Grazing on Grapes and Head of the Pecking Order

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I just love days off from work.  I have a great job, but I’d rather be enjoying time with family, especially during the summer.  I also love holidays and I’m grateful to celebrate the 4th of July today.  My husband, little farm chick and I set out early to walk to the parade route for out local parade.  With chairs slung over our shoulders we enjoyed a morning stroll to find the perfect spot in the shade. When I got back I let the chickens free range for a bit.  They found my veggie garden so I shooed them out and followed behind for a bit watching their route.  They came to the bottom of the yard and found the overgrown herb/grape box.  I was fine with them doing a bit of digging and pruning.  They reveled in the shade and munched on the unripe grapes.

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After a little while they all bolted back to their run, except one chicken.  Rose hung behind not noticing her other sisters were gone.  DSCF8450

Suddenly Zebra stood right at the entrance to the run and made the funniest noise.  Not quite a bock or a squeak, but a call for Rose to get her butt home.  It really makes me think that Zebra has now become the head of the pecking order.  I was impressed that she was looking out for everyone.  Hopefully she will do a great job.

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Growing up with Chickens

Little Farm Chick snapped this picture of her older sister hugging her chicken, Snow.  Each of the girls named their own chick and have watched them grow.  We all feared that snow would be a rooster.  Early on she had a very bright red comb and wattles.  As time went by though they didn’t grow to rooster proportions, even though her wattles sure do waggle when she walks.  She is one of the prettiest hens in the bunch with her silver lacing and can be very friendly once she is placed on your lap.  Remember this is the chicken that scratched my cornea with her curious beak.

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I made the decision two years ago to raise chickens and one of the best things about raising hens is getting my girls involved.  Last night as a rough wind was coming in my middle daughter raced outside in her pajamas to see that all of the chickens were safely locked in their coop.  My oldest daughter regularly goes out on hot days to put some sort of frozen fruit in the hens’ water to cool them down.  Little farm chick is often close behind when chicken chores are involved.

I won’t deny that I am still the one doing most of the chicken chores, but my daughter’s have learned to care for something outside themselves, something that needs their loving attention.  There is an excitement that comes as well when their hen lays their first egg.  They really come to understand that eggs don’t just come from a store, but from a living, feeling animal.  There is nothing like finding a warm, freshly laid egg from your hen.

One of the most important lessons they’ve learned is loss.  When we lost our chickens last year to dogs we were all deeply saddened, the girls especially because they had done so much to raise and care for them.  We aren’t strangers to death especially since we’ve lost my parents and other extended family members, but to lose something you’ve raised and watched mature can bring its own type of heartbreak.

Children and chickens just seem to go together.  As they are raised together something wonderful happens.  Something I wouldn’t give up for the world.

Last Minute Dust Bath and Ungrateful Chickens

We have suddenly been in a heat wave this week. The chickens spend most of the day under the coop, laying in the shade panting.  Even though I worked 10 hours today I took a few breaks to spray down the run and exterior of the coop to hopefully bring the temperature down a little. After I was finally done I thought the chickens might enjoy some free range time.  I tried to pick them up one by one and take them out into the cool grass of the yard.  They would scatter from me and squawk as if to say “Ahhhh, it is the crazy lady”.  When I finally would get one onto the grass they’d look around and then bolt straight back into their run.  I don’t know if I try too hard with them or if they have come to dislike me because of the occasional health checks where I flip them onto their backs and inspect them.  Zebra spent some time with me this morning as I attended to her feet and I know that didn’t help things.  She has something odd going on with them.  It is a small thing but I want to be sure it doesn’t develop into and infection.

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So for now, I am not their favorite person, which is a little disheartening after all the time and energy I’ve put into them.  I am not the chicken whisperer.  I’m hoping as time goes on that it will change.  When I was a kid I loved things too much.  My dog would squirm away from me as I’d try to snuggle him excessively.  I tried to teach grasshoppers to swim and I’d be left with just a leg in my hand as the green insect hopped off into the wild.

