Tag Archiv: chickens

Unlucky and lucky

photo by anitapeppers compliments of morguefile.com

photo by anitapeppers compliments of morguefile.com

Veronica the vicious is a chicken who got unlucky once, lucky twice, unlucky once, and then lucky twice again.

Veroncia was caught pecking open an egg, however, she successfully ran to the chicken witness protection program. Melted into the milieu of other chickens, man and boy couldn’t be positive which one she was so they carried on cleaning out the chicken coop. Veronica being bold, the scenario played out a second time without successful capture.

After the third egg she attacked in broad daylight, my husband leapt, gashed his head on the ceiling, but at last cornered her audacious clucking self. Veronica the vicious was then named, segregated and her tail marked with black spray paint in case she got loose.

Since then, Veronica has been in detention because none of us were in the mood for an execution. This is where she got extremely lucky. Veronica’s execution has been stayed and in fact, she is travelling to a new home today. We are providing a cage, food, and some wood shavings. We may also have stated with confidence that she won’t eat her own eggs, (so an egg a day is bound to follow?) I’m not sure on what authority we speak. In any event, we sincerely hope she doesn’t, and liberties of expression can be taken in capital cases.

Squeaky is not a chicken. Squeaky is a wood chuck. Squeaky’s family took up residence last summer in our barn. We cleaned out their temporary residence, put up no trespassing signs and went inside for the winter where we belonged. This spring, Squeaky and company  came back. They took down the no trespassing signs, hung curtains, and began working in earnest at family expansion. My husband said he would trap them. I said it wouldn’t work. In for breakfast he came the next day. One less wood chuck, was all he said.

You caught one? Wow, okay. I guess now we have to decide what to do with it.

Not too much to decide.

You mean you killed it?

The rest of the conversation can be summed up as followed.

Me: surprised. horrified. mad.

Him: proud. surprised. disappointed (at the lack of congratulations).

The eventual new procedure was distant resettlement of future captures by me. Two of Squeaky’s family have already been released in a forest a few kilometers away. Patient and quiet, they exited (the long rectangular cube of white plastic with air holes) almost as soon as we opened the trap and quickly disappeared into green.

Unlike his predecessors, Squeaky was not quiet about the unluckiness of getting caught. I have always assumed wood chucks to be mute. Squeaky laid that myth to rest. He squeaked so loudly when we got near the trap that we jumped. More than once. I expected from his noises a kind of rocket to shoot forth from the trap once we got to the forest.  We opened the trap door and Squeaky stayed put. We gave up waiting. I upended it and he slid out onto the ground. Squeaky waddle-ran ten feet and then stopped.

I apologized that the barn was no longer available. I had no defense for our lack of hospitality. Then I reminded him he was lucky he wasn’t the first woodchuck caught in the trap. He thought about it, sniffed the air, looked around some more, and disappeared his lucky self into the brush.


Chicken coops and sunshine

Really, I promise we will fix up the outside of the coop this summer (and paint it)

The first two of many brave chickens. (And really, face lift for outside of the coop is  coming…)

I received the following in an e-mail this week:

You worry too much, woman. You call YOURSELF a square peg. No one else does. We love you dearly. Know that. Believe that. The burden you place on yourself is far harder to carry. Far. Harder.

Considering how completely together I have it, there is probably a sense of shock that someone would feel the need to say this to me. Or not.

I read the e-mail. Cocked my head (kind of like a chicken) and read it again. Huh. I read it one more time and then started folding laundry so I could think. I called my husband.

. . . I got this kind of weird e-mail. Now I’m walking around with this crazy thought in my head. Like what if I’m not a failure? Maybe I’m not even failing. Maybe the book taking so much longer than I ever thought doesn’t mean anything other than long sagas are frustrating and things take time even when you don’t want them to. Maybe I’m not doing anything wrong.  Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe everything is ok and I can just keep plugging away at things when I can and not worry about the rest. I mean, is that crazy? Seriously, what if I’m not a failure?

He didn’t think I was a failure. I said goodbye and put on my snow clothes. The chickens love the outside but they don’t like standing on two feet of snow. I shoveled some paths and space in the outside part of their coop. They didn’t come running so I stole some hay from the cows, made a dry place to stand, and lined it with food scraps.

