Compassion For Even the Smallest

 

tinyTiny 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.

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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.

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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.

Chick Days Are Here Again

 

DSC_4911Is 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.

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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.

 

Chicken Mama

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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To complete our order, after much begging from me and Maryjane, Doug chose two blue Runner ducks.  My heart is full.

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In four weeks I will be a chicken mama again.  I know I keep saying it, but it sure is good to be back.

The Littlest Farmgirl Strikes Again (and choosing backyard chickens)

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?”

“A cow?”

“Uh, no.”

“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.

Once a Farmgirl, always a Farmgirl.

Ebb and Flow of Farm Life

The ebb and flow, the life and death, the frequency changes and seasons all so crisply clear when one lives on a farm.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spring is here and the journey continues.

Keeping Chickens (glamour, ew, green eggs, and opera singing)

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It was my turn to see if there was an egg stuck.  Ew.  If you didn’t read The Embarrassed Chicken and need a laugh, you ought to check it out.  That was Doug’s turn.  So, I found a produce bag because we didn’t have any gloves and went in to see what was the matter.  Oh, the glamours of chicken farming.  There was not an egg stuck but I do not know how far up you are supposed to reach!  Her vent was swollen and she seemed to be clogged but I couldn’t find anything.  So, we stuck her in a pot of warm water.  See if we could soften things up a bit.  She laid there like it was a hot tub and she’d had a hard day hiking, or fending off boys.  We took her out and put her in a warm corner of the coop.

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Daffodil was one of our last three chickens from our original flock.  She laid eggs religiously for three years.  She was tired.  I had read that chickens lived twelve years.  Seeings how Doug and I are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types, we figured we’d see these girls for a long time!

Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.

Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.

My friend Sandy’s chickens (she and Bill are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types either) lost almost all of their three year olds last year.  Just dead, face down in the dirt.  Sandy commented that she understood now why the farm women in the past culled two year olds in the flock.  You didn’t want to waste meat and if you waited too long you’d find them dead!

Daffodil lay on her side, barely breathing, her feet sticking out.  We moved her to the rabbit hutch because Owl wouldn’t stop humping her.  Teenage boy chickens, I tell you…

She died overnight.  We had known something was wrong because she was floofed up, sitting in corners, head down, eyes glazed.  But what exactly was wrong could have been anything from being constipated, a virus, or old age.  ‘Tis the life of a chicken.  She had a pretty good one here though.

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On a positive note, we have an interesting chicken.  I had looked at the local feed stores to see if they would get Olive Eggers but did not see them on the list.  The next day we had an egg in the coop that was a beautiful olive green.  The green against the blush, beige, blue, and chocolate colored eggs was breathtaking.  Our own Easter egg hunt each day.  Reeses, who was assumed to have been an Araucana like her sisters, must be an Olive Egger.  Does anyone know?  She is very friendly as well as showy.

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And our final surprise was when Owl started crowing alongside Christopher Robin.  There is a lot of opera singing going on around the chicken coop!

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Ups and downs and ins (ew) and outs, having chickens is fun, entertaining, sometimes sad, mostly fabulous work.  And the dozen plus eggs we are getting each day isn’t a bad reward!

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How Much Do You Feed Chickens?

I think I was starving my chickens.  I am not proud of this.  Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!

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So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight.  Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set.  We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good.  Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August.  Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate.  We blamed it on our move, then their molting.  We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard.  We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it.  We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it.  They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds.  They did indeed descend from dinosaurs.  Velociraptors, I think!

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I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens.  They stopped laying eggs all together.  They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy.  Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops.  Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!

“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!

So, he filled up the two foot high feeder.  And it was half gone the first day.  But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that.  Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.

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We read several articles and books.  None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up.  In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat.  I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die.  I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.

Henry Higgin's replacement.  Meet Christopher Robin.  Let's hope he's nicer than Henry!

Free feed.  Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such.  They need more food in the winter to keep warm.  They produce eggs for me which is food to me.  They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food.  They deserve a red light in the coop.  It was negative twenty-two degrees last night.  We turned on the lamp!  They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals.  I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.

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I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”

 

A Bathtub of Fluff (mid-summer chicks)

We saw the sign on the door of Big R (our local farm store) as we walked in, “Chicks arrive July 31st!”  We have never taken home chicks mid-summer but it made rather good sense.  Just a day or so earlier Doug was talking to someone who told him that if we get chicks in the summer they start laying in mid-winter when many of the girls have slowed production.  After losing three chickens last week and the others on strike, we figured we better get some more chickies.

