Category Archives: chickens, etc.

On seasonal freak-outs

What’s hoppening?  Like everything else, even the heavily-pruned hops vines are frightening in their output at this time of year

It happens every year at about this time.  Despite my best efforts, the garden overwhelms me!  Once the corn begins to tassle, I simply need to put my blinders on and ignore the weeds.

Granted, I am able to keep the beds weed-free.  I just need to find the beds amongst the uninvited foliage.

Dinosaurs in our midst:  juvenile bronze turkeys doing their morning perambulation.  They, and five home-hatched chicks, remain the only baby fowl on the farm

This feeling of being overwhelmed somehow does not stop at the garden gate.  Other cyclical tasks, once eagerly anticipated, are forgotten.  This year it’s the meat chicken order.  (You would think that a woman who is tied to her computer all the work-long day would maybe give the emptying freezer some consideration, but no.)  Granted, this year has been ridiculously hot and dry, so every week I would mentally think “next week shall be cooler (thus I can place the order).”  But weeks continue to go by and I begin to feel like this:

Is it an empty nest if it is just chickens?

On rushed seasons

22 March is shockingly early for the first (measly) asparagus harvest, don’t you think?

The girl barges in through the back door Wednesday afternoon and announces “It sure is quiet out there!”  That morning’s trip with the dogcrate full of roosters guaranteed that the regular sounds of backyard bucolia have returned here.

My call to the butcher’s wife brought the usual guffaw from her.  “SEVEN roosters? You ARE a softie, honey.”

Jellybean and some of his wimmin.  What you can’t see is his torn-up wattle, poor thing.  Now he’s back to being #2 Rooster.

Er, not really.  The seven in question were late-summer chicks too small for the Thanksgiving turkey trip to the butcher in question.  We endured their presence until we just couldn’t (“we” includes the harassed hens and of course the now bloody and pissed-off Mary Ellen and Jellybean) any longer.  And since one guy was keen to “sleep” in the huge blue spruce which shades the henyard…well, let’s just say an early spring’s open windows and one obnoxious night bird are not exactly compatible.  It’ll buy you a trip to freezer camp, dude.

I envy those of you who are actively eating down the contents of your freezers.  I am somehow unable to ever see the bottom of a freezer (understandably, not a bad problem to have), what with the seasonal binges like a rooster harvest.  Things simply get replaced.

The new greenhouse:  I had planned on harvesting these greens by the end of April, not March…

One thing not easily stored is the lettuces.  My best-laid plans of harvesting one  older-lettuce-filled greenhouse and then moving on to the next baby-lettuce-filled greenhouse are crappy plans indeed with daily lows beating average highs here.  Three solid weeks of temperatures in the 70s/80s mean that the 100s experienced in the greenhouses are not good for anything currently in there…including the 100 cells seeded with tomatoes.  Sigh.  Time to reboot, clean out, reseed.  Weather, you know, just happens.  My plans would’ve been perfect in a normal year.

The routine on Sunday and Thursday nights:  gather ye CSA bags as ye may…

But what are we going to eat in May?  I wonder!  Better start seeding lettuce rows for the fickle world outside.

The nightly haul:  leeks, lettuces (Amish Deer Tongue and red romaine), atop bolting collards, asparagus and onions…with herbs. 

On negatives being positive

Uh oh:  chicken tractor and lawn furniture scattered hither and yon

My husband continuously says I am a glass-half-empty person.  He says it often enough that it makes me suspicious:  does he want me to believe this?  Tomayto tomahto I say.  Frankly, I think we could all use a dose of half-emptyness, at least some of the time.  If it does nothing else it lets you accept that Stuff Happens, and it prepares you for it, for sometimes Stuff will happen to You.

Stuff Happens, so pick up the pieces and move on.  We had a hellacious windstorm on Thursday night, preceded by a hailstorm of long length.  The hail was kind of cool to watch, and thankfully wasn’t so bad as to shed greenhouse plastic and/or leafy plants.  But that windstorm!  Wow.  Friday morning was a bit of a blur:  tree-sized branches everywhere, and the chicken tractor thrice tumbled, meat birds scattered.

Lucky Lucy, wondering where her siblings might be.  Every year our daughter commutes the sentence of one female meat bird.

So yeah, lots of damage.  We lost two chickens (gone with the wind?).  This  morning fortunately was the appointment with the butcher, so I gathered the remaining 25 Freedom Ranger birds and drove them over, avoiding fallen limbs and debris along the way.  And then, well, then I carried on.

