New levels of craziness reached.

Sometimes, I like to take a step back and evaluate whether or not I’ve still got all of my oars in the water.  I mean, I’m pretty close to them being both out of the water on a daily basis, but you know…I just want to make sure that I’m still just STANDING at the edge of crazy and I haven’t actually jumped into full-blown-need-medication-possibly-certifiable craziness.

TURN ON THE AIR CONDITIONING. NOW.

TURN ON THE AIR CONDITIONING. NOW.

So, a couple of nights ago, when it was REALLY hot, I was pretty worried about the chickens.  I know, I know.  They were originally jungle fowl and acclimated to heat and humidity, but I’m telling you what, if I dropped these ten chickens into the jungle somewhere, they’d never make it.  Not because they’d be eaten by a giant jungle bug that eats chickens, but because they are so spoiled and would be waiting around for someone to make them a delicious jungle snack and wouldn’t look for food on their own…and THEN they’d get eaten by a giant jungle bug.  Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was really worried about them because they were panting and looking at me like I should DO something.  I was doing my best, they just thought I should be installing a new central air unit in the coop apparently.

I finally went into the house (where it was blissfully cool) and then sat around and felt guilty because they were still outside in the heat…probably baking…and possibly suffering from some chicken heat ailment.  My constantly reeling brain came up with countless tragic chicken situations.   I tried to see what was going on in the run from my usual sofa perch, but I couldn’t really tell what they were doing.   So, I went and got our binoculars and watched them through the window like some sort of weird poultry creeper.  Tom took a picture.  I’m not showing it to you because when I end up being committed, I don’t want it to be part of the evidence…but you really should get yourself some binoculars.

That blue circle is the FABULOUS cooling thing!

That blue circle is the FABULOUS cooling thing!

I sent poor Tom (everybody say it “POOR TOM”) to the store yesterday to look for misters.  Whole town is sold out.  There are NONE.  NADA.  ZIP. So much for that idea.  HOWEVER!  He brought home a big box fan to put at the end of the run!  I set a frozen milk jug of water in front of it and BAM. Instant air conditioner…sort of.  The chickens did like it though.   The whole flock stood in front of the fan, which was on the “HURRICANE FORCE WIND” setting and let the cool air ruffle their feathers.  Cluck stopped panting and everyone looked so much more comfortable.  Yay Tom for thinking of getting a fan for the run!  (everybody say it “YAY TOM!!!!”).  Okay, now stop it, or I won’t be able to live with him.

Last Friday, Emma had a friend over to swim (read as: they scream at each other in the pool).  Her father came over to pick up the friend in the early evening and as he came around the back of the house, I was walking by…with a chicken stuffed under my arm.

“Is THAT a CHICKEN????”

“Yes!  Isn’t she darling?  I LOVE them.”

And then Tom went on to explain to the guy that I’ve become obsessed with poultry, writing for a magazine’s blog, blah-blah-blah.  Then Tom offered to show him the coop because Tom has slipped a little toward crazy himself (honestly, he was halfway there already) and thinks my coop is AWESOME.

Because it is.

Groovy coop!

Groovy coop!

So we walked back to the coop (I still had Opal stuffed under my arm) and when we came around the corner and he could see the whole thing, he stopped and just said, “Wow…that’s a….that’s quite a coop.”

He obviously just doesn’t get it.

I haven’t really added anything…that I can think of.  I just rearrange the stuff on the floor all the time to give them new things to figure out and we ripped out the shelf in the back so that I could haul in a giant fallen branch that they could use as a roost.   I’m sure it adds to the neighbors’ dismay that I’m hauling around giant tree branches and disappear into a tiny building with them.  I’m just waiting for Edwin (the guy’s wife next door…that’s not really her name, but she looks like a guy, so Greg and I call her Edwin) and Jean (who’s real name is Becky and I can’t remember her name so I insist on calling her Jean) to show up at my door any day now telling me that I can’t raise chickens in a subdivision and could I PLEASE shut up that rooster (Cluck).  Of course, I read all the laws and I CAN raise chickens and a rooster in my subdivision so they can just COOL THEIR JETS.

See.  I’m making up conversations with people who’s names I don’t even remember.

Possibly…probably…certainly going to end up in some sort of facility.

But at least I can lower their air conditioning bills by installing fans and frozen milk jugs! WHEEEE!

 

I shared this post on the From the Farm Blog Hop! and the Simple Saturdays Blog Hop and The Homestead Barn Hop #164

 

Mirror Mirror.

We had storms here last evening.  Again, with the torrential downpours.  It’s like living in the Congo.  Every time I go outside, I expect to see some rainforest monkey swing by on a vine.  Tom keeps asking me, “When did we move to Seattle?”

The chickens are pretty much over standing out in the rain.  I think at first it was novel and there was a lot of feather poofing, ruffling and shaking before they finally decided that they didn’t like getting wet and scooted into the run.  Now, if the sky threatens rain, they stomp off to the coop before the first drop hits the dirt in the run.  Which makes me feel better since soggy chickens make me think I need to buy them a blow dryer.  As the storm came through last night, I didn’t worry about them too much because I knew they were safely in their coop with the big barn doors closed and the rain was coming straight down so I didn’t worry about the run door still being open.  I knew their distaste for wet feathers would keep them inside the coop where it was dry.

I waited until there was a slight break in the rain, threw on my coop shoes and scuttled out to the coop and of course it started to rain HARDER when I was about half way there.  As I approached the coop, I could here the familiar clucking that I’ve come to associate with the chickens when they are happy and content.  I struggled with the lock on the door…getting wetter while I did…and finally slipped into the dim light of the coop which smells a little chickenish because of the dampness, but the aroma of fresh shavings still hangs in the air.  The birds were climbing on perches, eating some dinner, exploring corners of the coop and scratching around in the shavings.  Dry, content, and busy.  Perfect!

