Monday, June 27, 2011

A bad day to be a chick

This weekend was not so good for chicks around our place. The 4 banty chicks that I got from the feed store that died a couple weeks ago....well they obviously passed something on to my welsummer chicks. Out of 7 chicks there are only 3 left. Luckily one of them is a hen. But there's nothing quite as sad as finding dead chicks every time you go out to the coop. And there really is nothing I can do. To top it off, one of the turkey poults flew out of the brooder and got caught in a rat trap and broke it's leg. So I had to put it out of it's misery. Not a fun job. I just hope the sick chicks didn't pass their illness on to the laying hens. They pretty much stayed away from each other so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Life with livestock definitely has a dark side.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Early mornings....

The one drawback to working full time and owning animals, is that there are chores to do in the morning. So instead of stumbling out of bed, hopping in the shower and running off to work in the space of 45 minutes, one needs to build in time to do chores. And on days when we both have to be to work early, that means getting up earlier than we'd like.

Case in point: This morning, I had to be to work by 7:15. That means leaving the house by 6:30 to drop the kids at the grandparents so they can catch the school bus there instead of at our house. So if I need an hour to get myself ready and 30 minutes to get the goats milked, I need to get up at 5:00. But that just seems too early. So I set my alarm for 5:30. Not quite enough time. I got the goats milked and I think I let the chickens out but am not 100% positive on that one. P got the kids breakfast in between the two of us battling for space in our tiny bathroom trying to get ready. Seriously, the bathroom is so small that a tall man could hit his knees on the vanity while sitting on the toilet. I plugged my hair dryer in the bathroom but had to stand outside it while drying my hair so P could get in to shave, brush teeth, etc. P took the puppy out to potty and when she came in she decided she couldn't resist tormenting the cats. So I had to blockade the bathroom which now has the cat box in it so that the puppy couldn't get in to eat the cat poop and the cats could use it without her tormenting them. So there went my time to eat breakfast. Lucky for me I had a ton of catering arriving at work. But it was a challenge getting it all set up on an empty stomach!

Sometimes I wonder why we put ourselves through this. It would be so much easier to buy veggies, milk, eggs and cheese at the store and purchase processed/packaged foods. But then I remember all the nasty things in processed foods and think about the quality of life of the animals that we are getting dairy and eggs from. Yes it's more work,  we have to get up at the butt crack of dawn to do chores and we are up late doing the same thing. Not a lot of leisure time. But it's totally worth it knowing where our dairy, eggs and veggies are coming from. I wish I could do more but I'd have to not work full time. And in order to support the animals and pay rent, I have to work full time. So early mornings it is.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chicken addicts anonymous

Anyone who has ever had chickens probably learned quickly that chickens are addictive. Or maybe we are just sick and have a chicken addiction. We started out with 2 hens and a rooster. We now have 12 hens, one rooster, 7 pullets, one banty rooster, 7 welsummer chicks in the brooder in the garage (looks like 5 of them are roosters so will be chicken soup or coq au vin) and 4 new banty chicks.

Here's the story....
October of 2009: Move into house on acreage. Decide to get chickens. Buy 2 hens and a rooster.
November of 2009: Get some hens from a person on freecycle who lives just down the road. Then P goes a little crazy and orders eggs on ebay. We only ended up with 4 or so hens and 5 roosters out of 48 eggs. Lesson learned - hatching eggs in November doesn't work out so well
December of 2009: I receive a dozen welsummer eggs as a christmas present. Hatch out a few hens and one rooster.
March 2010: Purchase chicks from the feed store because we were being practical and wanted more green egg layers. Only ended up with TWO of the five hens laying green eggs. Planned to sell the others but haven't.
Summer 2010: Welsummer hen goes broody. She only manages to hatch out one chick. Neighbors dog breaks into her pen and kills her. Chick survived. Though I think it ended up dying later for some unkown reason when it was almost full grown.

Ok now I'm losing track. We managed to go 6 months or so without any new chickens.

The many roosters were ready for the chopping block in the spring of 2010. So we got grandma to come down and help us with the butchering. P chopped off the heads and grandma grabbed on and tossed it into the pot of boiling water. Grabbed it out with her bare hands and started pulling off the feathers, giving us tips on how to go about it. Next she grabbed a knife and started in on the chicken. Showed us how to best cut into it and avoid the intestinal tract. And did you know you have to reach WAY up inside to get the lungs out? I would NEVER have found them if she hadn't told me where to look. Turns out butchering a chicken isn't all that hard. And amazingly, the kids were excited to be eating our chicken. Not at all sad that the chicks they'd played with were now dinner.