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I think it is absolutely fabulous that places like Denver and Colorado Springs allow chickens.  The fact that they only allow eight and four birds respectively is baffling to me, however.  What would one do with four birds?  Should one die, or go broody, or the others stop laying for winter, or whatever the situation may be, it would be hard to keep enough eggs coming in!  Plus I seem to have a chicken addiction.  Not an addiction to eating them, but rather to watching their antics and having them around.  So Saturday our numbers jumped to twenty five and secured our permanent place in the country.

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We went in to the enclosure to pick out our new chicks and cooed and chased down the cutest and fluffiest ones then would give them a kiss before putting them in the travel box.  Both of us, completely smitten by the little birds.  The burly salesmen eyed us as if we might be from the city…or Mars.

The house has more charm with chirping in the air.  The little fluff balls running about the bathtub are adorable and in the middle of winter our teenagers and ducks, plus these ten layers will provide, not only priceless entertainment, but numerous meals with farm fresh eggs.

The Mystery of the Dead and Dying Chickens

She wasn’t standing at the back door like she often is, waiting for me to sit down so she can hop on my lap and fall asleep.  She was lying stiff and quiet on the soft straw beneath the alpaca shelter.  No sign of injury.  Shirley had just passed away sometime during the day.

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Meanwhile, Mahalia was standing still, her backside tucked, lethargic.  Now, we’ve had our questions about Mahalia before.  Soon after she grew up we wondered if she had an egg stuck when she took that stance.  If you haven’t read it, it was quite a fiasco.  She has never laid solid eggs.  This is her third year of laying occasional slips of eggs.  Suddenly, she was paralyzed, scooting her way around on her side with her wing.  Burrowing into a nesting box.  Her breast bone protruding, her stomach bloated and hot.  I have no idea how to euthanize a chicken.  This morning she is still moving her head.

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Yesterday, Ethel did not run for the fence as usual.  She is lethargic.  She didn’t run from us.  Seems tired.  Dead this morning.

These three were among our eldest chickens, in their third year, but not what I considered old per se.  No one knows.  Elizabeth asked if we fed them green beans or potatoes.  Someone working at the feed store told us of a gruesome way to kill them but had no ideas as to why they were sick.  Sandy looked in her chicken first aid book.  Nothing.

I do hope these are all separate incidences.  That they are just getting older.  That I will not start slowly losing my entire flock.

Any ideas out there?

Turns out there is a pretty bad upper respiratory virus hitting chickens in this area that is carried in on people’s shoes.  We have added a good amount of my herbal anti-biotic to their water with hopes that we can nip this is the bud!  Thank you so much for all of the responses and the concern!  I love a good homesteading community, international and local, that can help solve problems and cheer each other on.

 

When Chickens Get Grounded

We have our hussies around here.  The white one I have been writing about since the beginning, as she is my oldest chicken, is the worst.  Ethel.  Always flying the coop (and then the fence).  Sophia and Yetta, the Araucanas followed and pretty soon I had a regular runway of chickens dancing up my driveway,  laying eggs under pumpkin leaves, and singing opera in the front yard.  Leo always coming over to tell me my chicken is out as nonchalant as if one of the kids were in trouble.  Then we found out our sweet neighbors next door have recently been shooing them out of the street.  Time for a change.

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We live on a major thoroughfare.  Constant traffic and even though the sign says 20 miles an hour, 50 is often the new 20.  We started looking to see how to clip their wings.  Their vagabond days are done.

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We spread Sophia’s wings which naturally extended the lower flight feathers which are longer.  A pair of sharp kitchen scissors easily cut through the lower half of those feathers.  Much like a craft project with feathers, it did not feel strange to cut them and Sophia didn’t flinch.  Then it was Yetta’s turn.  We could not catch Ethel to save our life.  Fast little bugger.  She spent yesterday in the front yard.  Sophia joined her.

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So this morning, before they could get their breakfast, we went into the coop and kidnapped Ethel, snipping both wings of flight feathers and Sophia’s other wing.  It didn’t hurt them and we have more fear of them getting hit by an oil truck then a coyote coming into the back yard.

We shall see today if all eighteen chickens in the back yard remain in the back yard!