I plopped down on the straw bale outside of their area to talk to them and several came over to check for treats.  I displayed my open hands and spoke to each of them, stroking their soft feathers through the wire fencing.  I didn’t want to invade their space last night.  I just wanted to watch them for a bit.  Not finding my hands full of treats, they endured my petting for a bit and then went back about their business…I can never figure out what business chickens are busy with…but they seem to know, so I just let them go with it.

mirror

During my coop decorating frenzy this weekend, I added a mirror that we found on sale at a local store.  Tom liked it because it hung from a rope.  I liked it because it was a mirror.  The chickens were terrified of it when I hung it in the coop.  They got over it pretty quickly and then it seemed as though they just ignored it.  Which is fine…ingrates.  Where I was sitting was just outside of where the mirror hangs and I wasn’t really paying attention to the mirror, because Vinnie was still campaigning for some sort of treat and I was explaining to him that he is really a vulture.  I happened to notice movement by the mirror and watched as Opal, our sweet Buff Orpington, gazed at her reflection for a long moment.  She cocked her head, still looking at the mirror and made a soft clucking sound and watched as her reflection did the same.  Soon, she was joined by one of the Wyandotte Sisters and they both watched their reflections until Vinnie stampeded through and ruined the moment.

I am always concerned with providing a stimulating environment for the flock.  I think that every living being that is able to possess curiosity, leads a much fuller life because life is then filled with discovery and wonder.  Adding a mirror to the coop was definitely a good idea.  I’d rather see them out playing in the run and doing their chicken act outside, but on days like this where the rain makes the run an unpleasant place to be, I’m glad to see that they’re still finding things that interest them due to their natural curiosity.

groovin

I think I’m going to look for more “enrichment” ideas for their coop.  If I change them up occasionally, the ideas will stay fresh and I’ll be able to see what their favorites are.  I have a whole list of ideas of things that they might find curious but are still safe for them to explore.

I can’t wait to try them out!  You can be sure I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Bedding Debate.

When I first got my chickens, I was determined to do the very best for them.  So I did the wrong thing and read EVERYTHING I could find on the internet.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love, love, love the internet.  When you want a definitive answer about something though, and you’re new to whatever you’re researching, it can be very confusing because you find so many differing opinions and bits of advice.

We talked about bedding, or as some call it “litter”, for the coop a lot.  First I told my husband I wanted shavings…I read some more online and I said I wanted sand…then I read some more and I wanted a combination, then I wanted straw, then I wanted straw and shavings and then my husband wanted me to quit changing my mind.  We’d been using pine shavings that we’d purchased at the farm supply store as brooder bedding and we had a fair amount left.  I didn’t want to be wasteful, so out of that reason came the decision to try shavings in the coop.

small blog logo

In the past, I’ve had shown horses and we always used shavings in the stalls.  It was a little dusty when we dumped in the wheelbarrow of shavings, but after a couple of hours, the dust settled and it didn’t make for a terribly dusty experience.  Farm animals are a dusty bunch, so I expected dust with whatever I used.  Our horses had loved rolling in fresh shavings and I loved burying my nose in their mane and inhaling a deep breath of fresh shavings smell combined with the sweet smell of horse.  The shavings were absorbent and the barn always seemed to smell like hay and fresh-cut lumber.  Not a bad combo at all.

We priced straw and found that we’d pay $7 a bale for it in our area and very few people seemed to be selling it.  We purchased a bale during my “straw phase” and when we broke it open, we found that the interior was full of black mold.  I didn’t want to have to break open every bale of straw before I bought it to inspect for mold and I knew mold was bad for chickens.  Suffice it to say we never spread that moldy straw in our coop and instead used it to cover some new grass seed that was nowhere near our flock.

I looked at sand too.  I hate walking on sand.  I’m sure chickens don’t, but because sand has the tendency to “give” when you’re trying to walk, it makes it difficult to walk around in the area where the chickens are kept.  The advice was to use “washed construction sand”.   Home improvement stores look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you ask for it.  The sales person shrugged and said there was play sand in the garden area.  I knew play sand was a bad choice because it was fine and dusty and if chickens happen to ingest too much of it, it can cause a crop full of sand which can get impacted and the bird could potentially die.  I had read that it was great for dust bathing (I’d made them a dust bath already) and that it was easy maintenance to scoop out chicken poop that had been desiccated by the sand.   I don’t even like to clean the cat box.  The thought of scooping chicken poop out of sand in the large coop area didn’t appeal to me at all.  It also didn’t appeal to me at all that I’d have to buy this stuff by the truckload and have it delivered and then haul it into the coop, push it around to smooth it out and then during my complete cleaning, I’d have to shovel the darn stuff out and sand is HEAVY and I’m OLD.  It also didn’t seem sanitary to me…but then again…how sanitary is any chicken bedding?   I was also worried about the heat and cold and the use of sand.  I want something that warms up quickly in the winter.  Sand doesn’t logically seem to be something that would do that.  We also live in a very humid area and like a child’s sandbox, I envisioned sand holding moisture on humid, damp days and chickens walking around with damp sand clinging to their feet.  It also doesn’t seem like something that would be comfortable…although I’m not a chicken and I’m not sure what their feelings are because they’re very tight beaked about things like giving their opinions.

Oh the DECISIONS.

I finally went with what I had and used shavings.  We can get them for about 4.50 for a compressed package.  So we covered the coop’s wooden floor with shavings using two bags to create a deep soft bed of about 3-4 inches while it’s fluffy.  I always leave some of it in piles near the back and center of the coop, because the chickens spend a ridiculous amount of time scratching around in it and looking for treasures and always scratch the piles flat.  It keeps them busy for a while.  I didn’t want shavings out in the run, so as I spread the shavings, I made sure that there was a more shallow area of shavings right in front of the door.  The chickens have to step up to go through the run door, so the shavings naturally don’t fall out the door.  I also put a flagstone just inside the door on top of the shavings.  The chickens always step on that stone when they are coming and going through the run door.  When it’s dirty, it can be hosed off and replaced.  I’ve not had any problems with shavings out in the run.

vinnie shavings

Vinmaster V (he’s also a rap star) looking out over the shavings floor in the coop. He thinks they’re the bomb-diggity.

I also found, that the chickens will turn the shavings daily for me and they don’t mind at all!  I throw in some treats like dried meal worms and they scratch and scratch and turn the bedding over very nicely when they’re searching for their treats.  Fresh shavings are brought to the top and soiled shavings gravitate to the bottom.  The coop continues to smell like fresh shavings too!  I do have some tracking of shavings into my work area in the front of the coop by my shoes, but it’s a snap to sweep them up with my corn broom and just toss them back in the chicken area.