Anyway, for a while I’ve wanted to create a space where the chickens could dust bathe.  Most of the dirt in the run is so compacted that it would be near impossible to lounge in loose dirt.  As I sat there, stewing about the chickens, I decided I’d finally create that space. I ignored the temperature and started dragging huge rocks to the corner of the run.  As I removed a giant rock I found a cluster of snails.  I tried to get the chickens to come over with their treat call.  “Chick, chick, chickies”  I sang out.  I looked over to them grouped in the corner.  They didn’t budge, indifferent to my pleading.  Ungrateful little snots I thought.  I continued to drag the rocks over until I created an enclosure that would keep the dirt in.

Next I pushed a wheelbarrow to the top of our property to a dirt pile. Everyone has a dirt pile, right?  I grabbed a shovel and began filling the wheelbarrow, sweat starting to run down my neck. Once that was done I tried to push the wheelbarrow down the hill.  Right away I could tell something wasn’t right.  At that moment my husband came out of the garage.

“You know the tire is flat right?”  he calls up to me.

“That makes sense now” I call back.

“You can change it” he says.

“I’ve already filled it up”.  I begin stubbornly pulling the wheelbarrow down the hill as it gets lower and lower to the ground.  The chickens flutter as I enter their run, the rim now scraping on the compacted earth.  I almost make it to the rock ring when  the wheelbarrow gives out, the rubber squashed and falling off the rim.  Determined I get the shovel and begin moving the dirt into the rock ring.  Finally it is filled up.  I stand back.

“Eh, it will do”.

I go over to the chickens, again they run away from me.  Like a wild dance I corner one, pick her up, and plop her into the soft, cool dirt.  She looks sideways at me and makes a mad dash back to her sisters.

“Monkeys!” I call out in desperation.

I know they’ll use it eventually, and they’ll love it.  They just won’t appreciate it came from me.

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Sometimes it’s the little things

Last year I surprised my husband with a vacation to Seattle, Washington for our 12 year anniversary.  We have very fond memories of Seattle.  Wes and I knew each other in high school, but went our separate ways.  Years later when I was living in Seattle and he was here in Utah I got an email, totally out of the blue, asking how I was.  I was in the middle of a divorce, but we struck up a fast friendship and later began dating, long distance.  Every time he’d fly out to Seattle we’d explore and enjoy every minute together.  We eloped in Seattle just months after we’d began dating.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We knew we weren’t and blissfully ignored the naysayers. It is the best decision I’ve ever made.

So back to the trip.  As we were re-exploring Seattle, on a whim we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island.  If you ever get a chance to visit you absolutely should.  We walked the streets exploring the little shops, picked up fresh berries at the farmers market, ate  uniquely amazing ice cream and soaked in the local charm.  I fantasized about living on a little plot, raising chickens and basking in the views.  It is such a picturesque place.  While in small shop I found the most amazing signs.  I’d seen them before in farm magazines, but absolutely fell in love with them as they lay before me in all their brightly colored glory.  I tried to choose just the right one to take home.  Wes was worried they would cause a problem to bring home, which thinking back I can’t imagine what airport security would have said, “Um, Mam, you can’t bring this metal farm sign on the plane”.  I sighed and put them back.

When Christmas time rolled around a farm sign was one of the first things on my list. Not just any farm sign though, one from Bainbridge Farm Goods.  Have you seen their signs?  I could spend hours trying to decide which one to buy.

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Wes chose this cute little sign for our coop.  Even though I think it would be better suited on a little farm road, instead of the middle of my run, I love the bright colors, the quirky chickens, and the fun font.  Not long after the run was built I move the sign from the kitchen wall to its new place of honor.  I have a feeling I’ll be picking up more signs.  Sometimes it is the little things that can just make a space magical.