So back to the I said, we managed to go about 6 months without any new chickens. But then spring of 2011 came. First thing that made us fall off the wagon was going to the feed store. It's easy enough to resist the standard chicks. Americaunas, barred rocks, buff orpingtons, we have them. But we made the  mistake of going to Monroe Farm and Feed. I know there are a lot of people who boycott hatchery chicks. And I totally understand why. But honestly, you have to start somewhere, and it isn't always easy to find someone locally who is breeding the chicks you want. So we walk in and they have at least 30 different breeds of chicks - this is the place to go for poultry of any kind! They have chicks, ducklings, turkeys, guineas, pheasants, etc. Some they do hatch themselves, but most are hatchery chicks. But the variety is not equaled anywhere in the county. Trying to be practical, we get two Jersey Giants (the one that we have is SUPER nice), one Delaware, one Brown Leghorn, one Australorp, two Black Copper Marans. The non-practical purchase were two Silver Seabright banty's.

Second time off the wagon....We kept the one Welsummer rooster that hatched in Dec 2009. He was now full grown. And mean. He chased the kids around the yard, treed at least one of them, drew blood from me. After fighting him with the metal lid of the trash can that contains the chicken food, I'd had it. A few direct hits from that lid barely slowed him down. Then he started fighting with our good rooster. The bastard managed to take out the good rooster's eye and now we have a one-eyed cock. So we quarantined him. that he was quarantined, I could put a couple Welsummer hens in with him and breed them to get MORE Welsummer hens. Because 12 hens is not enough. So in they went. Had to wait 10 days before collecting eggs for the incubator because the one-eyed cock obviously had his way with the ladies. Have to make the hens monogamous for a while or you end up with mutts. So 21 days after the first eggs go in the incubator, we end up with MORE chicks. This time it looks like 2 hens and 5 roosters. If any of them turn out nice they will get to stay and replace the mean rooster who went to a new home. Otherwise, DINNER!

So our March 2011 chicks are now big enough to go in with the big hens. and the welsummer chicks are getting close to the right size.

Off the wagon a third time....Now, you may remember that we got a puppy. Our chicken coop is very secure. She cannot get to them even though she really wants to. However we let the chickens out to free range sometimes. This is where things go wrong. I wasn't home at the time but apparently someone let her out and she took out the Silver Seabright banty hen. This was P's favorite. And I admit, she was awfully cute. So to console P, I took a trip back to Monroe Farm and Feed. They were all out of Silver Seabrights. I could have come home with ONE new banty chick. But there was no way to know the sex. So I had to get two. And since I couldn't decide which kind to get, I got two each of two different breeds. Well, the Golden Seabrights are doing great. No bigger than a ping pong ball. The Mille Fleur d'Uccles (cute little spotted things with feathers on their feet) didn't fare so well. One died on the 2nd day after purchase and the other on the 3rd. So I called the feed store and asked if they'd been having any problems with them. And sure enough, they'd had sick and dying ones. They said they would replace them. So I sent P out to get a couple replacements. He chose two white silkie bantys. And added two turkey poults. Officially, the chicken addiction has become a poultry addiction since he crossed the line and got turkeys. Can't wait for Thanksgiving!!!!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Work = Entertainment