Somebody had invited me out into the sunshine. The chickens were the only ones home I could think to pay it forward to. Invitation complete, I watched for a minute and enjoyed with them the way it feels when you’re stuck in a coop for so long all winter that you forget about the way out and then someone points to the door, calls from the outside and beckons. You cock your head to the side, let it bob around a bit to show you don’t take risk lightly, tip toe back and forth a few times, then bob out into the fresh air and sunshine to look around. Breathe. Smile. It’s not so bad out there.


Dear Reader,

Having been so graciously invited myself, I pray that similar invitations will be extended your way. Beginning now or sooner, may a path be shoveled through your two feet of snow, your coop entrance cleared, and enough hay put down to make your feet happy. In answer to your courageous head bobbing from your very wiggly neck, may the sun rise each day and the treats at your toes be as pleasing as rotted fruit or discarded vegetable scraps.

Yours in the Journey –


People gawking to see why something's different. Par for the course.

People gawking to see why the chickens are daring to opt for fresh air.

Winter Party Plans


Following the ancient customs of our people, I am planning a special event which will either be named, Winter Carnival, or, The Surviving Party.

For the opening ceremonies participants will wrap their winter outerwear in neon duct tape while listening to The Beach Boys in my kitchen. While singing a rousing round of, “wish they all could be California girls,” we will form a train and head for the chicken coop. We will drive the chickens from the coop into the sunshine, while serenading them with the chorus from Abba’s Dancing Queen. Participants will be free to dance in pairs or groups, with people or chickens, as the spirit moves them.

Other activities include:

Believe in the Green: guests will gather the ice scrapers from their vehicles and bring them to the garage where they will be painted green. Once dried, they will be planted in the snow symbolizing our belief that spring will come.

Throw it from the Roof :  Guests will add non-living items of their choice to a laundry basket to be carried up to the top of the roof and thrown down one by one. (This symbolizes the casting off of winter gloom.) Prior to the first throw, the roofer will lead the observers in a rousing chorus of, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Chef for a Minute:  Hot dogs and hamburgers will be available from the barbecue. Only males are eligible for cooking duties as chefs will be expected to cook topless. This symbolizes the determination required to survive the barrenness of winter (not to mention a little justice for the nasty habit of putting men in three piece suits all winter while women shiver in flimsy fashion of the day). Fully winterized spouses may link arms and sing, “it’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight . . . as encouragement if a chef is waning.

Keep the Party Going: Guests commit to going commando one day a week  (each day of the week must be spoken for) until the first buds of spring are visible through the snow. This symbolizes the casting off of winter restrictions. After the solemn commitment, guests may join in singing a chorus of, “Livin on a Prayer.” Whoa, we’re halfway there… take my hand, we’ll make it I swear…

Closing Ceremony: The child most resembling Pippi Longstocking will be placed on the pony’s back. They will be led from the field into the kitchen where the pony will eventually pee in shocking quantity. The result will be a fine symbol of the bitterness of winter. Misty will be given a carrot  by Pippi and led back outside while any of her symbols are removed because they are no longer wanted. From the cupboards every guest will receive a pot, pan, or plastic mixing bowl. Beating them loudly we will make our way outside. Still drumming, we will huddle together in a circle and howl at the moon. This will symbolize everything important that we didn’t have time to symbolize before. Any in tears may close with “I Will Survive.”

Date and Time TBA

People and Chickens

Christmas 14 Jan 15 226


Some people that I love are suffering. I find myself thinking about Huntington’s disease, dementia, and places where we become less than we were. Sometimes we are children growing in the wrong direction. Away from promise and potential into private worlds where possibilities shrink like the future, fall through our fingers like sand, and torn from us with insistent hands are scattered like chaff in the wind forever.

I like to watch chickens. In all their feather finery, they are a curious and going concern until they’re not. One day they run on three toed feet, an apple slice in their beak trying to dodge the flock of chickens in hot pursuit, one day they settle determined on a pile of eggs insisting that the other girls find somewhere else to lay, one day they dart past you out the door . . . and another day, they’re gone. Nothing but a pile of feathers waiting to be buried.

