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Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

It has been awhile since our last post.  Much has happened!  First and foremost, the Lady Leghorns have been laying…

It all started one afternoon with a tiny pullet egg — about the size of a quarter.  Brandon found it and was very excited.  We decided to cook the egg and share in our bounty.  Everyone received about half a forkful of fried egg — “Best egg ever!” Brandon cried.

Since then, the production rate really picked up.  Through the weeks, we increased from one to two to three eggs a day.  We have now been consistently receiving five or six little gifts from our Ladies every day.  We’ve learned that six chickens are probably too many for our needs — at least during their peak production.  We have now been giving a few dozen eggs away here and there.

A huge distraction these last few months has been the facelift we’ve been giving the old place.  We have completely replaced the roof of the house with a metal roof resembling shake shingles.  This replaces asphalt shingles on the back of the house and ancient slate on the front.  The side and porch roofs were metal.  When this was peeled off, there were mid-19th century cedar shingles underneath.  It was a tragedy to have to remove them, but most were rotten and unusable.  The shake metal roof closely resembles the look of the cedar, after aging.

All of the brick has been repointed and a new concrete steps were poured in front.  The porch and stairs will be covered with slate-like stamped concrete in the next few weeks.  We can’t wait!

Our Homestead – nearing completion

On a sad note, our two elderly nubian goats, Twinx and Nellie (ages 16 and 14) were put down a few weeks ago.  Their arthritis had become very painful and their health was failing.  Neither was eating well and both were beginning to look emaciated.  It was a sad day, and the farm has felt empty since.  They had lived here a long time…

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“Mommy!  Mommy! One of the chickens is dead!  The metal thing fell on it, Mommy!” came Brandon’s cry from the back porch as Tammi was putting the dishes away.  It had been a peaceful Tuesday morning up to that point.

Sure enough, upon inspection, the small ten-unit nesting box had come loose and fallen over.  Unfortunately, one of the lady leghorns was not quick enough to escape the sudden force from the metal contraption. It’s legs stuck out of the bottom like the similarly unfortunate Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.  Tammi lifted up the nesting box and put it in place. Brandon stooped down in front of the bird.

“It’s not moving, Mommy. It’s definitely dead,” proclaimed my stepson like a junior coroner at a murder scene.

“I know honey,” said Tammi. “It’s a shame.”

“Are you goin’ to tell Baron?” he asked.

“Let’s bury her first,” said Tammi.

The two solemnly carried the chicken down to the compost pile, dug a hole, and laid lady leghorn #25 to rest.  It probably looked like a scene out of the Sopranos, except that it was daytime rather than two in the morning. The call came to me at work a few minutes later.

“We lost a chicken this morning,” said my bride, solemnly.

“What?” said I, “Did something get in the coop?”  I was imaging a weasel wreaking havoc on our little ladies.

“No — it was crushed by the nesting box that tumbled over…,” she explained.

I was immediately struck by a complete sense of responsibility.  I had killed that chicken through my own ineptitude as a rookie farmer.  I had committed unintentional third-degree chicken-slaughter and was feeling every bit guilty.

“Damn!” said I, “Damn — it’s all my fault!”

Unfortunately, this little episode spooked our ladies again — that made three incidents in the last two weeks — the evil space robot chicken feeder, the township fireworks, and now the death of one of their own right before their eyes.  After catching the birds and returning them to the coop, we decided it was time to downsize.

“I am afraid we just have too many,” I said to my bride, convinced we needed to reduce our flock.

“Really?” said my lady in a tone only a wife can make when reminding her husband she had made a similar suggestion some time ago.

“Yep — put ’em on Craig’s List — $6 each or 2 for $10,” I ordered.

And so it was done — within a couple days 18 of the 24 remaining birds were sent packing for a cool return of $90 cash.  We decided to keep six — enough to provide for us and a little extra.

Tammi set about creating a fenced-in run outside the coop with a small paddock for the birds to “free-range.”  We also downsized the coop, pulling out the two nesting units and replacing them with a three-box wooden one from the barn.  We removed all of the old hay and replaced it.  We then caught the six birds in the barn and placed them in their transformed home.

“How many eggs have we gotten out of this?” I asked my bride as I was raking the chicken poop.

“Uh….none,” she said.