Living where we do it's easy to forget that there is an area less than 10 minutes away that is opposite in every way possible. And I work there.
The area where I work is a high poverty area. It is a high drug area. It is a high prostitution area. I work in retail grocery so it's all around.
One way that you can tell if a person is going to be a problem is to look at how many layers of clothing they are wearing on a warm day. If they are sporting a knit hat, scarf, three coats, many layers of pants and have a beard just to top things off, then it's best not to start a conversation with them. But that's my job. They come up to me, I say something, and they have their 'in'. Poor souls are just plain attention starved.
The best of the lot are the ones that come up behind you and say something totally normal. You never see it coming. Tonight was a great example. A guy approached me wearing a puffy jacket and one of the circular scarves that skiers wear, on a day that was 70 degrees. Out of nowhere he says
'There are two kinds of great apes that are bigger than gorillas.'
Sure. Sounds reasonable. What do I know?
'One is only a meat eater. It eats only meat.'
Ok... Any poop in that diet? I'm thinking, and he is thinking he had me now so he lays it all out.
'The second largest, the one just bigger than a gorilla is nicknamed a Bigfoot.'
'Wow' I say, 'Is it named after the Bigfoot people see around here sometimes?'
Totally ignoring me he says 'It eats anything that looks good. It eats plants and meat'
I act like I saw something and start walking away. He follows.
'The bigger great ape, and the most dangerous only eats meat. It will eat any meat it sees. That's why people don't say they saw one ever. It's called an Abominable.'
'Like the snowman!?!' I say as I look for another living person to save me or maybe to pawn him off on. But crap - no one in sight.
'Abominables are really big. They eat you. They are the most rare. I saw it last night on tv. It was on a show on Sci-Fi. They said they are just hard to find, but then they eat you.'
Just then his caretaker finds him.
Yay! I'm free. Just in time to get called to check and listen to a lady that looked older than my 80 year old grandma tell everyone that she just turned 50 and to celebrate she is going home take some of her invalid boyfriend's medicine and then tomorrow she's going to quit heroin! Good for her. Now, the customers behind her thought that was more than they needed to know. It was obvious in their faces. Especially the 10 year old. Guess the parents will think twice about bringing a child out after dark in this area.


Thursday, June 9, 2011


   A short title doesn't always mean that there is little to say. This is my first year as a beekeeper so it's almost like I can't be called a beekeeper yet, but the fact remains that I have bees, and I take care of them, so I must be a beekeeper.
   My first foray into beekeeping ended in disaster. I should have seen it coming. There are some things that a person should just avoid. Beekeeping is one of those things for me. I am allergic to bees. Before I had bees it had been years since I had been stung, and who knows how long since I was stung by a honey bee. Add to that my propensity to kill anything living. Somehow my kids are still alive, but they are the first thing in my care to live and apparently thrive.
   So this year in a moment of what another person would call craziness, I purchased a package of bees. Yes, you can buy a 3 pound package of bees. You can have it shipped to a person - imagine their surprise to open a box to find 3 pounds of bees staring back at them. I had stopped by a local beekeeping supply store to buy the essential gloves and veil because a few days before I had asked a friend that is a professional beekeeper to show me how to handle bees. It just so happened that that was the day that the store received their shipment of bee packages, and they had a few extra. I quickly phoned my friend and asked if I could borrow some old equipment from him until I could assemble my own. He said yes. Skip to present and those bees are gone - maybe I'll elaborate on that some other time, but suffice it to say that it was my fault. Luckily for me there was another chance to get bees this year. There was an ad on Craigslist for bees for sale, and now that I know a fair amount about what to look for I went and purchased a new hive. These had been a package this year and were currently pollinating blueberries in a fairly urban location. The really great thing was that the guy let me come in the day on a sunny day and look at the hives, and come back that night to pick it up. This hive is a winner. Almost all of the 10 frames were full of brood and honey. Seeing it next to the other hives made it apparent how much stronger it really is.
   When I was setting up the new hive at home the next morning and expanding it by adding a new deep on top, T was here to help. It is such a pleasure to do things with the person you love, and shares your interests, that sometimes it's easy to overstep. As she was running around doing chores I'd shout out that I needed something and she would bring it to me. After a few times of this I was about done and she was 15 or so feet from the hive. One of the bees in the air happened to get stuck in her hair. We all have heard that when a bee is on you it's best not to panic, but that's exactly what T did. This is the woman that I have never seen wince. She seems dainty to look at, and can be seen as quiet, and is actually the strongest person I know, but on this occasion she was LOUD! Think of those old movies where the woman shrinks into a corner screaming from the monster that is moving at 2 mph at her and there is a door right next to her. T flipped her head upside down and started some variation of the pee-pee dance. I came running like an idiot in full gear, covered in bees to save her. Big mistake. The bee I was after moved away from my less than delicate gloved hand and into her hair farther. Not to mention that with me came a few hundred of it's closest friends. T ran for the house. I ran after stripping off gear. When she went through the door as I was taking off my veil, I saw my reflection in the glass only to realize that I was pulling off my veil and there were quite a few bees at the back of my neck that had just been granted easy access. Change of plans - time for me to run screaming across the yard.
   T did end up getting stung. I thankfully did not. I have been stung numerous times since and am unsure of when exactly to expect a reaction. So far it seems that if it is a spot that is below my heart I should expect swelling and itching, but that's it. Yay! T had far less of a reaction. Just the usual pain and bump that faded over a day.
   The real takeaway for me here is that T is really a girl at heart. It's hard to see that in such a strong woman sometimes, so strong that she has redefined what a woman is to me, but a tiny bit of her is still that little girl that is afraid of bugs getting stuck in her hair. That and that she is determined. Even after that obviously frightening event she is still interested in learning and working with bees. That kind of spirit can never be conquered. I'm a lucky man.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