Chickens’ heads bob around at the end of their necks a lot like a person with muscle spasms. All of them do it and none of them care. If anything, they’re proud of it. Now and then it strikes me that chickens essentially invented break dancing (from the shoulders up). Yesterday I found myself stalled, watching chickens again. I’d dumped some scraps in the outside run to try and tempt them out into the fresh air and sunshine. A bold chicken and two flightier birds came curious about the scraps but not quite sure. In and out an inch, and in and out an inch, and in and out three inches then back to the end of the line. Chicken two gave a smaller try then ran to the end of the line and so on. Ten minutes I stood amused although they weren’t doing anything they don’t do every day. Nervous chickens (and they are all nervous) change their minds even more than nervous people.

I don’t know how watching them helped me. I remembered a sick chicken who no longer bobbed her head at all but still knew she was a chicken. The other chickens knew she was a chicken too.

I’m not sure what separates us from the chickens is as big a space as we’d like to think. Or maybe we do know. A microscopic hair’s breadth separates us, people from chickens, well people from sick people, and that’s what hurts. Watching people suffer who were us in another life, three or four seconds ago.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote poet Dylan Thomas. But not everybody is handed the ability to rage toward nights gentle or otherwise. In a different poem, Thomas writes, “Though they go mad, they shall be sane, Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”

Death shall have no dominion. I think the chickens know this.

State of things

Summer 2014 July Aug 059

Apple trees:  Only some bore fruit this first year. The ones that did had one or two apples, except our champion tree with more than a dozen. Resulting apple cobbler was priced at $70 a plate, but maybe it was only $60.

Bees: Despite the failure of the Let the Boys Become Men campaign, and my subsequent involvement in beekeeping (due mainly to my ability to read) we are still glad we got our bees. If they can survive the winter, we’ll be sittin pretty for next year. If they don’t, well, we’ll re-evaluate.

Misty (the pony who arrived with a “staying for one year only,” guarantee) has had her chances of staying around here upped mightily. We had an actual horse person come and work with Boy one. They were happy with what he was already doing and gave him some help going forward. (Strike one success for the Boys Become Men Campaign.) The clincher was a show by a Canadian folk singer (Marie-Lynn Hammond) that I went to last weekend. I bought a CD about horses called, Hoofbeats. I thought I bought it for the kids (who are absolutely crazy about it) only I am in love with it too. (Honestly, if you love horses, kids, or good storytelling, you would love this CD.) There is some kind of magic floating around in the music because I’m starting to feel lucky when I see Misty in the field instead of wondering how many pounds she’d dress out at for the freezer.

The other animals are all happy. Chickens are laying billions of eggs. Currently, 1103 to wash on the counter. 31 little meat chicks are growing like weeds. We’re down to one chicken left in the freezer, so I am pretty happy to see them getting ready to address the situation. Until then, I’m scratching my head for recipes to hide tongue, heart and liver in. They seem to be most of what’s left in the meat section. I thought I’d done it with a stir fry the other day, but later Boy one got to shivering, telling me he knew there was liver, he just knew it.

Maybe you had a little, I said, but less than half of that meat was liver.

Mine was all liver. I could tell by the smoothness on the outside.

Statistically, that’s just not very likely, I said. Anyway, heart meat is kind of smooth on the outside too, so I doubt you could tell the difference.

His eyes bulged out and his lips trembled a little bit. Cocky boy whispered, you’re not joking are you.

Hmm – not joking, but feeling pretty good.

Lastly, the cats are failures. There are a lot of little somebody’s moving in for the winter to the space between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor.  If, for example, you sit quietly writing during the middle of the day, they run over your head, in and out for hours. Does marvels for the peace and concentration.

Pictures of August


Boy one the beekeeper going out to check the hives.

Boy one the beekeeper in the beeyard.


Some of the girls on their way out to work, or just back.

Some of the girls on their way out to work, or just back.


Filippa is crazy about lego . . .

Filippa is crazy about lego . . .


Buster has grown a bit since March.

Buster has grown a bit since March.


Against her wishes, Misty the pony/pig cross is slowly shrinking.

Against her wishes, Misty the pony/pig cross is slowly shrinking.


Other girls out for a walk. The foxes would prefer if they were available for daily picking but we limit the free meals and make them sporadic to keep flock numbers up.

Other girls out for a walk. The foxes would prefer if they were available for daily picking but we limit the free meals and make them sporadic to keep flock numbers up.