Through the Lens of Little Farm Chick

I was doing chicken and garden chores the other night when little chick begged to borrow my camera.  She is 5 and about to start Kindergarten.  She’s my youngest daughter and I sure love her.  I placed the heavy camera around her neck, asked her to be super careful, showed her what button to push, and away she went.  It is fun to see what she captured.

Gotta love fluffy chicken butts.

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Farm chick watering the grapes.  We bought 5 grapes to grow over the fencing and hopefully provide shade for the chickens.

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DSCF8286Elephant Head Amaranth.  A new addition to the garden this year.  It may be foolish to plant in the box since these can be huge, but I am still excited to see them grow. 

DSCF8290Our giant grape vine that we planted years ago.  It gave us 20+ pounds of grapes last year, and is lacking the support it really needs.  These past few years it reaches all the way over to our sage plant for support. 

DSCF8304Chicken play time with our escape door in the background.  That’s a story for another time.

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Scooping the chicken poop while being asked to smile big.  I blame the camera angle for the big butt, not the stress related weight gain.  Do you like the cardboard in the feeder.  Not all designs work as planned.  The chickens thought it would make a great roosting bar.  Silly things.

DSCF8305Green, growing things. The spinach has been very happy this year with all the rain we’ve gotten.  The leaves are larger than my hand.

DSCF8294Little Farm Chick’s chicken, Zebra.  She is by far the biggest out of all the hens.  I love her stripes.

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Last but not least, a Cars play mat I found at a yard sale that little farm chick has fallen in LOVE with.  She makes me be Lightning McQueen whenever I give her a bath.  It is getting really hard to think of race stories that I haven’t told before.

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My Amazing Bedframe Door and Poison Panic

The run is pretty much done!  Wahoo!  I am SO excited.  One of my favorite features now is this wonderful door.  My husband incorporated a vintage bedframe to make this beauty.  It probably needs to be painted, which will be my job, but currently I’m enjoying it’s natural beauty.  The door is strong and heavy, which makes me happy.  The door failed on our last run which lead to our flocks demise, so this one has to be predator proof.  It even has two locks.

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Wes also constructed this beauty today, the chicken ladder.  I’ll also need to paint it as well.  One of my favorite things about the ladder is that it is fully removable.  It also hinges up and out of the way if needed.

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It was pretty funny seeing the chickens come out of their chicken door for the first time to check everything out.

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The absolutely loved exploring their big space. We leveled out the run a little.  There are just a few small things left to be done, but they can safely roam now.  Funny enough though I had an absolute moment of panic this evening. See that large prickly weed on the right.  My husband assumed it was milkweed, since it does have a milky fluid when cut.  The hens love it and were nibbling it like crazy.  It is all over the run.  Some of the bigger stalks were pulled because we weren’t sure it was good for them.

DSCF8256After I put the hens to bed I started researching milkweed.  Turns out it is absolutely deadly to chickens.  I suddenly had visions of finding all of my hens stone cold dead in their coop.  I typed frantically trying to find images of milkweed. None of the images matched our weeds.  After more panicked research I found out it is actually Prickly Lettuce and it is great for chickens.  Now I’m wishing I hadn’t pulled any of it.  Hopefully it will spread.  I would have never said that before with a weed. Turns out the bindweed, which I always thought was morning glory, may be mildly toxic though.  I never saw our other hens eat it though.  Fun times!   I am also planning on planting Sunflowers, Amaranth, and Flax.  All in due time.

Fairy Egg

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We got quite the surprise the day after the most recent dog attack.  5 eggs!  We only have four chickens so I would have thought that was pretty much impossible.  The fifth egg as you can see is tiny, quite cute really!  I haven’t had the heart to crack it open yet, but I’m guessing it is yolkless.  I did some research and found out that when a chicken is a new layer, or is quite stressed they can lay a tiny egg like this.  Some people refer to them as fairy eggs.  I’m guessing it is probably Amelia’s since the color most closely resembles her big eggs (far right).  She also was the most stressed so she seems the likely culprit.  I wouldn’t have guessed though that she still wouldn’t have given us a large egg in the same day.  Being a chicken keeper can be quite interesting.