We discovered that with ten chickens, two bags of shavings in the coop will last between two to three weeks depending on the weather and how often the chickens can’t go out due to rain.  The first time I had to change out the bedding, I was determined to do it myself because they were MY chickens and I promised my husband that I would care for them.  I used a shovel and easily shoveled all of the shavings into a large trash can so that we could add it to the compost that we were creating for the garden and plants in our yard.   When I’d filled the can, I groaned a little.  I expected to have to get  Tom or Greg to carry it around the compost pile.  I tried to move it…IT WAS LIGHT!!  I could do it myself!  Can you imagine if I’d had to shovel sand and then try to move it to…wait…where would I have even PUT the soiled sand?  Anyway, I would have been in traction for a WEEK.

We’ve been using shavings since the beginning and honestly, I just love them.  They smell clean, they’re easy to change out, they have very little dust once they’re spread and my happy chickens love to dig a shallow hole in them and then fluff the shavings around them with their beak like they’re creating a little nest.  I have to believe that they like them when they create that little nest and settle down with their head under their wing to take a nap. If they didn’t, they’d be out sleeping in the dust and dirt in the run.  Shavings seem to make their home cozy, they seem to be as healthy an option as anything else (as long as it’s not cedar shavings…do NOT use those as they can cause respiratory issues with your birds due to the toxic nature of cedar oils) and I can manage them myself without calling a quarry or trying to track down large amounts of clean, bright straw.  I will be using a combination of straw and shavings in my nesting boxes and we plan to use straw bales around the perimeter of the coop during the winter for the insulation it can provide.

I think bedding choice is YOUR choice.  Read everything you can find, but don’t feel like you’re not doing the right thing because what you choose to do doesn’t align with what someone else has done.  Educate yourself and choose what makes sense for the health and happiness of your flock…and possibly your spine.

 

Chickatraz Update

In a couple previous posts, which you can read HERE and HERE, we discovered that chickens can fly much better than we thought they could.  We’d made the top of their indoor area about 4 feet tall initially.  That thoroughly illustrates how new we are to chicken keeping.  We just thought the little darlings would be so happy in their run that they would never even think about trying to get out of it.  It never occurred to us that chickens like to roost in high places…like four foot tall places…like the top of the fence in the coop.

So with this new-found information (I’m sure someone, somewhere probably had told me that the fence was too short and I didn’t listen), we decided that we’d take the walls up another three feet.  My super handy hubby framed out additional height to the existing fence and we added the wire and then I smugly told the chickens that there was a new warden (me) in town.  As usual, they didn’t seem to care…but it made me feel better and as soon as the entire world realizes it’s all about ME we’ll be much better off.

Anyway, we were in the coop one night this past week admiring all of my new and groovy decorations.  I’m clearly going over the top with the whole chicken coop decor thing, but it makes me unbelievably happy to jazz up their coop with silly stuff.  I keep telling my husband about things I want to add to the coop and he just shakes his head and tells me that he’s happy that I’m happy.  My daughter, who is eleven,  has started to just walk by me and say “YOU ARE OBSESSED”, to which I respond “YES I AM”.  Sorry…little tangent there…back to the coop.  Tom was sitting in the chair with his feet on the bale of straw and Greg was in the run area communing with the chickens (read as…picking them up and saying “YOU…are a nice chicken”…we try to keep their self-esteem high).  One of the Gold Laced Wyandotte Sisters was standing on the roost under the new fringe bunting and we could tell that she was eyeing that seven-foot top to the fence wall.  She’d get very tall and skinny, sort of evaluate the height and distance, scrunch down to prepare for take off and then she’d think better of the whole situation and jump off the roost and walk around for a while.

inside coopOf course, we were all sassy about it and thought that we’d foiled their plans to roost on the top of the fence.  She walked around on the coop floor for a bit and we sort of lost interest in her because we were trying to convince some of the others that the cool shelf that runs all the way across the back of the coop was a GREAT place to roost.  The nightly fight on the roosting bars was getting to be a little more physical than we liked.  I tried to show them if they would all just SCOOT DOWN, there was plenty of room on the roosting bar for everyone, but you can’t reason with chickens.  Save your strength…they just don’t listen.

So Vinnie was on the shelf and fell off the shelf because he’s not very good at….well, anything.  That’s when one of us glanced over at the roost near the fringed bunting again and noticed Mary, the Wyandotte, evaluating the top of the fence again.  She’d scrunch down to take off, and then stand up…scrunch down…and then stand up…over and over again.  We stopped watching the rest of the flock on the other roost attempt to throw each other off the roosting bar while cackling madly, and all watched Mary.  The scrunching and standing continued and then she scrunched REALLY low and took off.

wrongI expected her to crash into the wire and hit the floor, but SHE MADE IT.  She walked happily back and forth on the top of the seven-foot fencing, clucking merrily and looking down at the others.  In a flash, Vinnie was on the roosting bar doing the scrunch and stand thing and that’s when we knew we were in trouble.  Tom grabbed Mary off the top of the fencing and took her back into the chicken area and Vinnie forgot all about the top of the fence because if someone was coming into their area, they MIGHT have TREATS.  He’s impossible.

We decided that we needed to wrap up Chicken Bedtime early and I flipped off the lights.  Chickens can’t see that well in the dark and if they can’t see the top of the fence, I figured they couldn’t fly up there.  I must have figured right because the next morning, everyone was where they were supposed to be when I opened the coop…or they’re sneakier than I thought and they had all jumped down before I’d gotten there.  Either way, I’m not letting them go to the prison commissary this week.

Yesterday, Tom extended the wire to the CEILING.  Figure that out, PRISONERS!

I’ll be in the Warden’s Office…watching Orange is the New Black.

Listen to the rain.

I’ve never been much of an outside kind of girl.  When I was in grade school, I played outside and rode my bike and did all of those things that grade school kids do…but pretty much because my mother launched me off the sofa and told me to go play outside because I wasn’t going to watch TV all day.  I’d go on long bike rides in the country and through our small town and pretend that I was a celebrity and everyone wanted to see me.  I was sort of weird.

Anyway, I’ve never even been camping.  FIFTY this year and I’ve never been camping.  I’m okay with that actually.  Camping, to me, is a 5 star hotel where the hairdryer in the room is on the fritz or room service closes too early.  I don’t like discomfort and to me, outside can be fairly uncomfortable, especially since I’ve moved to southern Indiana where summer temperatures are the same as the daily temperature on Mercury and you’re wise to invest in an asbestos suit to wear while walking from the parking lot to the front doors of where you work.

