles a day, usually just around the lake at the end of the block but we also head to the Riverwalk and hopefully this weekend we can take him the short drive to the mountains and ramble around the trails there.  Great Pyrenees do not have as much energy as a husky or a heeler or me.  A few miles walking or a few minutes throwing the ball are perfect for these gentle giants.

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Great Pyrenees are bred to protect.  That is what they do.  My favorite quote is, “The Great Pyrenees dog breed‘s goal in life is to protect sheep, goats, livestock, people, children, grass, flowers, the moon, the lawn furniture, bird feeders, and any real or imaginary predators that may intrude on your personal space.” Their size alone could do that, but their deep, bellowing bark will make you jump out of your skin.  They are quite intelligent.  Gandalf enjoys being around other dogs and he loves, loves, loves kids.  If he is in the yard, anyone that walks by is suspect and he will bark whether it is an old lady, seven year old child, or shady looking character.  While we are out, he carefully sizes everyone up that walks near us.  As is the case of the world, the vast majority of people are good folk and he is happy to greet them.  Only a few times did he bark and refuse to walk until they were out of sight.  He will be great protection for me.

Great Pyrenees have a double coat.  They are fabulously cuddly and snuggly and polar bear-like.  I love a great big fluffy dog.  We were warned that Great Pyrenees shed.  We laughed.  We go nowhere without cat hair on us as it is!  There is a great talk about how, because of these mega coats, that the Great Pyrenees prefer to be outdoors in the cold, even in freezing temperatures.  I am sure that they were bred for that and can withstand that but my Great Pyrenees has no problem being in the house, even with the wood stove burning.  He will lay by the door where it is a little cooler.  He sleeps next to my side of the bed.  He doesn’t mind being an indoor dog.

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He saw his first rainfall and had a great time running around the yard trying to catch the invading water.  He also learned to turn on the spigot after watching me fill buckets to water trees.  He had a great time until I wondered where the sound of water was coming from!  A simple shake and all of the moisture was off of his fur.  He pounds through the thin ice near the lake and streams by our house and plays adorably splashing in the water.

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The Great Pyrenees are distantly related to the other breeds, Bernese Mountain dogs, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands.  Their adorable faces confuse a lot of people.  The city people here have rarely seen a Great Pyr, so they search their memories for what he could be.  St. Bernard is the first guess.  Since mine is French, I joke that he should have a barrel attached to his neck with a spigot for wine.

The bones of Great Pyrenees dogs have been found fossilized from 1000 BCE.  That is an old breed!  They were also used to guard French castles in the 1700’s.  They have been beloved for so long that I am surprised more people do not know about them.  The Great Pyrenees dogs will range from 85 pounds (female) to upwards of 160 pounds.  Gandalf seems to be heading in that spectrum.  At 4 1/2 months old he is already 78 pounds.  He is goofy and lovey, and a really, really good puppy.

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So if you have been thinking of getting a Great Pyrenees, I hope this helps you decide for yourself whether a polar bear would be a good fit.  I sure love this pup.  He is perfect for our little urban farmstead.  He is good with the chickens and the cats and I can see where they earned the nickname, “Gentle Giant.”

Trusting Intuition and Plant Medicines

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My kitten was very sick.  Five months ago I picked Merlin and his brother up at the feed mill where they had been found the eve before.  They were not even a day old yet and their mother was gone.  Merlin survived on dropper-fulls of milk delivered every two hours.  He spent his first six weeks, first in my bra, then in my apron top.  He went everywhere with us because of his feedings.  He is a feisty, furry, sweet little boy and I naturally have a very strong attachment to him.

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Last week I noticed that when he ran (which he seems to always be doing) streams of diarrhea were following him.  It wouldn’t stop.  He also has chronic allergies.  I had cancelled his appointment to get neutered at the “in-and-out-neuter clinic because they wouldn’t listen to me that they would have to be alert to his breathing.

I haven’t been to a vet in over a decade.  Same with the doctor.  I make my own medicines with 100% success and my full faith is in these plants.  If they don’t need to be spayed/neutered or humanely euthanized at the end of life, I don’t take them.  I know as well as I know my name what herbs do what.  I had been faithfully giving Merlin the antibiotic and the super immunity allergy medicine and these keep his sniffles in check.  He had two days worth of tummy trouble medicine that I make specifically for cats (chamomile, mint, mullein, lemon balm).  But fear makes us doubt.  It makes us panic.  And I made an appointment with the vet.

