Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

Listen! The rooster calls!  (So so early!)

Let the chickens out. It's Easter.

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Eggs still warm from the coop, gathered for breakfast.


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Wait: Scotch's Sunday egg is missing. Let's give her a few minutes.


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Okay. Thank you! Easter breakfast at the farmhouse.


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But Easter midday dinner at my older girl's home.

I watch my girls in the kitchen. They are both tremendously talented with food.

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Today, I do no cooking at all. My older girl fixes the entire complicated meal and it is superb. We hang back and let her put it all together.


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Here we are, all of us, in various combinations:


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I feel myself to be so incredibly lucky.

We leave the post dinner mess to my girl and her husband (thank you!) and my little one and her fiancee drive north and Ed and I drive south, only their drive is close to five hours and ours is close to fifteen minutes. Life is unfair that way.


The chickens are excited to see us return. They hover in the courtyard as Ed and I transplant tomato seedlings (and put in our cucumbers seeds). Last count: 115 thriving tomato plants.


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Today the temperature topped 70F for the first time since early October.

A beautiful Easter Sunday. Truly beautiful. Full of hugs, sweet words, great foods. So very, very lucky... 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday

First, the essentials: there was no blood in the coop when I opened the hatch to let the brood out this morning. We were apprehensive. By 5:45 Ed is gently nudging me -- shouldn't we let the chickens out? I insist we wait until a decent 6:10. That's our sunrise right now.


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So, no blood. But, it had been a stressful night for the chicks. (I can tell by the distribution of droppings up in the roost. Usually very orderly. Confined. Today -- chaos!) Still, they survived. Or, more importantly, Scotch survived. Yes, she got pecked upon her exit, but dare I hope that the pecks were less violent? And not frequently repeated? (Here, Oreo is keeping an eye on her. Unfortunately for him, she can run. He cannot.)


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(talking man to man)



And as the day progresses, we see that we are going to have an easier time of it than many who throw in a new hen to an existing flock. At times, it almost seems like they've formed a bond already.


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Most of the times though, the white hens ditch Scotch and go off with Oreo at their heels. (I can't help but think that she must relish some of this private time.)

But it's very important to note that there was no blood.

Okay, let's shelve the chick talk for a while. (Though here at the farmhouse, I increasingly notice that over the years, I have surrounded myself with chicken stuff...)


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Late last night the Minneapolis couple arrived and though no one felt like chatting at midnight, still, it was good to know that they are now, for this beautiful weekend here in Madison.

Breakfast is a little disorganized. They have a wedding related appointed and the person arrived a quarter of an hour early. You could say, therefore, that we ate in stages. So if you thought you'd be without the face of 'just Ed' on this one day -- you'd be wrong.


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But apart from his ever agreeable countenance, take a look at this day as seen from the kitchen, now made brilliant by the sunlight coming in through the porch roof. Notice the zebra patterns everywhere! They give us such pleasure that even if we never benefited from a better, brighter porch, we'd still have the joy of looking out at a delightfully patterned world.


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My older girl comes over and the three kids chat with the wedding assistant while the chickens look on.


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Ooops! Those chicks are making an Ocean appearance again! That's the reality: we're tending chickens these days. And in fact, as my young flock of people goes off to do errands, Ed and I retreat to the side of the barn, to finish preparing the future residence for our brood.

Shoveling dirt: this is a new activity for Scotch to witness and at first she is tentative about finding the plumpest worms when we turn over the soil. Not for long. And though there are slight skirmishes every now and then, I have to say, the girls and Oreo mostly behave. Ed comments how without Lexie, the entire dynamic changes. There is no frazzled crazy movement in every direction. Everything slows down. The noise level is diminishes.

Ed and I put in a solid half day of work. 

And I mean real work! In addition to clearing and chipping the land, we have to remove a mountain of logs that Ed had casually left in some early years of tree removal at the farmette (he does cut down trees, but they must be either dead or threatening to invade the septic tank and even then, he hesitates). Leaving a high stack would provide a temptation for the chicks to climb and take flight. The logs must be moved.