The other outside thing that bothers me is HUMIDITY.  When I first moved to the area, I worked as a physician extender and had to do rounds on patients at the hospital.  The office that I worked in was across the street from the hospital where I saw patients and I would have to walk outside to get to the back entrance to the building.  I’d get all cute in the morning and have my white coat on (LONG SLEEVES) and the moment I’d step out of the building, my naturally wavy hair would frizz immediately and I’d look like I had a bush on my head.  By the time I’d made it to the hospital, I was drenched with sweat and had quite a stunning sweat mustache.  The patients probably thought they were being visited by some sort of voodoo witch doctor.  All I needed was some face paint and a bone through my nose.

Tom has always said that it’s so humid here that it feels like you’ve been slapped in the face with a wet mattress when you go outside.  My favorite has always been something I heard on a weather forecast one day.  Humidity is air you can wear.  I. Hate. It.  So for the past five years, the extent of my “outside” time during the spring and summer has been to run from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car and vice versa.

It’s been a rainy spring.  By that, I mean the rains have been MONSOONAL.  I think that rain is predicted here for the next ten days, which is another excuse to avoid the wolf spider colony in the garden plot.  It’ll be my luck that they’ll be flooded out of their dens by the rain and come knocking on my door asking to hang out at our place until they can have sump pumps installed.  UGH.

Yesterday, it was raining on the way home from work.  I’d let the chickens out in the morning and I was hoping that they were smart enough to not be standing out in the deluge.  They’ve been pretty good about coming in when they’re supposed to though.  I quickly changed out of my work clothes and looked out at the chicken run.

Empty.

Whenever the chicken run is empty in the middle of the day, even if it’s raining, I get a little worried.  I always picture a fox sitting in the coop wearing a bib and reading chicken recipes while they quiver in a corner awaiting their fate.  I asked Tom if he’d checked on them and he said “They’re fine…they’re CHICKENS” which is his stock answer when I get all chicken freaky.  I sat on the sofa for a bit and kept glancing out at the run.  No. Chickens.  It was still raining, now REALLY hard, and I started to worry about other deadly but unlikely chicken trauma and finally I couldn’t take it anymore and jumped up and said “I have to go check those chickens” and headed for the coop.

pouringThe rain was heavy and steady as I walked along the path to the coop.  I don’t run.  Anywhere.  When I got to the chicken run, it was already sodden from the heavy rain.  It was very quiet…which made me even more nervous.  Usually, the chickens are in the coop whooping it up and squabbling over things that apparently only chickens understand.  I went into the dark coop and flipped on the light.  They were all cozily snuggled together on the floor of the coop in the shavings, dozing and watching the rain through the door to the run.  With my arrival, they shifted around a bit and then reformed their snuggle pile in front of the run door and went back to dozing.  Opal, the Buff Orpington and Sweetest Chicken on the Planet, got up and peeked through the run door at the pouring rain outside.  She ruffled her feathers and shook them as if the mere thought of going out into the rain made her feel wet.  She watched the rain for a while and then rejoined the snuggle pile of her coop mates.  Vinnie looked at me with sleepy eyes and tucked his head under his wing.  It was clearly a sleepy, rainy afternoon for them.

I sat down in my chair and watched them doze.  Cluck Norris watched me with half-open eyes until he too was too sleepy and succumbed to the sound of the rain on the roof and the dim light of the coop.  The fan blew a breeze through the fringe bunting on the wall causing the glittery ribbons in it to sparkle.  Outside, crickets sang in the downpour which seemed to have picked up in intensity and the sound of the rain on the roof was delicious.  Tom arrived to help me hang a string of bells that I’d found on-line that have a beautiful tinkling sound when they ring.  They’re strung on a piece of cord and separated by beads and the cord ends with a shining brass sun hanging from it.  The sound of the tinkling bells accompanied the patter of the rain on the roof.

coop rain

We talked for a bit and Tom returned to the house to start dinner.  I stayed in my chair and watched the rain falling on the pergola near the pool and marveled at the amount that our morning glories have grown in just the past 24 hours.  The GREEN outside was just incredible.  The trees and grass were happily soaking up the heavy shower and the smell of the honeysuckle behind the coop hung heavy in the air mixed with the smell of pine shavings and chickens.  Occasionally, the silk flags hanging over the doorway caught a hint of breeze and floated slightly.  The wind chime over the run tinkled now and then and the new bells added their chime to the song of the rain and the breeze and the crickets punctuated by the sleepy clucks of the flock shifting in their snuggle pile.

The sound of the rain on the roof lessened a bit and I saw my opportunity to dash back to the house to help with dinner.  Although, I could have stayed in that coop, listening to the rain and its accompaniment for hours.

I think I’ll spend more time outside.  I think especially when it’s raining.

 

**I shared this post on the Backyard Farm Connection Hop! and Homestead Barn Hop

Pasta.

I took a few days off from writing for the Memorial Day holiday.  It really was a lovely weekend.  Perfect weather, great food, and of course my family and chickens provided enough blog fodder for the rest of the millennium.

For some reason, I’ve been on this cooking spree.  Some people go on crime sprees and break into cars, I go on cooking sprees and try new recipes that call for ingredients that I don’t have and sometimes haven’t heard of, which necessitates 137 trips to several local grocery stores by Tom.  He usually forgets half the supplies that I need and ends up going back at least once.  He usually never grumbles about it because he, like the chickens, is motivated by food.  I’m fine with that.

I had found a tasty looking recipe on Pinterest for Chicken Marsala.  Let’s just give a brief “HOORAY” for Pinterest, shall we?  I spend most of my time there surfing around for ideas and recipes while Tom watches programs about aliens, Sasquatches, and mountain monsters.  I’ll find a really great idea for something and when I’m laying on the sofa it’s really easy to think “I CAN DO THAT!!!”  when in reality I’m more likely to print off the instructions and give them to Tom and say “will you make this for me?” while batting my eye lashes.   In this case, when I found the Chicken Marsala recipe, Tom offered to cook it up on Saturday.

So I took him up on that offer.  Because I’m not THAT insane that I’m going to say “No, that’s okay” when my husband offers to make dinner.

