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.
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.
The air is cool this morning. Autumn just whispers. A little early, it seems to me. A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought. The farms are half fallow for lack of water. On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini. Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today. I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook. We are eating well from our gardens. The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.
The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed. The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates. We now have eggs again.
Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming. I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by. The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art. Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town. I have abundant space to garden. My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here. I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards. One does not need as much space as one might think. I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.
I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs. I have local farmers for milk should I choose.
Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves. I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden. Little by little the root cellar fills. Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove. My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.
Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal. One cannot possibly do everything themselves. I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose. They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.
Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book. I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog. Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback. Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.
Gandalf 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.
My 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!”
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog. Happy Homesteading!
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.
It seems a very long time ago that I stood outside on our prairie farm screaming. I watched the last of the chickens be swooped up and driven away by other farmers who didn’t rent their farms. The sheep were gone. The goats were gone. My dog had died. I continued to give away or sell my precious antiques for next to nothing, all of my homesteading items, my life. We moved into our friend’s guest bedroom. And the landlords continued their scam on other people. Ah well, that was a long time ago. Two years. A lot can happen in two years.
We would have never studied under Native American elders that became great friends. We would have never opened our Apothecary, White Wolf Medicine. We would have never thought to move to Pueblo. We OWN our own home now. The American dream is still very much alive.
I certainly didn’t plan on moving to the city. I am a country girl through and through but the great Unknown knew darn well that if I wanted people coming to me for medicines and teas, they weren’t going to drive out to the middle of nowhere. This central location in town sure keeps me busy. People know where to find me. I am so blessed.
We could have easily fallen into a city lifestyle. We sold our truck. Bought a Fiat. Doug has an IT job. But the shed was so easy to make into a chicken coop. The yard quickly became gardens. The back is planned as an orchard. Hundreds of jars of preserves are already lining the shelves of the root cellar. The clothes line does just fine. The dishwasher is wasting space. The cuckoo clock tells the time. The light from the oil lamp is soothing. Suddenly I look up and I am a Farmgirl again.
I guess Pumpkin Hollow Farm never really went away.
Tiny Timothina had a bad day. When we returned from our show last night we thought she was dead. The other chicks were running over her. Her wing and one leg were stretched out. “Mama, I think we lost the runt,” Doug said sadly. We saw her move though and there was life and hope.
She was smaller than the other chicks and just wasn’t thriving. We put her in her own small box with mini bowls of food and water and turned the light on her. The next morning she was still alive though still laying on her side. I put her in my shirt and rocked her as I had my coffee and checked emails.
When we came home from our show tonight she was laying in her water dish and not well. I held her again until she died.
That happens, it is hit or miss with chicks. They are hatched then shipped all over the nation within twenty-four hours and sometimes for no reason we find that the chick (or grown chicken) has died of Sudden Chickie Death Syndrome (we made that up, don’t google it).
Each and every animal that comes through our farms is precious to us. A live spirit. A soul that came from the same universal energy source we did. Their life is important. Many an experienced farmer might just throw the chick away or put them in another box and walk away. But we have brought many a chick back from the brink of death. Ginger was practically decapitated when we found her, various chicks brought back by sitting on my lap watching television lived long lives.
So, do not give up hope on your weakened animals. They may die, but you can hold them as their spirit is released. We send love to each and every creature we have the honor of being around. And this returns to us.
Is there anything sweeter than chick days? They are little and adorable. There is bird song in our home all hours of the day. Gentle, joyous chirping from the closed guest room door. Their personalities begin to emerge. Namaste is sweet and content to stay in my hand. Yoga likes to sit and watch me do yoga. Buttercup is dead set on escape. And Bobbi and Chi Chi (Maryjane named them) are frantic. The unnamed Marans and the owl-like Araucana just follow the crowd.
The grass is growing higher in their chicken yard and a huge pile of old compost waits for their sing song clucking and digging. I can see them in my mind, rolling, gossiping, kicking up dirt in their luxurious dust baths. The sounds of an urban farm are soothing against the traffic. And inside the warm guest room with its red light glow holds little souls new here and joy in every new feather.