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Last week, while driving home from York with one of the now fixed feral cats, the feline couldn’t hold its bladder, leaving a small puddle of pungent liquid on the back bench of the F150 — despite it being adequately covered. The next morning, the odor was unbearable, forcing me to abandon the vehicle to the wife in a fit of rage. “You’re responsible!” said I, as if poor Tammi had been the one leaking in the back. I went to work angry, worried about how it was going to be cleaned.

Late in the morning, I became so worried it was going to be cleaned improperly, I called Tammi to no avail. So, I headed home to see what was up. I also needed to vacuum my car a bit to make it presentable to some coworkers who were to be lunch partners. As I arrived in the driveway, there was no F150 — no Tammi — and no Brandon (who was now off school for the summer). Perplexed, I set about cleaning my car when the large animal vet pulled into the driveway for his scheduled visit. Tammi had forgotten to cancel the meeting meant to review the health of our goats and sheep — especially the pregnant ewe.

I showed the doc around myself, apologizing for Tammi’s absence.  Fortunately, the doc was able to see Twinx and Nellie, the old goats. He was not able to see the sheep, who were out in the field. After a few minutes of examining teeth, hooves and front legs, the doc declared the pair as “very old” – especially Twinx. Apparently she had worn her teeth down to nothing. Both were diagnosed with arthritis and possibly encephalitis. Both were given less than a year to live. “I will prescribe some pain medication to keep them comfortable,” he said. I had no idea they were both in such horrible shape. “They both have lived well past their normal life expectancy” he continued. I was relieved to hear the prior owner had taken great care of them. I knew we needed to tell him of their pending demise.

I returned to work, not having seen Tammi or Brandon. The vet left not seeing the sheep – especially the pregnant ewe.

About an hour later, I received a call at work from Tammi.  She reported Brandon had been out in the field looking for the sheep and stumbled upon a newborn lamb with its mother!  All appeared well.  Tammi jumped to action to find some way to separate the mother and baby into a holding area to be sure they bonded. It turned out this was unnecessary – the bond was obviously strong and the mother was providing more than enough nourishment, though we did worry a bit on the second day.

We discussed the fact that dinner may just have been born. Given my mood about the cat odor and the missed vet appointment, I was still not happy. But, when I returned home that evening and saw Tammi pick up the newborn lamb, I knew another bond had just occurred. There was no way we could butcher the poor thing (I am talking about the lamb, not the wife). It was just too damned cute and my wife had found something else to care about. I realized, some day Tammi will be a wonderful grandmother. Her mothering instincts are amazing!

So, the talk around the farm and at the office was all about the baby lamb. Brandon had declared it was a boy and that he would name it. I suggested we wait until the sex is confirmed. In the meantime, if it is a young ram, my stepson has declared it to be Ram Bam — an appropriate monicker if he should be anything like his father.

That Saturday my parents dropped in to visit from Alabama. They looked about the farm and were enamored with the baby lamb. After some small talk and a tour, we headed out to an antique mall to look for some items and pass some time. One of the items I found for less than 20 dollars was an old metal chicken feeder painted with a Taneytown (Maryland) Feed Mill advertisement. It was a legitimate old antique with a lot of eye appeal. “What better to feed our chickens than an antique feeder!” I declared, confidently carrying it to the check out. “I am actually going to use this,” I said the the clerk with a smile.

When we got back to the farm, Dad, Tammi and I filled it and hung it in the coup. We then continued our visit. After Mom and Dad left, Tammi and I settled in for a movie — The Descendants.  We highly recommend the film, but about halfway through, there was a huge boom outside — almost like the Battle of Gettysburg was being relived in our front yard.  Poor Gertie, who had been laying asleep on the wood plank floor, jumped awake, startled and confused.

“What was that?” asked Tammi.

“Township fireworks!” I replied. We headed to the porch and watched a spectacular display of pyrotechnics lasting a good 20 minutes. “Impressive for Monroe Township!” I declared.

“Sure beats Harrisburg!” said Tammi. Both of us reflected on that comment — realizing it meant a lot more than just the fireworks.

After it was over, I quickly went to close the chicken coop and returned to the house for the remainder of the movie.

In the morning, I went out to retrieve the Sunday paper and open the coop. I was surprised to find all but three of the chickens out in the yard. “What the…?” I thought. I realized I had not checked them before I closed the door. I went inside to tell Tammi.

“The chickens were out all night!” I said. “They were probably spooked by the fireworks.”