Tom went out to get mushrooms, dry sherry and sweet Marsala wine and a few other things for a dessert that I was making that involved fresh strawberries and a ridiculous amount of butter.  He was gone FOREVER.  He finally arrived home carrying an assortment of grocery bags and brown bags.  Apparently, the Tri-State area is not really into sweet Marsala wine and he’d had to check all the grocery stores on the west side of town and a couple of liquor stores where he finally ended up finding it which is typical, it seems, for the things that I pick off of Pinterest that I think are “doable”.

flowersSo he made dinner and we’ll just skip to the part where we ate it.  DELICIOUS.  Totally worth combing the area for Marsala wine and if they don’t have it where you live, I recommend that you  move someplace that does have it because this Chicken Marsala was the absolute BOMB.  I try not to eat carbohydrates, so when he served it over pasta, I just had mine without it.  STILL delicious.  I’ll post the recipe HERE because you really should try it.  Or make your husband cook it for you…and definitely make him shop for ingredients.

After dinner, we had a lot of pasta left.  I remembered that CHICKENS like SPAGHETTI!!  Yes, yes…I know it should be whole grain.  Just pretend that it was…because it wasn’t…but it WAS plain..no sauce and no butter.  Also, before you start writing your reply about what a bad chicken mom I am, I know that they shouldn’t have it very often because it’s bad for them and they’ll get fat.  At the time, I was bored, I knew they’d like it and so I packed up a bowl of it and headed for the coop.

The run was empty.  I LOVE it when they aren’t out in the run and I bring a treat to them because I get to yell “CHICKENS!!!!!!” and they all come barreling out of the coop like they’ve been shot out of a cannon.  Have you ever really watched a chicken running toward you?  It KILLS ME.  Vinnie is the only one in the group with school bus yellow feet and when he runs his feet and legs are REALLY noticeable and I find myself laughing at him every single time…which I’m sure isn’t good for his self-esteem, but hey…if you’ve got school bus yellow legs and feet, be prepared for a few giggles when you run.

They had no idea what I had in the bowl, but I’m sure in their tiny chicken brains, there’s a picture of a bowl with a smiling chicken next to it which means “BOWL=FOOD”.  They danced around in the run and pecked at my new floral Toms through the fence wire.  I had to convince a couple of them that the shoes were not the treat.  I threw an experimental piece of spaghetti into the run which, of course, was met with absolute hysteria because OH MY GOD SOMETHING IS FALLING FROM THE SKY!!!

The pasta just laid there while they got their acts together.  Finally, Vinnie, self-appointed “TRYER OF ALL NEW THINGS” came over to look at it with one eye.  He decided it was treasure and grabbed it and ran off which, of course, started a game of Chicken Keep Away and it was nine against one.  Vinnie raced around the run with the prized piece of pasta hanging out of his beak, a wild look in his eye and his yellow feet and legs just a blur.  I let them chase him around a little, and then I threw in more pasta.

Hysteria. This time, shorter lived as the others forgot about Vinnie and his treasure and were more interested in the pile of pasta on the ground.  They walked around it and on it, looked at it with one eye, and pecked at it a little.

Meanwhile, Vinnie had set his down and was looking at it again.  He pinched off a piece and tasted it and then another piece and another and suddenly, he just gulped the whole thing down and raced back to the pile for more.  He grabbed another piece and raced to the other end of the run, yellow legs flying, while he snarfed down pasta.  Apparently it was “To go” pasta.

The others noticed that he was EATING it and they became more interested in it and gave it a try.  As soon as they finished a strand of spaghetti, they’d race back to the pile for more.

Vinnie was frantic.  He’d take a piece and gulp it down and then notice a piece hanging out of another’s beak and he’d try to take that too.  He had a piece of pasta hanging out of one side of his beak and the other corner of his beak had pasta stuck in it.  He was carrying a piece, trying to take pieces from others and generally was out of his mind because…

HE WANTED IT ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

I watched them for quite a while.  Most entertaining thing I’d seen since the Mixed Vegetable Incident of 2014.  Even Cluck Norris was scarfing down spaghetti and looking for more.  Every one of them was happily clucking and eating and wiping their beaks on logs.  Vinnie wasn’t worried about wiping his beak at ALL and would run up to one of them that was working on a piece of pasta and try to swipe it.  He was completely obsessed.  He didn’t know whether to steal someone’s, go get his own, or scratch in the dust to make sure that none had been dropped.

So he tried all three simultaneously.  Which lead to me going to get a chair to sit in because I was laughing so hard.

The pasta was finally consumed although Vinnie couldn’t be convinced and continued to check everyone else’s beaks and scratch through the dust in the run, just in case.  He found a few bits here and there and vacuumed them up while the rest contentedly took part in a group Preening Party.  He finally decided that there was no more and came over and whistled at me and cocked his head because I was still holding the bowl.  I showed him the empty bowl through the fence and brought it close enough so that he could see inside and he pecked it through the wire and then wandered away to join the rest at the Preening Party.  I watched them a while longer and since the Pasta Show was over, I finally went back up to the house.

vinnie restingI genuinely feel bad for people who don’t interact with their flock.  I understand they are farm animals, but they are fascinating creatures to watch.  Recently, there have been many people who have sort of poked fun at me for the things that I do in the name of “enjoying” my chickens.  I can’t even begin to describe the happiness they bring me.  I love to watch them, I love to provide a clean environment and good food (I know…not the pasta), and clean cool water.  I love to provide places to roost and new things for them to experience.  People say “I grew up on a farm…they’re CHICKENS and they’re dirty and mean.”

If that’s how one feels about their experience with chickens, then I would say to them…

Chickens…you’re doing it wrong.

 

I shared this post on the Backyard Farming Connection Hop #82!

PANIC!

Earlier this week, we’d just finished dinner and I was sitting on the sofa (probably being tortured by a Sasquatch program that Tom insists on watching).   I glanced out at the chickens, who were in their run, scratching for invisible scratch and chasing invisible bugs.  I think some of the leaves that fall into the run have hallucinogens in them.  Anyway, everything appeared to fine and they were busily involved with their usual pre-Chicken Bedtime nonsense.