Doug recalled his trip with Merlin and as I read the line by line charges I realized the vet is no different than it was twenty years ago when I was a vet tech.  God love them but most vets (and doctors) are trained on a script, a pharmaceutical drug, and a bill.  She did a fecal sample.  I knew he didn’t have parasites because he had already taken my anti-parasite.  He didn’t but she de-wormed him anyway.  With a chemical.  That made him so bad that night that diarrhea was flying everywhere in large puddles as he screamed and literally climbed the walls.  Then they sold him some “special” food (I cannot believe after all this time they are still pushing that Science Diet stuff as healthy).  Tried to push vaccinations on him (even though he was clearly not feeling well).  Over a hundred dollars later we had a diagnoses.  Diarrhea.

I was furious that my Merlin was worse.  I was furious that I had not trusted my instincts, my intuition, my plants.  The next day, his third day of tummy medicine that I make, he was a hundred percent well.  One more dose and we would have had it.

How many times did I panic when the kids were little (before I was an herbalist) and rush Andy to the emergency room for pink eye (in 2 hours it is better with my recipe), or Shyanne with a headache (feverfew and willow), or Emily with seborrhea dermatitis (she was allergic to her earrings)?

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In our household and with thousands of clients over the years and students’ medicines made and the people they help and so forth, I have seen plants heal everything.  I beseech you to learn herbal medicines for your homestead.  I have saved my own flock of chickens, helped relieve pain in goats, de-wormed sheep, healed cats, saved dogs, and kept our family healthy and well.  The plants were made for this!

They are burying one of my son’s friends this week.  Oxycodone.

I have classes, I have an online store and shop, others across the world have the same.  Seek out wisdom in library books, with teachers, or if you have no desire to turn your basement into a full apothecary, find a real herbalist.  Not a health food store.  A working, breathing, passionate herbalist.

http://whitewolfherbs.com

Maybe 2018 is the year we all go back to the plants.

(By the way, Merlin is doing great!)

 

 

The Saving Daily Walk (and Hugo and George at it again)

Two loads of wet laundry hit the winter ground with a thud and instantly were covered in dirt.  The entire clothes line had fallen.  I had asked my husband to tighten it for me months before but the real culprit was probably the innocent looking puppy who had pulled half the clothes off the clothesline the week prior and shredded them.  I looked over and two new articles sat on his bed.  I glared.

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Instead of cleaning up the freshly washed clothes I walked indoors.  It would wait a moment for me to compose myself.  Moments later Gandalf had one of my shirts from an open drawer and was running madly around the house.

Instead of crying, losing it, or pouring a shot of whisky, I grabbed the leash.  We both needed it.  We walked three and a half miles.  We made it home just in time for my appointment with a client.  I have found that there is always time for a walk.

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Really, I wish I could get a proper picture of these two blurs, but they are constantly playing and moving.  We missed an opportunity (perhaps it is not too late) to name the four month old, gigantic abominable snow puppy, Hugo and his little black sidekick, the five month old Merlin, should have been George from the Bugs Bunny cartoon (my own little bunny rabbit…”

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The whir was happening right behind me yesterday as I typed but these kids are fast!  The kitten jumped on the chair, the puppy trying to catch him.  The puppy pulled the tablecloth to get to Merlin and down went all of the oil lamps.  Shattered chimneys carpeted the floor.  Gandalf scared himself so much he backed up into the hall.  They upset the big, black, older cat so much that Booboo chased Gandalf in circles until he begged to be let out.

“How’s the zoo?” my husband emailed from work.

“Hugo and George at it again!” I replied.

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The leash came off the wall and we walked.  We passed hundreds of chirping and bleating red winged blackbirds.  They have returned.  The villages of geese congregated for a meeting on the wide expanse of lake as the sea gulls danced above.  The mountains in the distance were a violet hue against great blue sky and the golden fields and reeds stretched out around the glimmering, icy waters in technicolor.  Calming breath entered my lungs as the puppy skated slight on the ice as he licked the frozen water.  We were exhausted and happy as we skipped home.

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A simple walk daily can improve your outlook, bring you back to present, connect you with what’s real, and with the natural world, and will help your heart in more ways than one!  Being a new parent to a puppy and kitten not required.

The Mystery of the Defective Chickens

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One egg.  Buttercup is a sure thing.  Nearly every day we get a small white egg from her.  Owlette the Araucana lays one a few times a week…on a rickety shelf, where it falls and cracks.  Once in great awhile we get an egg from the Salmon Favorelles.  Never two, just one.  And once a month we might get a small light brown egg from either the Giants or the Marans, it’s really hard to know.

All I know is that for having seven chickens it sure is suspicious that I am only getting one or two eggs max a day when I have seven first year laying hens.  Anyone else find this odd?

There are no signs of egg eating.  They have plenty of scraps, sunshine, running room, oyster shells, water, and food.

They have never laid more than this so I can’t blame the lack of light.  Gosh, they aren’t even friendly chickens like the ones I used to have!  I threaten them with freezer camp as they run screaming from me.  I even named them and talked to them sweetly.  To no avail.  No eggs.

What do you all think?  Egg eater?

 

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