Fifty Percent


It’s been a frustrating spring and summer on the farm this year. We lost a third of the meat chickens we raised, almost all within ten days of their scheduled demise. We have now lost 2 lambs in three weeks, and treated both Buster the 600lb calf and the other lambs for parasites. In our vision of natural we have no idea if following standard advice about parasite treatment is foolish or wise. Nor do we have any idea why we found the latest lamb dead after no apparent illness.

When I found the most recent dead lamb, I called my husband. Together we looked for signs and shared the glumness of death and the frustration of our ignorance and helplessness. We shook our heads, sighed and shook our heads again.

“Hey,” said my husband, tired. “It’s not 50%.”

We smiled, strangely comforted with the reminder that we were not alone.

I had lunch recently with a Dutch couple in their early seventies. They made their living as farmers of lots of things, but chickens were a mainstay.

“We’re about ready to quit with the farming stuff,” I told them.

“Don’t quit,” the woman said.

“I’m not sure we’re smart enough for farming,” I said.

“No,” she said. “It’s not like that. Things happen.”

“You should see all the terrible things happened to us in the beginning,” the man said.

Two stories he told me. One night after dark, something broke and started a flood in the barn. It was fall, all the chickens were laying beautifully. He was looking forward to a good profit that year. A few thousand chickens died in the flood that night. The rest were so traumatized they stopped laying completely.

Another time a bird flew up into a fan in the barn where he was raising new chickens. The sound of the bird caught in the fan scared all the chickens. They flew up against the back wall of the barn in a panic. Two thousand survived. Two thousand were crushed and suffocated at the bottom of the pile.

“All night long,” said his wife. “All night long, we carried out dead chickens.”

It was honestly the most encouraging conversation I have had about farming in weeks, possibly months.

“We aren’t in their league,” I said to my husband, “but maybe we don’t have to give up. I mean, we only lost a third of our chickens, right? Only a sixth of our lambs- heck, we’re doing great.”

Well, maybe not great, but it’s not fifty percent yet. And when it’s laugh or cry, sometimes laughter helps. With hats off to our Dutch heroes, we carry on.

A morning


The girls had been up late, so I was anxious waking up about keeping the place QUIET. This is not a concept that Boy one understands. My husband sees the wisdom in some vague kind of way that is never connected to his actual feet pounding or thing banging. He came in from the barn with news that a racoon had made it through again with another chicken gone, so both of us were glum.

The loud men had at last left for work and exam respectively, and the others remained miraculously sleeping when the phone rang. I had confused the pick-up time for my new laying chickens and was late. At the feed store, customer service is what you get when you do it right. Open irritation is what you get when you don’t.

I jotted a note and ran for the car. Upon arrival, I realized that I had not grabbed the feedbags that I usually use to prevent the droppings of live stressed chickens in very holey crates from covering the car.

Any extra feedbags?  I asked smiling.

Nope. Not allowed.

I went inside while Mr. Feedstore was with another customer and found a piece of unmarked plain cardboard.

Any chance I can use this? I said, returning friendly.

Nope. Belongs to the company. Has to go back.

So I scrounged and rummaged and covered the back of the caravan with church bulletins, a small newspaper, and children’s art. It mostly covered the area where the crate sat. At home I unloaded the chickens in the rain, then disposed of my papers and surveyed the car. It needed attention but not as much as I needed breakfast.

I got breakfast amidst negotiating a settlement for World War III. An hour and a half later, it was time to pick up Boy one and another student, and somehow I had forgotten about the car. I grabbed some disinfectant and a rag, quickly scrubbed down the back, rinsed my cloth and got back in the car. I met Boy one and two others, and returned.

Full of  the feelings one has when one has spent too much of a morning going everywhere without really getting anywhere, Boy two committed one crime too many. It was a minor violation, but he was sent to wash the breakfast dishes anyway. A few minutes later I yelled down my reprieve and headed downstairs to finish the dishes myself.

My belief in dedicated dish clothes had escaped him. The actual dishcloth sat submerged in his rinse water. Somehow he had spied my cloth from earlier, washing carefully all our plates and glasses with the cloth I had used to clean all the chicken poop from the car.

Upon discovery, I sighed and reached for bleach. He whooped with delight and ran laughing to tell his brother.