In between making fun of whatever Tom was watching and wanting to stab myself during locally produced commercials (you wouldn’t believe how bad the commercials are here…every used car dealer thinks his kids should do the commercials for the dealership…it drives me INSANE), I’d glance out at the run just to make sure the flock was still behaving and hadn’t tried to saw their way out of the run to get at a single piece of chickweed that was just out of their reach.

square eggs and iBack to the chickens.  They were standing together at the side of the run looking a bit tall and skinny which usually means that one of them has uttered “THE DANGER SOUND”.   They do it all the time.  They’re the chickens who cried wolf.  One of them make that “BUH-BUCK!!!!” sound and the rest freeze in place with their necks so extended that they look like bowling pins with beaks.  I always look around and never see anything, which brings me back to my suspicion that those leaves they’re eating from whatever tree that is could make me some money if I ever wanted to quit my job and become a drug lord.

I looked around at the yard that I could see from my vantage point on the sofa and everything looked just peachy.  I looked back at the run and if possible, I think those chickens were even taller and skinnier and more bowling pinnish.  Then I noticed a flash of an orange tail and I realized that Wally, our elderly, n’er-do-well cat that lives in Tom’s shop (also known as our three car garage…which rarely sees a car because the place is jammed with theatre scenery), was probably out on one of his evening walk-abouts and despite being a cat, he really isn’t that interested in the chickens.  Wally is terminally lazy and actually lays down to eat his cat food.  Getting into the chicken run and chasing one of them down is NOT on his list of things to do.  Lying on the floor eating cat food and knocking tools off tables are the only things on his list to do…and sleep.  He’s a card carrying member of the Professional Cat Sleepers Guild.

So I really wasn’t too worried.

I watched a little more of the hillbillies screaming about Sasquatch (“IT’S A SQUATCH!!!”) and glanced out the window again.  The chickens had gotten even taller and skinnier and were all standing together in a group watching something.  I saw the flash of orange again.  Damn that Wally.  I’ve been trying to convince Tom for years that Wally needs to go live in another country and I’ve even offered to box him up and ship him somewhere…I’d even go so far as to poke holes in the box.  He must be laying on the sidewalk in front of the run…either that or leaves were making the chickens have a really bad trip.

(ORANGE FLASH)

Um.  The flash looked bigger than Wally.  I squinted so that I could see better.  A tail was barely exposed from behind one of the boxwood bushes.  It looked a bit…fluffy.  I glanced at the chickens in the run and they appeared absolutely frozen in place and were staring.

Then the visitor revealed itself.

A fox.  A red fox.  It stood on the sidewalk next to the run, panting and staring at the chickens.  It looked over its shoulder at the house and then back at the chickens.  The chickens stood frozen in place with their necks fully extended.  The fox switched its tail and stared at them.  Its coat was light and scruffy looking, its tail resembled an orange bottle brush.  It was probably the size of a mid sized dog, but very thin.  Very thin.  It stood there regarding the chickens and I don’t remember any more than that because I screamed,

fox-drawings-003“FOOOOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXX”

And thundered across the room, down the stairs to the foyer, through the two car garage, and down the path to the where the chickens were.

I don’t think my feet ever touched the ground.  As a general rule, I don’t move too fast.  Our laundry room is on the entrance level of the house, and if I have to walk down the eight steps to the foyer to go to the laundry room, I have to think about it for an hour before I actually do it.  When I realized that the visitor was a FOX, I moved faster than I move when someone says “Hey…there’s a chocolate cake in the kitchen”.

And that’s pretty fast.

When I got to the run, there was no sign of the fox.  There are woods, a pond, an open field, it could have gone anywhere.  The chickens were still standing there looking stunned, except for Vinnie who thought there might be a snack about to be dispersed.  I checked around the pool, around the coop, and around the run.  There was no sign that it had tried to get in.  The chickens settled down and I threw them some scratch to keep them busy because Vin’s constant chortling for treats was getting to be a bit bothersome.

Tom appeared on the path from the house and I ranted about foxes and coops and chickens and fence and foxes and chickens and foxes and chickens.  He checked around a little bit and declared the area fox free…for the time being.

We’ve known that there is a family of foxes living in the woods that border the side of our property.  Occasionally, prior to the chickens moving in, we’d see the male and female come out of the woods and trot through our neighbor’s yard on their way to do fox business.  Earlier this spring, we were out on the deck enjoying a warm evening and we heard the yips of the kits and the louder yaps of the adults echoing through the ravine that leads to the pond.  They were very close.  Another evening, I was outside picking weeds for the chickens near the edge of the woods and heard a noise.  I looked into the woods and glimpsed a red/orange flash.  I took a few steps closer and could see the fox kits playing on the other side of the ravine while one of the parents watched from a distance.  Greg had stumbled across their den when he was searching the woods for morel mushrooms and said that the area around it was littered with animal bones.

They now obviously know about the chickens.  I know that they’ll come back.  I’ve checked the run over and over again to be sure that they’ve not started to dig a hole or push through the fencing.  I don’t think they could, but I know that I’m also naïve about the ways of foxes and the stories that I’ve read from other chicken keepers about foxes taking members of their flock in broad daylight make me terrified for my own little flock of ten.

So there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that the chickens remain unscathed and their coop is very secure.  The bad news is…we’ve got hungry foxes in the area…and foxes love them some chicken.  The bad news for the foxes is…I love me some chickens too and apparently I can run pretty fast when the situation calls for it.

Don’t underestimate this  soon-to-be 50 year old, foxes.  I may be afraid of a quarter sized spider, but I am NOT afraid to make you into a fox stole…so see what you can do about that shabby fur.  I want to look FABULOUS if I end up having to make you into a new wardrobe piece.

Wrong.

Last night at about 7:30, I decided that it was Chicken Bedtime.  I mixed up a little bedtime encouragement snack (bribe) and headed out to the coop to get everyone to come inside.  I was feeling pretty smug and thought that there was NO way that they could resist my bribe.

When I got to the coop, the chickens met me at the fence outside as usual.  I didn’t even stop.  I just held up my bowl of snacks and yelled “COME ON GUYS!!”  in my best screechy, high-pitched chicken voice.  Of course, Vinnie was the first inside.  I put the snacks on a big flat rock in the coop that we call “Table Rock” and stood there and waited…throwing a high-pitched “C’MON GUYS!!!  Time for BED!!” now and then.  The chickens outside could hear Vinnie pecking at snacks and it wasn’t long before several other beaked faces came to peek into the coop.  Seeing the snack, they all tried to shove themselves through the run door at once and after some frantic clucking, I had eight of the ten vacuuming up snacks.