New puppy! New puppy! New puppy!

As if we don't have enough to do already, we got a puppy. We both were thinking we'd like a dog that was under three but preferably under two years old. We did NOT intend to get a puppy. The day started out around 10:30. Had to stop at the brew store for butter muslin and stuff for P to brew beer for his cousin's birthday. Headed to the co-op to get some organic greens for dinner. Stopped at the bank and had lunch at a yummy bakery in town. The ciabatta was to die for - turkey, carmelized onions and brie, grilled to perfection. And to top it off, a sour cherry chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. Now we are really ready for looking at dogs!

Went to the city animal shelter and didn't see any that were the right age or size. I didn't want a HUGE dog and P didn't want a TINY dog. So it had to be somewhere in the middle. We took with us the youngest kid who is the most nervous around dogs. So if she got along well with it, that would make it a contender!

We decided to move on to another animal shelter about 20 minutes north. There we saw several dogs that were possibilities. One was a doberman/hound mix and was a sweet dog but the kiddo was a little nervous, as was the dog. The next was a white shepherd mix who was shedding so bad it made me write her off immediately. Cat hair is bad enough. I don't want to have to deal with long white dog hair! Plus she was a crotch sniffer. Couldn't seem to keep her nose out of other's "business". Oh, and she was mouthy, biting our hands. Kiddo was ok with her but the dog had 3 strikes against her.

The last dog we saw was a 4 month old lab/shar pei mix named Opal. The kiddo took to her right away. And unlike most puppies I've met, she came calmly over and wagged her tail and sniffed us. No barking, jumping, whining, hand gnawing or licking. I wasn't sure if P was ok with a puppy, and I could tell he was wondering the same about me. We kept giving each other funny looks, trying to assess what the other was thinking. Finally the woman showing us the dogs gave us a few mintues to talk about it. We both felt that her personality was worth putting the energy into training a puppy. So we took the plunge and got a puppy together. I guess that means we are stuck with each other now that we've committed to 15 years with a dog!

Now the thing about Opal that made it a harder decision was the fact that she was itchy. Oh so itchy. Can barely stop itching long enough to play. They had tested her for both kinds of mange and parasites and all came back negative. She'd been bathed and tried on two different medications. So not only are we committing to spending a good chunk of our lives with a dog, we are also potentially looking at medical expenses trying to determine why she is itchy. However, a little internet research shows that shar pei's often have food allergies. So we switched her to a grain free food and now we just wait and see. We have made a vet appointment for her so we can get some more expert advice if it turns out not to be an allergy.

I have wanted a dog for years. When I was pregnant with my son, and my ex-husband was 300 miles away at school, I was seriously considering fostering dogs. That didn't happen because being pregnant just takes a lot out of a woman. Once my son hit 3 years old and discovered dogs, he's been asking for one ever since. I seriously considered it again after my divorce. I was out on my own and could make my own decisions and my son would have benefitted from it. However the landlord (who shared the property with us at the time) had a dog, that my son spent lots of time with. So I tabled the idea.

Here I am, 2 1/2 years later, with a dog. Funny thing about it is that we got goats, chickens and another cat before getting a dog. For some reason I was thinking that a dog just requires too much work. However, when I look at all the time we put into the goats, a dog pales in comparison. Plus, a dog we can take with us and is much easier to find someone to care for when it's time to take a vacation. Have you ever tried to find a goat sitter? Especially someone who actually has to MILK the goats?

The best things about getting Opal so far are:
1. Realizing that I am with a man who actually LIKES dogs.
2. The kids LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE her (and my son can finally stop begging for a dog).
3. She has not barked once in the 48 hours she's been home.