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.

chick

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 Meat Dilemna (what’s a nice vegetarian girl gonna do?)

cow

There has been a huge gap for me to cross.  One that I started in my heart when I was a child.  Not wanting animals to suffer led me to becoming a vegetarian.  Outside of a few times when I was a teenager, I have been a vegetarian for twenty-seven years.  When I was fresh out on my own that looked like Hamburger Helper without the hamburger and other processed foods that resembled sustenance.  As I grew more conscious I then created two vegetables, a grain, and a veggie meat dinner.  Better, I am sure, but the canned vegetables and “whole wheat” breads of my youth were growing old.  Then Doug and I started eating fresh vegetables, or ones we canned, along with homemade bread, and veggie meat.

food incOur entire reason for being vegetarian was to lead a more compassionate life, to assure that no animal would suffer because of us.  Sickened by the documentary “Food Inc.” we became vegan.  Suddenly aware that we were living a lie this whole time, we quit all animal products.  Being vegetarian includes dairy.  Dairy comes from milk cows who are repeatedly bred, who live in an enclosure, who lose their babies immediately so that we can have the milk, then are slaughtered a few years later for meat.  Cheese is made by using rennet.  In other words the stomach lining of a calf.  Being vegetarian is not being vegetarian at all!  So we bought vegan products, and ate pretty good, I suppose, but we still were eating a lot of veggie meats and processed foods.

We got our own chickens and started eating eggs again.  Our own.  Delicious and far better than anything at the grocery store. We tasted some of Nancy’s goat milk a year or so back and loved it.  We decided to get a milk goat.

I started to wonder about the meat and dairy substitutes.  Each one had slowly been bought up by larger companies.  The ones that promote mass feed lots, genetically modified ingredients, and hormones.  I noticed that the veggie meats and non-dairy milks had a lot of ingredients that I did not recognize.  A lot of items that were listed were not organic.  For instance, Silk says they don’t use genetically modified ingredients.  White Wave used to own them and did use 100% organic and non-GMO soy, but Dean Foods owns it now (they also own Horizon organics) and their organic line is something to be desired with their heavy use of feed lot techniques and they do not promise not to use non-GMO ingredients. Coconut milk, cheese substitutes, and veggie burgers have their own lists of unknown products.  I began to question how healthy these items really are.

I started to look around at my friends’ farms.  John hunts and in one fell swoop can take down a deer.  Not fifteen, just enough to feed his family.

My friends have their cows slaughtered by a single shot to the forehead.  The cow never sees it coming.  This comes after living a pretty cushy life out in the pastures grazing in lush grasses and eating delicious hay.  Cows probably shouldn’t grow old.  My joints kill me as it is in the winter, can you imagine carrying that much weight and getting old?  Wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

chicken picSimilarly, chickens are running around one second, beheaded the next, never knowing they are about to meet their maker.  Other poultry the same.  As Suzanne McMinn says in her book “Chickens in the Road”, they have a lot of good days and one bad day.  That struck me.  We will all meet the Creator at some point, be it by car accident, cancer, or some other way.  We will all go.

I wonder though what right I have to take a life.  Life is sacred.  I could no more smash a butterfly then kill one of my chickens.  My cat can swoop up a mouse (or hamster unfortunately), kill it, and not feel a smidge guilty.  Same with coyotes, foxes, owls, any other predator.  I used to tell people that we are not predators.  Imagine running naked after a rabbit, actually catching one and eating it bare toothed.  It creates a vivid image, and one I used to prove my point that we are not meat eaters.  But, flea beetles met their match in the garden with me.  I’m fine with wasps killing larvae for me.  Everything else can do my dirty work.  I don’t think about big fields of vegetables and the animals that were displaced or worse in the process.  Ignorance is sometimes truly bliss.

We could live on lentils, beans, and nuts.  We can grow a small amount here, so I have to depend on the farmers that are growing them to not kill any animals in the process.  I can eat only vegetables and fruits from my garden.  Or my friend’s garden.

One day, I gave up.  It is hard to give up something you have actively advocated for the better part of your life.  Not to mention that Doug and I feel so strongly that veganism is healthier than meat eating.  There is solid proof that animal products cause many of the top killers; heart disease, stroke, cancer, toxicity in the body.  We began to analyze these things though.  I have no doubt that the way that animals are treated in factory farms, the way they are abused in slaughter houses, the hormones and anti-biotics they are pumped with throughout their lives, the genetically modified grains they are fed, and the dyes that are often added equal one heck of a cancer dinner.

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Our forefathers ate meat. Not as much as current society does, but they did eat meat.  Their own meat.  Their own pasture fed, free roaming animals sans anything extra meat.  They ate everything organic.  The chemical revolution that was disguised as forward thinking in farming post World War two with all its extra chemical warfare to do something with had not yet arrived.  Homemade breads and fresh vegetables and humanely provided meat started to appeal to me as a much more natural existence in this farming life we have chosen.

John was overjoyed that we had come to our senses and gave us a pork roast, some chops, and a huge hunk of venison, that I can only imagine (but tried not to) was the shoulder.  Debbie brought us some of her fresh beef.  We bought organic chicken raised in Boulder from the health food store and it felt oddly satisfying and comforting to have a freezer full of vegetables and meat.  Not an emotion I ever thought I would have.  Now, once a month we go to the store and stock up on organic meat.

duckling

Then came the question of what happens if we have a boy duck.  I started out by saying, “We can pay someone to….”  Doug interrupted me hurriedly to finish my sentence, “to take him to the animal swap?” We are not really ready to slaughter or pay someone to slaughter our animals.  But, why would I take a perfectly healthy, likely spoiled rotten, organically fed plump duck to the animal swap, then go buy an organic one from the store that I do not know how was raised?  This is getting silly, really.  Are we going to eat meat, or not?  At some point we will have to learn how to provide our own sustenance.

I am getting ahead of myself though.  Hell, two months ago we were vegetarian.  Tonight we eat organic pork chops with mashed potatoes and carrots that were from the garden.  A loaf of homemade French bread from organic grains.  Local wine.  I am getting closer to what feels like a healthy, natural way of eating.  Farming does that to you.