Old greenhouse, 4 Oct 11:  Left photo shows the lone tomatoes in the front and on back wall, with green tomatoes ripening on a screen; right shows rosemary, sage, and artichoke in the foreground and the zany fig tree at the right.  All empty-looking beds have been planted with winter-hardy lettuces and greens (mizuna, arugula, kales, chickories).

Control what you can:  I cleaned the summer crops out of the old greenhouse on Saturday.  I was too depressed to do outdoor garden work, so instead I prepared the old greenhouse for winter.

But it’s still summer in the new greenhouse  where it’s tomato city, with peppers…but seedling beds are full too.  Those are some late sweet potatoes on the screen, dried beans on the chair at the right.  Lots of work to be done here too, toward the end of the month.

The next cleanup project:  re-erecting the trellis.  Those are my hops on the ground.

So indeed:  bit by bit, pick up the pieces.  I suppose I should be thankful this storm occurred toward the end of the growing season…it would’ve been more discouraging earlier in the summer.  As it is now, well…things had begun to be harvested, picked, prepared for winter before this storm.  The trellises and broken-up beds aren’t “needed” except maybe by my aesthetic sense of wholeness.  Which is motivation enough, actually, to get me moving.  Half full indeed!

On the meat harvest

Aichi (nappa) cabbage:  kimchi-ready

Ah, September!  I always love your cool nights and your warm days.  School busy-ness has changed the household routine, as has homework.  The long-season crops like cabbage and Brussels sprouts have begun to flesh out after their Summer of Despair (hot weather, too much rain).  And of those long-season crops, our eyes have cast themselves on the feather-clad crops.  How long before Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?

Dinner on the hoof

Not long at all.  The Freedom Rangers (who, though in their tractor at night, now truly range free during the day) are doing quite well, fattening up nicely.  I am growing enough of them to have enough to sell, thus tipping the meat chicken bank book into the black.  (We’ll keep 18 of the 28 for ourselves.)

Pretty little Red Hen

So too are the turkeys.  Ruby hatched enough for me to sell a few poults this spring, and I am raising two birds for others and one for ourselves, like last year.  This means the turkeys, likewise, are self-sustaining.

Uday, Raghad, and Qusay in a quieter moment

We’ll all be quite glad to see the turkeys off the farm, though.  We have two young toms and a hen, and, while the hen is no problem, the boys are thugs.  I call them Qusay and Uday.  Gobblegobble!

Meat chick update

Thought I would show you the chicks:  It was a big week for them.

They’re out in the tractor now!  Yes, the little darlings are less than three weeks old, yet I have cast them out onto the cruel, cruel world.  Am I heartless? Hah.  Hardly.  I have been watching the nighttime lows and eagerly watching their feather development.  The high dew point overnight is what tends to worry me.  There’s enough fluff on those babies still and when fluff, unlike feathers, gets damp, they get chilled.  But the weather has remained hot, including overnight (not-very) lows.  So they’re out.

All 28 babies are doing well in the tractor.  This tractor (6’x12′) is fine for all of them now and I need only move it once a day so far.  The high grass is fun for them, I think:  they stalk bugs and each other.  They fly about like fat sparrows, skip-hop-flapping from one end to the other, releasing the bottomless energy that seems to be the province of the young.

Still cute, yes?

They’re growing well on their chick starter feed (20% protein), but since they arrived I have been supplementing their rations with yogurt- or kefir-soaked scratch, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, and worms from the garden.  They also get poultry grit thrown in their food (rocks, basically) to help those little gizzards do the tough job of grinding up their food.

On the chicken tractor process

Nothing like the hottest week of the year to receive 154 chicks in the mail.

I didn’t order the weather, but I did order the chicks.  Granted, 125 of the birds are going to homes other than my own, but…I do have method to the madness of ordering chicks in July.

Chicks, let’s be clear, are a lot of work!  I find it best to let a hen raise them (either her own or foster birds) and that has worked for me in the past, but a 100% farm-hatched meat bird operation has not.  So I order in, and play Mother Hen myself.  If I have to raise them myself, I find the best time to do so is when it is warm, even hot, outside.  I only need the lamps on overnight for that first crucial fluffy week.

I supplement the home-hatched roosters with a slow-growing meat bird, tractored out on pasture.  Last year we received 25 Freedom Ranger birds.  I loved the taste and tenderness, and they grew out quickly, but…the first week was tough as I lost three chicks, and all three chicks plus three more experienced spraddle leg.  Spraddle leg can be caused by three things:  a too-slippery surface (like their transport box) for the first few days of life, old eggs, or a food deficiency.  It takes two days for the chicks to reach us by mail (coming from Pennsylvania!  go figure!) and if it happens to these birds, that’s it, no more Freedom Rangers for me.