Graduation and not


With school ending this week, there has been a graduation focus in the air.

The lambs are on their last week of bottle feeding. We are definitely ready for them to graduate.  I’ve been scratching my head about what to do with the leftover milk powder. Feeding longer is not the answer. My latest thought is Christmas. Little packets of milk powder tied up with a ribbon, a note attached about the glories of a milk bath. What teacher would not like that? Grandmothers. Aunts. Why not uncles and brothers?

Girl two graduated from kindergarten last night. She loves the stage so it was a good night for her, even if the school learned by experience why not to schedule an end of year function for 4 and 5 year olds to start at 7:30.  By the time they hit the stage at 8:15 they might as well have been drinking. They were three sheets to the wind, anyway. Whatever they had practiced was lost in short people wandering in circles and yammering to themselves, or shouting to the crowd depending on personality. Mine had a wrestling match for a microphone with another sweet girl in a fancy dress.

The only ones sent back for remediation this week were my husband and I. Last year, after an unusual number of losses, we swore off ANYTHING that would upset the meat birds. Fraternizing ducks had been an issue, but nothing we decided, would ever mix with them again. They bred to grow not to be robust.

Then I caught a chicken eating an egg the other day and threw her outside until I could deal with her. I was pretty sure she was eating an egg she had previously pecked open, but it was also possible she was eating the remnants of an egg someone else had pecked open. Why don’t we put her in with the meat birds overnight, I suggested to my husband. If there’s still an egg eaten tomorrow, we’ll know we have the wrong girl, if not, we can put her on the fast track for a different kind of graduation.

It was not a good idea. We had some worries that the meat birds might kill the suspect but it seemed safer than leaving her outside for the raccoons. It was a bad idea. The eighteen birds we put her in with did her no harm. She on the other hand, pecked one bird to death and left another one dead of a heart attack inside (we debate annually about using this breed or not due to the frequent heart attack issue).  And in case anyone is wondering, no eggs eaten the following days. For reasons we can no longer defend, we protected a lawless chicken from wildlife, then locked her up with some innocents so she could rack up a few murder charges for her rap sheet. Maybe we will pass our classes next year.


Things that make us human


Most of our chickens don’t have a name because we can’t tell them apart anyway. The ones that Boy two likes are the exception.  There was Tail-less, now there is Queenie and Obsidian. Spontaneously, I started calling our dying chicken on the porch, Frieda.

Frieda took so long to die that I began to think she would live. Why she died is still a question. Best available wisdom suggests a raccoon injury, cancer, or that she became egg bound.  Last year, when paranoia about microbial invasions on the farm overwhelmed me, we had a post mortem done on a chicken. For $60, I learned that the alive but ailing chicken I delivered had a bad case of arthritis in her knees and would have suited the dinner table just fine. I calmed myself by pretending we were intentionally seeking education rather than paying money to contaminate our chicken so that we could no longer eat it. Whatever Frieda died of, I don’t think it was contagious, so no post mortem for her, and no pricey education for me.

Waiting for Frieda to die stressed me. She didn’t seem miserable. When I expected her dead in the morning, she woke up hungry. By that night though she wanted neither food or water. The smell of death and bowel dysfunction made the air a bit thicker than I like it. I put her out in the grass the next day to get rid of the smell, and because if I was going to die soon, a patch of lawn in the sunshine would be just about right.

There is a whole field of psychology devoted to the  notion that the further we distance ourselves from nature, the more unhealthy we become. I know everybody can’t have a farm, or even a pet, but I do believe we innately crave connection with living things. That we need to be reminded of real things. I didn’t kill Frieda myself because I didn’t know if she was suffering and because head removal is our method of chicken dispensing. Although I’ve done it many times, every time it surprises me a bit what a physical act it is.

I like that my kids have seem things die. Not because I want them sad, but because I want them to know that nothing dies for free. I obviously take no issue with eating meat, but I care a lot about quality of life, basic consideration and avoiding needless loss.

As living things ourselves, the strand of spider’s web we hang by is fragile. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I guess I hope that a little kindness for a dying chicken teaches my kids a few things that don’t have to be spelled out. Like, be compassionate, even if someone really, really stinks. Do what you can to make them comfortable and say a few kind words. It might not change the world, but it might make us just a little bit more human.