As usual, Cluck and one of the Wyandottes were hold outs and stood just outside the door of the run watching, but not making any moves to come in.  By this time,  Tom had come out to help.  I sat in the chicken area and wheedled, sang, yelled, “C’MON CLUCK!” and tried to entice the last two into the coop by talking up the deliciousness of the snacks and how they were MISSING IT.

The Wyandotte (either Mary, Nina, or Ruth…they all look the same at this point) hopped through the coop door followed by a reluctant, suspicious Cluck.  YES!!!!

And then Vinnie and Oprah went outside before we could get the door closed.

So, I started all over with my “Chicken Bedtime” routine while Tom watched with a mixture of amusement and weariness.

small blog logoIt was clear I was getting nowhere and that snacks weren’t working at all, when the chickens one by one all left the coop.  And there I sat…again…no chickens in the coop, but plenty of chickens whooping it up outside in the run. UGH.

Tom said “It’s not dark enough.”

“Oh, it’s PLENTY dark enough…they just are trying to drive me insane.  Give them a couple of minutes”

But none of them returned to the coop.  We sat and waited.  Nothing.  Meanwhile, they were dashing back and forth in the run apparently having a heck of a good time.

Tom finally talked me into giving up and coming back later.  Before I left, I stopped by the run and gave them a stern talking to about listening to their mother.  They cocked their heads and simply went back to their big group preening meeting that I had apparently not been sent a memo about.  I threw out the old “Sasquatches love chicken” line and they all ignored me.

FINE.  I stomped back to the house mumbling about chicken recipes.

I paced around inside for a while.  Tom suggested waiting until it was actually DARK.  Not just dusk…but DARK dark…you know what I mean.

It was getting dark…the light was still visible to the west, but the outside lights had come on and I couldn’t STAND it anymore, so I went back to the coop, armed with a bag of scratch because I know that chickens can be talked into almost anything when there’s food in the equation.  I tiptoed up to the coop because the big door was still open.  The seed helicopters from the maple trees crunched under my purple Crocs and I was SURE they’d hear me and come barreling out into the run at top speed because that’s what they ALWAYS do.

coopAs I approached the run, I could see the soft light from the coop illuminating the side-walk and part of the run.  I’m as blind as a bat in the dark, so I squinched my eyes up (I’m sure it was a very attractive look for me) and noticed that there was not a chicken to be seen in the run…none in the dust bath, none on the outdoor branches.  By this time I could see inside the coop and I carefully ninja’d  my way up to the door so that I didn’t start any kind of mayhem.  I was sure that Tom was wrong and that they were hiding just out of view in the run.  They like to all cluster around the door and hang out and preen their feathers…which is where I left them.

I peeked through the door of the coop….Tom was right (I just hate that part)…they had all come in and gone to bed.  Cluck, Gloria, Roseanna and Opal were all snoozing on a roost (my ninja skills had worked…no one had woken up) and the rest were sleeping together on the floor looking like large puddle of different colored feathers.  Vinnie was lying partly on his side with his eyes closed and his head resting on Oprah’s back.  I quickly snuck inside and shut the run door…and they all woke up.  Busted.

None of them moved from their spot.  Cluck regarded me sleepily from the roosting bar.  He leaned over to Gloria, who was roosting next to him, and rubbed his face in her neck feathers.  She shifted around a little and nudged him back and they both closed their eyes.  Vinnie had sat up when I closed the run door, but he too had gone back to resting and was again laying next to Oprah with his head resting on her.  One of the Wyandottes settled down close to Vinnie so that her tail was toward his face.  She, of course, choose that opportune moment to POOP and it landed RIGHT on Vinnie’s beak.

Vinnie’s eyes snapped open…he sat up and grumbled at her in chicken talk and shook his head.  I swear…it could only happen to him.  He wiped his beak on the shavings…clucked and grumbled and then laid back down against Oprah.  The Wyandotte had apparently taken heed of his grumbly advice and moved so that her tail was no longer in his face and she settled down to sleep.

I sat in the chair and watched for a while.  Tom and everyone else, for that matter, had been exactly right.  They weren’t ready for bed when I’d been out previously.  Apparently, they still had things on that day’s agenda and treats were not going to change that.  When it had gotten dark enough, they’d gone to bed just like they were supposed to.  Cluck opened one eye now and then while I sat there to make sure that I wasn’t going to try anything funny.  The females next to him were sleeping and as they slept they seemed to melt over the roosting bar.  Their heads drooped low until finally they each tucked their face into their feathers as had the group on the floor had also done.  It was so peaceful…just the frogs singing in the trees outside. I hated to leave, but I finally quietly got up and locked the door and headed back toward the house where I could see Lola, the Italian Greyhound, in the window, standing on the back of the sofa, waiting for me to return so that she could sit on my lap for her nighttime petting session.

The moral to the story is:  You can lead a chicken to the coop, but you can’t make them roost….especially if it’s not dark enough.  I suppose I’ll give  credit to  Tom for being right.

But just this one time.

 

***This post was shared on The Homestead Barn Hop!

Monday.

I’m not good at Mondays.  Come to think of it, I’m not good at Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday either.  I’m very good at Friday afternoons, Saturday and Sundays.  Unless you want to count being productive as being “good” at it, in which case…I’m not so good.  Hey.  We all have limitations.

It wasn’t a bad weekend.  The BORBs made it to their new home with their new people and it turns out that they were not a chanting, axe-wielding, hood-wearing, satanic cult.  Nope…just a little girl who is raising chickens for 4H who currently has 30 pullets.  THIRTY.  The BORBs are going to be busy young roosters and they’ve already sent me a note asking me to forward their mail and to please stop worrying about them because with 30 girlfriends, they don’t see a problem with this new situation at all.

The rest of the flock, back at our place, has calmed down considerably since the two buff colored bowling balls are out of the picture.  Yesterday, at “WEED TIME” there was no fighting, no pecking and no chicken screeches that typically occurred whenever any one of them approached a pile of weeds being eaten by one of the BORBs.  In other words, there’s peace in the valley.   Cluck Norris has reclaimed his post as high-ranking rooster but still spends most of his time preening by himself, watching the flock from a distance with one eye on the sky and reading “YOU TOO CAN BE A SCARY ROOSTER”.  He’s such a loner and it seems as though he WANTS to be friendly, he’s just so suspicious of everything and everyone.  I think I need to take him to the bookstore for a different book…perhaps “PARANOIA WILL DESTROY YA”.  Either that or we step up the hugs and compliments during the nightly “YOU MUST LOVE US OR ELSE” chicken boot camp that Greg and I are running.

small blog logo

Vinnie, (he’s the barred rock that we think is rooster that’s in drag as a hen) and Cluck have actually had a couple of those ridiculous rooster showdowns where they get in each other’s face and fluff up their hackle feathers in an attempt to look bigger than they are.  Cluck is very good at it (you know…he’s reading that book).  Vinnie gets all fluffed up for about 4 seconds and then turns around and walks away like “It’s good dude…no worries…and why are you such a GROUCH.”  Vinnie, if he is a rooster, is obviously low man on the totem pole…or rooster pole…or whatever chickens use.