West Side Story, Chicken Style!

Last night after my post I thought I had come up with a wonderful solution for Charlotte.  I remarked to my husband “I should just offer to buy her from the neighbor”.  I thought my genius idea would work wonderfully.  Since Charlotte seems so fond of us anyway I thought I’d just incorporate her into my flock.  I knew I would probably need to separate her for a bit to make sure she isn’t sick and to make sure that the hens got used to her.

Sure enough this morning the first sight that greeted me this morning was Charlotte, pecking around the chicken run.  My fuzzy morning brain, thought “Hey, why not just catch her, throw her in with my girls, and then offer to buy her.  Why wait to acclimate her”.  I put some feed in my hand and held it out for Charlotte.  She slowly came over and then frantically began feeding.  I tried to grab her and she jumped back, startled.  I tried again and the second time I caught her.  Then what did I do?  I placed her straight into my chicken run.  My hens, busy with their feed kept eating.  I thought “Hey this is going great.  Maybe they are used to Charlotte because she comes by so often”.   I was horribly mistaken.  My hens started fluffing up, and even my docile Easter Egger hens turned into something I’d never seen before.  It was like West Side Story, chicken style. You could almost her the chickens snapping as they cornered Charlotte, and then they struck.  Peck!  Peck!  Squawk!  Charlotte frantically tried to run away, but found herself cornered again and again. 

I was horrified.  There is a real pecking order with chickens and poor Charlotte did not belong in this one.  She was a Shark and the Jets simply had no room for her in their turf.  I flung open the chicken door, grabbed Charlotte and quickly closed the door again.  My gangster hens pleased with their success went back to pecking at the grass and the order of laying, as if nothing had happened.  I said something motherly like “That wasn’t very nice girls”.  I should have said “Can’t we all just get along!”. 

Charlotte wandered back up the hill and away from our yard, her little fluffy bum slowly going out of sight.   She was a lost chicken soul in this sad little world.  I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing her again soon.

Chicken Visitor and Starting Over

DSCF5016For several weeks now we have had a chicken visitor.  Charlotte, as we have come to call her, first showed up one cold winter day.  My daughters were worried about her.  She had been pecked in spots and looked weak.  She ended up heading back home though which isn’t far from ours.  Our neighbor behind us and a few houses over has chickens, and not just a few chickens, LOTS of chickens.  They free range without any real coop.  They make their home under the porch, which is surrounded by hay bales.  Months went by before we saw Charlotte again, but one day she was in our back yard, looking healthier than before.  My three year old kept saying “Oh No” and babbling on about a chicken.  She thought one of our chickens had escaped, but nope, it was Charlotte.

Charlotte likes to peck where our chicken coop has previously been.  She finds bits of feed and loves circling our coop while our chickens puff up trying to look tough.  Charlotte will sometimes try to eat the feed right at the edge of the run door and my hens in return will try to peck at her.  I think as time goes by though they are all growing more comfortable with each other.  My hens are a pretty tight group though and they still will cluck and the uninvited visitor.

I’m not quite sure what to do with Charlotte.  I thought over time the neighbor’s other chickens would wander over as well, but Charlotte seems to be keeping the secret to herself, because day after day she is comes into the yard, all by her lonesome.  When I try to catch her she usually will head back to the fence and hop over.  I caught her tonight, but at a loss what to do with her I gently placed her at the top of her fence so she could fly back into her yard.  While Charlotte is quite cute, I’m worried as she continues to visit that she will find our garden a good source of food.  One of the reasons we keep our chickens in their run is so we can still garden.  We let them free range from time to time, but only with supervision, mostly for their safety.