Considering it’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get, I will document the care of these birds a bit more than I have done in the past.  They’ll be here until October, and then they’ll hang out in our freezer.  Stay tuned.

On barnyard sexual politics

Jellybean, Number 2 Rooster (with turkey poult and Ruby in background)

My garden lacks any shade at all.  This is not a bad thing, unless I wish to do a little pleasant sit-down hand task like I wished to do on this sunny, hot, breeze-less evening after work.  So, I made like any sensible animal would do and took my task (cleaning 50 heads of softneck garlic) to the shade found on the back deck.  And being a civilized social animal, I filled a small tumbler full of rosé and sat down.

Number 2 Rooster Jellybean espied me as my butt hit the chair and came sauntering down the walk in his mincing, pigeontoed, not-quite-cock-of-the-walk way.  Eyeballing any and all situations IS the Number 2 Rooster’s job, after all, and he was sizing me up to his advantage.  Because it was after 5:00 and Chicken Happy Hour was in full swing (i.e., all poultry out and about) I watched to see what he would do.  His thoughts were eminently transparent to me.

Some say it is wrong, verging on dangerous, to anthropomorphize one’s pets or farmyard creatures or, hell, the actions of any (other) creature living on earth.  Dangerous to whom, I always wondered:  even as a small child, I knew humans were animals…how we could ever think otherwise was a fight I fought until I won it (in my own head, anyway).  Let’s just say this:  it’s dangerous to NOT think that animals act as humans can.  Whether it’s dissing the animals or not to put the anthro- in front of the word  is the argument we should all have.

And so we have not-so-little Jellybean eying me from the side of the deck.  “Both big humans provide food, but this one provides food 99% of the time if she’s got a bowl in her hands, as she does right now.  Perhaps what she has is food,” is the way his thoughts turned, “and I will check,” thus taking a few pecks at the dessicated garlic leaves hanging over the edge of the deck, “and it is inedible, but the fact remains this human has a bowl in her hands,” and thus he began to do the call that mother hens and roosters do to let their charges know they have found food, please come running NOW.

And the nearby hens did.  Notice the further-away hens did not:  they can differentiate Jellybean’s from Number 1 Rooster Absolute Backyard God Mary Ellen’s calls.  When Mary Ellen calls, the goods are usually there.  When Jellybean calls, well.  Dried husks is the perfect example.  Those hens are not at all stupid.  And sure enough:  Jellybean jumped one of the chickens in range and whose back was turned.  As Number 2 Rooster, the only option he has is crass subterfuge and then blindsiding a hen.

Ah, yes.  Every time I look at the stats of how people find this site, it’s not at all surprising how often “barnyard sex” is a key search term.  And indeed chicken romance isn’t candlelight suppers and (more) glasses of rosé .  Almost all the hens rebuff Jellybean, even take him on in a fight, but if you’re jumped you’re jumped and the smarter hens just endure it with a ruffled resignation as they know it will be over soon.  In this instance though Jellybean has climbed atop Emilie, a not particularly retiring doormat-ty kind of hen.  So she squawks and Mary Ellen flies in to her aid.

So here we are.  What I have just relayed in 500-odd words has taken place within 3 minutes or less.  And in those 500 words and three actual minutes I think we can all see how I smirk at poor Jellybean as the beta male:  in all honesty though he’s doing what he can.  If things get too ugly, indeed, he’ll be dinner, but he’s wily enough not to piss off Mary Ellen too often, and so, he remains in the tribe.  But yes, his stress hormones are almost always sky-high, and you gotta wonder what it does to him, much less for the general temperament of the rest of the flock.

Number 1 Rooster, lord of the flock, Mary Ellen.

And it’s my job as chickenherd to do just that:  gauge the temperament and well-being of the flock.  We have two full-sized roosters for a reason, and that reason is because we want farm babies.  (And no, you don’t need roosters for eggs, just chicks.)  The flock’s too large for Mary Ellen to mate with all the hens on his own, though I suppose he tries.  He’s got a great easy-going temperament with both people and his charges, magnanimous even, and I always wonder if it was because he was alone to develop it, not having to battle someone for everything, during his formative year.  If Jellybean ruled the roost, would he remain the furtive little bastard he is now?

A little social psy in any situation can’t hurt, you know, and it might even teach you something.  It’s fun at least.