Later that day, Tammi noticed none of the chickens were going in the coop — not even to feed.

“It wasn’t the fireworks, Baron,” she said to me. “It’s that damn antique feeder!”

“What?” said I in disbelief. “Get the f*ck out!”

We went to the coop and switched the familiar plastic feeder back in for the antique.

“Money well spent!” said the wife, sarcastically as I hid the blasted thing in the corner.

“I guess this metal contraption scared the hell out of them!” I said. “To them it probably looked like a robot from outer space!”

While the chickens did return to eat, they did not return to sleep. So, we were forced to catch them in the barn, where they were roosting and returned them to the coop. The next day, the same thing happened — chickens did not return. So, we caught them again and cooped them up — this time for three days. We’ll know the results soon…

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It’s not long before a “back-to-the-lander” neophyte farmer discovers the real meaning of farming — waste removal — as in the shoveling, hauling and otherwise cleaning of one’s barn, coop and/or self of sh*t!

It all started with a squish under the foot one evening — that soon revealed a very fragrant and acrid odor that could be only one thing — dog sh*t. Apparently the farmer’s wife had been training Gertie, her puppy, that it is perfectly fine to do her business at the foot of the stone steps that lead to the upper pasture. Scatological Ruminant #1 – Do not train your dog to sh*t where thee tread!

Next was the realization about the little lady leghorns. We had them in a kiddie pool until they outgrew it. Every day, we would change the newspaper. When they were tiny, they left cute little poops — imagine little fluffy yellow balls emitting tiny little pellets — essentially the chick feed they were eating just passing through. Of course, as they migrated to the coop, things got a little more complicated. We spread straw on the floor and let them loose. As the birds grew rapidly, so did their excretions. Thank God, we eventually let them out all day! I can’t imagine a coop of cooped up poop! So, I had to empty the growing pen, where our little pullets grew from chicks to maturity. It was a dusty affair – straw and pungent poo. But, I managed to get it all into one wheel barrow. Scatological Ruminant #2 – When someone says “chicken sh*t!” in anger, and they are not a farmer, they have no idea what they are really saying or complaining about. If they are a farmer, then you know they are referring to a real mess!

The previous owner of our farm stopped by one day to ask permission to remove some of the goat and sheep sh*t in the barn. “Good for the garden,” he said — and proceeded to shovel as much as he could into the back of his pickup.

“Take as much you like!” said I.

I imagined a conversation between Cheech and Chong — the former farmer was an old hippie-type.

“Yeah, it’s good sh*t, man — really good sh*t” said imaginary Chong farmer.

“What do you call this ch*t, man?” said imaginary Cheech farmer.

“It’s goat sh*t, man,” said Chong farmer, “like Nubian or something like that!”

“Hehehe!”, giggled Cheech farmer, “Let’s do some Nubian Doobian!”

Scatological Ruminant #3 – This ain’t the kind of sh*t you can smoke, unfortunately!

Back to reality — he was taking a portion of what was in one stall. There was an entire other stall where our critters were currently living — full of the stuff!

So, this Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, like a good farmer and his wife would, Tammi and I headed to that stall full of straw and goat and sheep sh*t and began to break away at it and shovel it. We had set our sights on clearing the whole thing this morning, but soon realized we could barely get in the door — after three loads.

“Oh my God!” said Tammi, “I hope the whole thing isn’t this deep!”

I felt like an archaeologist digging up a  Mayan Temple in the Yucatan — removing layer upon layer until we hit stone — or concrete.

“It’s six inches thick here!” said I “It’s going to talk all summer!”

It was getting hot, so we resolved to return a couple times a week to chip away at it.

Scatological Ruminant #4:  Don’t let your sh*t pile up too much — gotta stay on top of all of this sh*t — gotta keep up with the sh*t….God this sounds like work!

Just one more humorous item. While Tammi was scraping with the blade, she accidentally sprayed my face with a splattering of poo and straw…

“Gives a whole new meaning to sh*t-faced…” she said.

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Tammi and I were shopping for antiques recently at Bedford Street Antiques in Carlisle.  If you’ve never been there, we highly recommend it === a nice little surprise on a back street in town. The place is full of interesting items at great prices. We happened upon four old painted benches priced very reasonably. We bought them — two went into our master bedroom to line the back wall. The others were stacked in the bathroom to provide some interesting shelving for towels and such. Besides a few other collectibles and knick knacks, I picked up an original copy of the Country Gentleman magazine dated May 16, 1914 – exactly 98 years old!  Tammi pointed to it and I was instantly drawn to the painting of a mother leghorn on the cover tending to her dozen or so peeps.