I simply cannot wait to hold those babies in my hand. Those little balls of fluff.
As we were losing our rented farm and needing to find someone to live with, we had to give away everything. I stood outside and watched those chickens be placed head first into crates. My chickens. Laverne, Luisa, Ginger, and twenty-two of their named sisters…the ducks too. I kind of lost myself there for awhile and as Doug helped them pack up my chickens, I stood screaming. Screaming. Losing my animals was worse than losing my antiques. Worse than losing my three cords of wood, my newly planted garden, my homesteading school, my dreams. Our chickens made us farmers when we first started out. Our little house in town where our children would spend hours in the coop kissing and cuddling each chick. Chickens took us to the next level. In four weeks we will have chickens again.
Doug and Maryjane drove to the feed store to order chicks and picked out two Salmon Faverolles who lay pinkish eggs, have slippered feet, and who are docile and good layers. They are also very pretty. We do love pretty chickens.
Two Marans joined their order, those beautiful dark chocolate eggs and pretty feathers. This is a picture of me holding one of our Marans. It was used in an article that was written about our family in the Huffington Post.
Four Jersey Giants, our favorite. One of our Giants, Shirley used to sit in the lawn chair and read magazines with me. They were among our friendliest chickens.
My friend is raising Javas. They have pink eggs, are a little conceited, but they are pretty enough to warrant it. We are getting four of them.
To complete our order, after much begging from me and Maryjane, Doug chose two blue Runner ducks. My heart is full.
In four weeks I will be a chicken mama again. I know I keep saying it, but it sure is good to be back.
How does a nearly four year old remember life on a farm so vividly two years ago?
“We need to get goats,” she says casually.
“We can’t have goats here,” I replied, “but guess what we are getting?”
“How will we get milk?” she exclaims!
“We are getting sheep though.” she continues.
“Uh, we can’t have sheep here.”
She sighed as if mustering patience for me. “But I love sheep!” she exclaims again.
“We are getting chickens!” I said brightly.
She told me all about chickens and how we get their eggs and take care of the chicks and feed them. The sunny opening of the soon-to-be shed beckons and I can nearly see the ladies pecking the ground in the sunlight, rolling in the dirt, and having their lively conversations. Today we go to the feed store and reserve our chicks. Two of our favorite breeds were our originals, Golden Buffs and Jersey Giants. Neither breed is very interested in flying the coop and they are dang near cuddly. They are also great layers.
Trying to appease the child I said, “Well, I think we can have ducks…”
“Oh good! We’ll get a little swimming pool for them again..” Maryjane told me how we will care for them and did some quacking for good measure. My goodness, what a memory.
The ebb and flow, the life and death, the frequency changes and seasons all so crisply clear when one lives on a farm.
The ducklings do not fail to bring smiles. Frolicking in their playpen in a casserole dish turned pond.
The farm dog lays under freshly mounded soil by the empty bee hive. Bumble passed away in the night. The quiet house without his tick-tick-ticking and the sight of him this morning haunts me still. Dumping the pile of dead bees in the compost. A weight pulls my heart. The dead chicken with suspicious slobber on her feathers. Death is real and constant.
The monastery of frogs chant from the pond beneath the full moon. The baby red winged black birds chirp madly in the greenhouse. The kittens play. The seedlings stretch to the sky, the sun on their limbs. The breeze brings on it blossoms from trees and the scent of dampened soil. Elsa’s side grows. Twelve more days until she kids. Bundles of fluff, lambs who think they are dogs, greet me with kisses and lean against my legs.
Relationships start. Unexpected, journeys change. Paths bring second thoughts, perhaps regrets. Marriages strengthen. Friends offer embraces. Words of wisdom and love over the telephone far away.
The Creator waits for our prayers of thanksgiving as we busy ourselves with endless internal chatter.
Wading through and finding peace in the respectfulness of death, the joy of birth and spring, and my spirit shall join the frogs in their meditation of all that is. Take a breath.