We’ve had a LOT of storms this past weekend.  On Friday afternoon, after I snuck out 15 minutes early (OH STOP IT…I’m salary), the first thing I noticed was that the sky was a bit…mmm…OMINOUS and by ominous, I mean freaking scary looking.  I live just five minutes from where I work, and by the time I was three minutes into the drive, it was raining drops the size of saucers.  I can deal with rain…I sort of like it even when it’s a downpour.  However, I turned a corner and suddenly was hit with winds that rocked my SUV (and not like the way The Foo Fighters rock it, I might add) and the rain became so heavy that it was impossible to see the road.  Because nothing will stop me when I’m heading home on a Friday, I just kept going but was a bit concerned when mature trees were…um…in shapes that they aren’t normally able to achieve.  Later on the news, it was reported that we’d had 120 mph straight line winds that had moved through the area which apparently is what caused the tree origami during the ride home.   Fortunately, we had no damage to the large trees on our property, but much of the area had not fared as well, and damage to homes, trees and property was very heavy.  I’m just glad I was in the car because my hairspray only goes up to 110 mph winds.

The rain (and over an inch fell in about 15 minutes) flooded the front walkway to the house because one of the drains that are strategically placed in various areas to PREVENT flooding, was stuffed with maple tree seeds…you know, those stupid helicopters?  They’re ruining my whole groove because they are EVERYWHERE and you absolutely can not sneak up on the chickens when there are seed helicopters crunching under your feet. I could have driven around to the back of the house, but then Tom’s truck would be between my SUV and the house and of course I had no umbrella…not that it would have helped in the hurricane force winds.   So, I called Tom.

“Hey I’m sitting in the driveway and the walk is all FLOODED.”

He knew I’d sit in the car until next week instead of slog through the water in my work shoes, so he came out in the deluge and dug helicopters out of the drain while I skittered around trying to avoid deep puddles and screaming because I was getting wet.  He’s a good egg.

The rain also meant that my weekend plans of getting the garden in were pretty much washed out…almost literally.  The entire weekend was predicted to have repeated bouts of this storm nonsense which meant that the plants that I still haven’t thinned would go on to be unthinned and unplanted for yet another weekend…if they hadn’t blown away in the 120 mph winds.

Rain always makes me panic a little about the chickens.  I’m firmly convinced that if they don’t have the wherewithal to come in out of the dark, that I’ll find the whole lot of them standing in the rain looking bedraggled and sodden.  Nobody likes a wet chicken.  In the past, whenever there’s been even a HINT of rain, I’ve raced outside to the coop to make sure they were all safely contained inside…or called Tom and Greg obsessively until they went out and dragged them inside and locked up the coop.  Fortunately, during the huge wind/rain event Friday, they were all snug in their  coop.  With the rain predicted for the rest of the weekend, I was pretty sure they were going to have to spend the weekend inside the coop which meant I was going to have to entertain them…because I’m insane.  So, I made the decision that I was going to let them go outside over the weekend and if it started raining, I was going to let them figure it out.

Saturday afternoon, it started to sprinkle.  The sprinkle, quickly turned into full-out raining.  I’ve strategically set up the chicken run (again because I’m insane) so that I can see it from two different vantage points, the sofa and the deck…and since it was raining, I was NOT on the deck.  I looked out from the window behind the sofa and there they stood…in the rain…in the run, fluffing up their feathers and looking slightly annoyed.  I decided I wouldn’t watch…if they were going to drown in the rain, I didn’t want to witness it.  I didn’t watch for all of 30 seconds before I was back at the window….because I’m insane.

The run was empty.  They had gone inside!  Apparently, when I didn’t show up with a sack of scratch, they decided they’d had enough of standing around waiting in the rain and had broken camp and gone to the coop.  My shriveled black heart swelled with maternal pride.  Apparently they also know, that no one likes a wet chicken.

power toolsThe rest of the weekend was fairly unproductive.  I ranted about the rain and garden, ranted about stuff on the island in the kitchen, and ranted about having more laundry than the people on “19 Kids and Counting”.   I finally settled down on Sunday and baked some of the BEST chocolate chip cookies I have ever had (no lie) and baked some bread.  Sunday afternoon, on one of my visits to the coop, I found Greg outside the fence of the run showing them a power tool.  I think I’ve severely underestimated them because they were FASCINATED.  Greg held a drill outside their reach and spun the drill bit several times which I honestly thought would send them careening into another county.  They were fixated by the sound and the spinning bit.  Vinnie edged closer…and closer…and Greg stopped spinning the bit for a moment.  Vinnie ran up…pecked the drill bit and took a giant step backward just to make sure that it wasn’t going to get him when it started making that insane WHIRRING noise again.  They stood and watched with one eye while Greg talked to them about power tools, never taking their eye (just ONE eye) off the spinning bit.  He’d stop it and they’d edge closer to see what it was…he’d start it again and they’d all take a step back, but not really in fear…because they were hopelessly curious about that tool.  It was sort of fascinating.  I might give them a list of things to do that involves power tools!  However, I’m not letting them go to Lowe’s with my credit card anymore.

vinnie drill

So, the weekend summary is this:  120 mph winds and torrential rain will screw up your hair and your shoes if you have a tree full of helicopters in your yard.  Chickens, although they act as if they have no brain, will stand around in the rain waiting for you to take them in only if they think they’re going to get handfuls of “CLUCK YEAH!!” scratch, if they go inside.  Otherwise, they will go in just fine on their own, albeit with a surly attitude because they didn’t get any “CLUCK YEAH!” scratch.  Also, chickens love power tools and I make the best chocolate chip cookies, not only on the PLANET, but in the universe.

 

I’m participating in Homestead Barn Hop #159!