The other day, I picked up the old magazine and flipped through it, admiring the ancient advertisements — for the Columbia Grafonola record player or Cleveland Grindstones – or Panama hats for $1 – just write to Geo. T. Bungay, 28 So. William St. New York. (I am sure he’ll be happy to part with his hats for a buck each!)  On page 15 was an article entitled “Shall I Begin Farming at Forty-Five?” Obviously, I could not have picked up a better issue!  Here was a “clerk” who lived in the city, contemplating moving to the country to take up farming at age 45. Two writers at the magazine responded to his query.

Here were the gentleman’s concerns:

He has been a clerk in the city and ‘worked indoors his entire life. ‘ He thought working outdoors would be healthier for him and provide a better setting to raise his boys, without the many ‘temptations’ of the city. He asks if the experts felt he could make a decent living to support his family. Interestingly, he never mentions his wife’s feelings about the matter!

Responder #1 – You Can!

Referring to the clerk as a ‘back-to-the-lander’, he encouraged him to do so, suggesting he study up on the scientific methods of farming now prevalent. ‘It is also a fact, however, that a surprising proportion of the pronounced successes in American agriculture are town-reared men…” (I am beginning to be encouraged, here!)  “They have not had the disadvantages of being full of the notions of father and grandfather.”

“…the city man who really studies his job and applies initiative and common business sense is in the position of real advantage…”  (Yeah!)

The writer then went on to ask the man what his wife was thinking – most city women don’t fancy being a farmer’s wife…. (no problem here — it was her idea!)

“…twenty years of close observation and a rather wide knowledge of the United States causes me unhesitatingly to say that the farm is today the place where a man of brains has the least competition…”  (Ha!  I suspected as much – figured that out at the livestock auction!  We’re on a roll!)

The author even goes on to suggest buying his farm in Central Pennsylvania — done!   He encourages him to start now with a garden and to raise chickens!

“…you almost MUST raise chickens…start with twenty-five hens…”  (WTF? That’s what we did!)

Responder #2 – I Did!

“…I say emphatically that the man of forty-five, with $3000 to $5000 in money, with a brain that will work, with a well-made plan and a firm purpose, certainly ought to succeed on the land. Even if he meets with no more than a part of the success he hopes for, in dollar profits, he will be able to realize something infinitely better — a share, right here on earth, in the peace that passeth understanding.”

Clearly, there is no better peace than looking out over one’s parcel just as the sun is coming up – and seeing the chickens beginning their day, enthusiastically pecking in the grass, and the goats and sheep heading up the hill to the high grass, and the barn swallows flitting about, and our puppie Gertie taking a squat — oops — sorry to ruin that scene for ya…

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It has been hard to schedule time with my daughters:  Taylor 13 and Abbey (recently) 10.  Since I left their mother, this was my fourth move in four years!  Hopefully this will be the last for a long while. My work schedule makes it difficult to keep a routine, and as they get older, they are busier and less interested in their father and more interested in their friends.

So, when I picked them up this day, I had no idea what to do.  The weather was not cooperating — it was dripping a bit.  I certainly didn’t want to take them shopping or to the arcade.  I had just taken Abbey on a birthday shopping trip a few days prior and did not want to spend any money.

“What do you want to do?” I asked my lovely little ladies as they rode along in the F150.

“I don’t know,” said Taylor.

“Nothing,” said Abbey, staring out the window.

“Ok then,” I said, fully expecting this to develop into a disaster. “Let’s just go to the farm.”

Upon arriving, I told them we would first put the chickens away.  The girls had only been to the farm a couple of times and had not seen the chickens outside — or the sheep. I grabbed the two shepherds crooks and we set about to coax the chickens into the coop.  The little leghorns had been out most of the day and were a bit scattered in the yard.  The girls enjoyed finding them in the brush and undergrowth and herding them to the doorway. Abbey counted them twice and declared that all 25 were safely in the coop.  Our chore was done.

Fully expecting the kids would want to head inside to watch TV or play video games until their mother arrived, I began heading for the house.

“Wait,” said Taylor, “can I feed the goats?”

“Sure,” I said, somewhat surprised. “Do you know where the treats are?”