So I’m at a bit of a conundrum.  Another neighbor suggested we put chicken wire around our garden, but that seems like a lot of work just to protect our garden from the neighbor’s wayward hen.  Do I catch her, knock on the neighbor’s door and tell him his chicken keeps getting loose?  If I do that though what is he going to do?  He hasn’t built any sort of home for his chickens besides placing hay bales.  Do I catch her, throw her in with my hens, and then let the neighbor know he can come get his chicken?  This would be a solution if the neighbor isn’t home, but brings up other concerns.  What if she is sick and gets my hens sick?  What if my hens attack her?  I don’t want to call animal services.  I’m in a bit of a conundrum.  What would you do?

Another problem I ran into this season is my seeds.  I have had very few sprouts come up in my greenhouse. I’m not sure if it has been the temperature fluctuations, but they just haven’t been happy enough to come up.  I did get two zucchini sprouts.  One is looking pretty good, but the other one died after a really cold night.    Feeling discouraged, but not giving up I decided to start some seeds inside this past Saturday.

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Thankfully I hadn’t used all of my seeds with the last planting and had enough to replant my entire summer crop and even planted some herbs.  I watered them thoroughly and covered them with the clear cover.  I think though the conditions at first were too humid and moist because I began to get white fuzz on some of the dirt, probably fungus.  I quickly uncovered them and placed them in the sun.  I also sprinkled them with cinnamon , a tip I picked up from Little House on the Beltline http://littlehouseonthebeltline.com/.  I am just praying I get healthy sprouts soon.  I just planted this last Saturday, so I know it is still early.   I do have one little oregano sprout, but what I’m really hoping for is my heirloom seeds.  I haven’t given up yet, and trust me I won’t, but sometimes I wish things went smoother on the garden front.  I am constantly learning and it can be hard.

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I’ve also run into a problem with the 3rd grade cabbage.  I opened up the green house today before heading into work.  I knew the day was going to warm up which would be devastating for the cabbage if left sweltering.  I flipped the clear plastic up and over the top of the greenhouse, but when I got home I noticed the cover had slid back down.  Sure enough the cabbage was a wilted mess.  I quickly brought in the poor plant and watered it thoroughly.  It is now resting comfortably on the kitchen windowsill.  Surprisingly it has perked up quite a bit, so it may just pull through.  My poor daughter felt horribly guilty, so hopefully she will take a more active role in its care.

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Despite many failures, we have had some success on the garden front.  Everything that has been planted directly outside is sprouting nicely.  The spinach, kale, peas, cilantro and even dill are coming up nicely.  The dill is an especially wonderful surprise.  The seeds were from a dried stalk of dill I had from last year, and I’m so pleased they are coming up.  I love fresh dill with my eggs.  The success with direct ground planting makes me want to skip sprouting indoors altogether.  I think it is probably unwise to go straight to the ground though with the summer crops.  If this next round of seeds fail me though I may just go that direction.  Wish me luck!

Free Time

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We all need free time once in a while.  Tonight after dinner I sure needed some.  After a busy day with my job I needed some fresh air, so did my girls, and my hens.  Also, there were of course garden and chicken chores.  Now that the snow is melting the coop needed to be moved.  I never like to leave my hens in one place too long.  My two oldest girls are a big help moving our heavy coop.  My youngest likes to latch onto the nesting boxes and push will all her might.

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It is a good time to let the chickens out to free range.  They love to dig deep into the dirt to find goodies.  We have to watch them though because they like to go in the garden beds, and that could lead to disasters with our seedlings.  We scoot them out of the boxes while my youngest peals with laughter.

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Even the cat, sitting inside on the kitchen table looks on in interest.

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I showed my middle daughter how to pick up and hold the chickens.  She kept going from chicken to chicken picking them up.  She was a natural.  They sat calmly in her arms and didn’t try to flap away.

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Even after my two youngest daughters succumb to the cold the chickens kept on with their foraging.  One by one I picked them up and placed them back in their run.  They got excited about the new grass, since the coop had been moved, and pecked at the lush green shoots.  It is nice just to take a little bit of time to get out, get down with my girls and the chickens and slow the world down for a bit.

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