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Unfortunately, we cannot finish the job. Would you believe it -- the lowest layer of logs is still frozen solid. We're now aiming to move the pen to the new location sometime at the end of the month.

And really, that's it for chicken talk. All attention should now be on this most beautiful spring day.

The kind that makes you so happy to live in the north. You cannot love a day like this unless you've had a winter like we've had. Today is our reward.

(Yes, some would be quick to point out that a day of spring sunshine isn't quite worth a season of bitter cold, but I am not such a person. For better or worse, I am forever rooted in four seasons and therefore slated to love with passion these beautiful spring days.)


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In the evening, the six of us (mom and daughters, and the men attached to the three of us) go out to dinner.


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Then home. For the best ever gifts and even better company...


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Oh what a night! What a day, what a night!

Friday, April 18, 2014

stuff of dreams

And now we are on such a roll of golden days that I think our winter thoughts are out for good. See you next November, oh worries of dark days and dull landscapes!

But here's the thing -- this waking with the dawn to open and clean the coop? That worked well in March when dawn came around at 6:30. Today, at that hour, the sun is up and running! 


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And the chickens are anxious to get going. I'll try harder tomorrow to get to them at the crack of dawn. In the meantime, Ed joins me outdoors. He spreads some chips as I attend to the chicks.


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I watch them as they begin their morning routines. Some scratching for worms, yes that, but for the most part, they are light breakfast girls. They care more about their beauty routines now. And, too, they're a little taken aback by the cool air. I leave them to the puffing and preening and try to get a few more minutes of sleep.


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Later in the morning: a hurried breakfast...


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...and now Ed is off for his Friday design meetings and I break with routine and give the farmhouse one enormous scrub down. Because my little girl and her fiancee are coming down for the weekend!
Three reasons for the trip -- she tells me. Your birthday, then, too, Easter and wedding preparations.

Good enough! Though my birthday is on Monday, we'll celebrate it tomorrow. Under the golden April skies!

A few hours later, the farmhouse is spotless.
What next? I decide to put in a call to the chicken girl's mom. To talk about Lexie.
Everything alright? -- she asks.
Yes, mostly yes. Except there's this issue with the mean girl herself...

She gets it right away. She knows Lexie. She tells me: Let me take charge of that girl. Can I interest you in a different hen? A brown one this time.

These people love their chickens. She truly believes she can teach the hyper pecking brat how to take on a more angelic  disposition. She tells me she''ll coach her through these rough times. In exchange, I'll be fostering gentle, docile Butterscotch.
Wait a minute! I have "Butterscotch!"
Oh. Well, I thought our brown hen was named Butterscotch. That of course makes sense. Why the white hen (whom I call Butter) would be dubbed Butterscotch was a bit of a puzzler, but with foster chicks, you take 'em as they come.

And indeed, the chicken girl's mama comes this very afternoon with the sweetest, loveliest hen ever and for a minute I feel guilty foisting feisty Lexie back on her. But the fact is, you cannot get anything done with that foul-beaked crazy girl. When I worked the raspberry patch early in the afternoon, Lexie demonstrated that she is both inept at catching her own worm and determined to push her way to the front for a handout. If there is no handout, she gets upset. When she is upset, she pecks. Ouch! Lexie! To which she'll gabble good and long and then come around again to see if you have that worm on a platter for her.

And so quite suddenly, Lexie is out of our care.

As for the new girl? Well, given that her real family is a bit confused as to the names of their chicks, let me call her Scotch, to distinguish her from Butter. (Just for now. Scotch isn't an easy calling name!) And she is a dream child. When I hold her, she closes her eyes in that sleepy way, as if nothing could be better than that long cuddle in a stranger's arms. Suddenly, life with chickens is very very easy. [I am so naive. Stay tuned.]


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Ed comes home, I show him how adorable Scotch is. Things seems so ...uncomplicated.


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Until all hell breaks loose.

Have you ever introduced a new chicken into an existing flock? My advice: don't do it. Or go ahead and do it, but be prepared to suffer the war that will ensue.