Taylor nodded affirmatively and headed to the corral in front of the barn where the goats were hanging out.

“Daddy, show me the sheep!” said Abbey, pulling me along.

The two of us headed up the hill to look at the flock in the upper pasture.  Abbey was even brave enough to head into the grass for a closer look.  (It should be noted the ram is not as aggressive as some breeds — he actually runs from humans.)

What transpired was a good hour of talking about the animals, observing them and spending time out in the fresh air.

“We need to name all of the animals!” declared Abbey as we went inside.

The three of us filled the rest of the time coming up with names for the 6 barn cats, 5 sheep and 25 chickens.

Not once did I hear the words ‘I’m bored’…

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There was enough old wood lying around the barn to build a small house.  We had also found a good amount of chicken wire in various places — all of the materials to finish off our chicken coop. Our little leghorn ladies had been living in the 8×8 enclosed room in the sty.  Now, the plan was to finish off the open section of the building, making it into a very comfortable 8×16 chicken coop for 25 egg laying machines!

Early Saturday morning, I began measuring and cutting the wood using the old Stanley circular saw I had purchased from the same man who sold me a used snowblower a few weeks back. Any time you get a chance to buy used tools on the cheap, it is usually worthwhile.  The old Stanley circular saw ran like a charm and I managed to keep all of my appendages.  The key was the two used folding saw horses that were in the yellow wagon with the cupholder — at the auction last week.  I hadn’t realized what they were – it was almost like they appeared before my eyes when I opened them up to discover their purpose!

After the coop was framed out sufficiently, I moved the nesting boxes inside. I then nailed up additional supporting boards at various points, anticipating the need to staple the chicken wire into something.  When I was ready for the wire, Tammi joined me and did the stapling. Within an hour, we had a completely enclosed chicken coop with 25 galvanized nesting boxes. We temporarily boarded up the side exit – previously used by the pigs who inhabited the place in years past to go outside.  We planned to open this up in a week when the hens were ready to experience the outside.

Finally, around 11 am, we were ready to transfer the birds from the holding pen into the coop.  Tammi spread hay on the floor and transferred the feeder and water bottle.  I came up with a chute, using a couple of boards to channel the birds into the coop. Tammi went into the pen, and I made sure none of the birds flew out of the chute.  Luckily, all but one waddled into their new residence.  One bird had to be different and went the wrong way, getting tangled in some extra wire and boards.  Tammi came over and gently picked her up and finished the job.

I suppose if I drank beer, this would have been a Budweiser moment — having transformed a bunch of old wood and wire into a chicken hotel extraordinaire.

It was about this time Brandon, Tammi’s 9-year-old son, finally awoke and stormed outside yelling  for his mother.  “Mommy!” he shrieked in his high-pitched adolescent whine, “I’m hungry — make me breakfast!”

“You need to teach that kid to cook!” I said, walking with her to the porch.

Brandon was disappointed he had missed the chance to help build the coop. He was looking for any way to make ten bucks so he could buy some more Legos.  I offered him the chance to do so by transferring one of the small wood piles to the barn using the yellow wagon.  We were anticipating the arrival of our wood stove, and wanted to start moving some more wood into a dry location.  Brandon enthusiastically accepted and began the job.

The lad really struggled to pull the wagon up the hill — and then had difficulty controlling it as he went back down with the cart full of wood.  As he was stacking his second load, I was inside resting on the sofa, still enjoying the pleasant thoughts of my morning accomplishments.

“Mommy!  There’s a snake!” yelled my stepson from the woodpile. I jumped up from the sofa, and pulled on my boots. I then grabbed my walking stick and the fireplace shovel and headed out expecting to see my stepson wrapped in the coil of a massive anaconda or dancing left and right in front of a darting king cobra.  Instead, I found a copper and yellow patterned viper laying on a log — the boy just a few feet away.

“Step back,” I said.

“What are you going to do Baron?” said Brandon calling me by my nickname. “Are you going to kill it?”

“Yes,” I said, holding the snake down with the walking stick held in my left hand. The shovel soon followed, coming from the right, like a scene out of the French Revolution — the edge of the tool acting as a guillotine. Our 24 to 36 inch copper head has now in two parts. I tossed them into the pasture using the walking stick.

“Why did you kill it?” asked Brandon, somewhat upset.

“It was a poisonous snake,” said Tammi. He had to.

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