And so, after my loving session with Scotch, I familiarize her with the coop and then the chicks roam free. Ed is home, I run errands, and now it's evening and we pause to survey our brood.

What's this? Scotch is under attack. The rooster nabs her. The hens, my docile girls, go after her as well. She retreats and forages by herself. Anytime she comes closer to the pack, the dynamics repeat themselves, only with greater ferocity.

Only then do we read about the perils of throwing in a new chicken into an established order. Apparently, everything is in chaos for them. A new pecking hierarchy must emerge. Before it does, there is war and the sweetest, most docile chicken will be the one to suffer at the hands and beaks of her "superiors."


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And so this is where we are: we handed over Lexie the meanie, took in Scotch the sweetie and as a result, we have full scale war. At last viewing, poor Scotch is huddling outside the pen while the established girls stand possessively at the entrance of the coop. How this could possibly end well is beyond me.


UPDATE:

It's dark. The two girls and Oreo are in the coop, settled for the night. Poor Scotch is just outside the pen, terrified about going in. Ed and I approach her, sweet talk her. After a few minutes, she allows  me to pick her up. I hold her tight, this sweet, sweet girl that's about to be thrown to the wolves. I tell her it's the way nature intended. That in the end, order will be established and everyone will again be at peace. (Or dead. I don't tell her that.) She relaxes. I feel her warmth, her gentleness.

Ed opens the coop and I slip her in where the girls are. We latch the door for the night. We listen. Quiet. Nothing amiss yet. We walk away hoping that tomorrow morning, we will find four undamaged chickens, alive and well and ready to forage in the bright April sunshine.


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

work, with the participation of chickens

This was a humdinger of a day. The weather was right for work: slightly cool, dry. Perfect for finishing up the strawberry beds at both sides of the sheep shed. And for continued work on the new chicken space (to go up next week).

So simple to write. So hard to execute.

After breakfast (made so much brighter by the porch glass roof)...


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...we go out with our shovels and rakes. Dig, pull fabric, remove weeds, cover with chips. All with the assistance of our brood. First by the sheep shed...


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...then by the old barn.



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And just so you know, we aren't the only ones working the farmette land today. Farmer Lee's sister is back on the field to the north of the barn and she is planting onions. From morning 'til dusk.


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When Ed pauses for a rest, the chickens continue their play: scratch, pull out worm, swallow it whole.


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They're really quite entertaining. For the most part. Twice, they do cause me to shake my head in dismay. First, when I put out a pot of spring pansies. They've not shown a love of young plants up to now. But for whatever reason, they decide that pansies are their food of choice this afternoon. I quickly hide the pot from them. To be resolved at another time.


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The second misdeed is really just a Lexie issue. When we sit down to plant the two dozen strawberry clumps, she gets right into her pecking mode. You cannot do much before she flies after your shovel, shoe, sleeve. It's as if she believes that we are fighting her for the worms in the ground. Or maybe it's that she is out of sorts this afternoon. (It was one of the rare days when she did not lay an egg.) Kicking her is pointless. Shouting at her? Nah -- she has the louder squawk. A calm tone? Ed can be counted on to supply that. With very mixed results.


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There is much about a chicken I will never understand.

Still, it was a productive day and truly, working with a flock of chickens at your side is far more delightful than working alone.


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Besides, how can you not feel grand on the day your first daffodil sends out a yellow bloom?


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By evening, we are completely exhausted. Ed suggests I not cook tonight, but as always, I find fixing supper far easier than driving out in search of food. Especially now, when eggs are so abundant. Organic! Free range! Delicious.


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You didn't get a sunrise photo today. It was mostly cloudy in those early minutes when I went out to clean the coop. But I'll hand you a sunset. As seen from our bedroom window.


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The chickens, at least in the summer, keep to a schedule that tracks the arrival and the disappearance of the sun. A glance out the window tells me it's time to lock the coop for the night. And as soon as I publish this post, I'll be right there with the chickens and Ed -- retiring for the day. We're all pooped. Completely, thoroughly.