Lately.

Neglect doesn’t even begin to describe this little ol’ blog of mine. I won’t make excuses, we’d be here all day. However, this mama’s days as a working woman are soon drawing to a close (for now)… which means more times for the things that bring me joy. Time to cook. To read. To sew. To crochet. To play with a two year old before he turns three. To write. To hula hoop. To start my book. To volunteer. To love on my chickens. And my husband. To get my Dave Ramsey on. To dream about starting my own business (and then I’ll need to Dave Ramsey some more). To be.

Ahh.

And to hold you over a little longer, some photos of our recent(ish) happenings:

This kid turned two… I know, shut the front door.
Baby chicks were born… we’re not sure to which mama bird. They aren’t either. 
Who said chickens can’t fly?
Donuts (aka bagels) have been consumed in record number and Harry Potter scars have been worked on.
We’ve been honing in on our culinary skills – my sandwich, that he later finished, didn’t quite have the finishing touches it deserved.
Someone learned how to read a crochet pattern.
Camera strap orders – finisimo! (Order yours now if you would like one for Christmas!)
And remember this? We “decided” to give it another whirl. We’ve got plans for May 19(ish), 2012 – do you?

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Horn of Plenty

It’s hotter than the devil’s hiney in east Tennessee & we’ve started harvesting and clearing out the summer garden crops – cabbage, basil, carrots, garlic, tomatoes (lots & lots) – to save them from the scorching heat and hungry caterpillars.

 

We’re making way for the fall plantings – swiss chard, lettuce, kohlrabi, radishes, kale – that will be used to feed folks in our dining hall as well as the critters in our Nature Center. I’ve never planted fall crops before, we’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty jazzed about fall gardening – but not so excited to sit in the sun and put the seeds in the ground – whew! It’s worth the pay off in the end though, right?

At least I will have some company…

Praying Mantis - Who says gardening isn't a form of meditation & spirituality?

 

We might even let the chickens do their “thang” in the garden before planting the new stuff, but that requires vigilance, chicken tractors, maybe leashes… but it’s oh, so good for the dirt. Maybe –  if I am feeling particularly adventurous…

The Chicken

In our case, this is the answer to the age old question: What came first the chicken or the egg?

But, great day, alas:

Dilly Bird’s first contribution to the coop.

 

I was walking home from the office and heard this insane cackling and cawing coming from the coop – almost two cartoonish for a real being to make.

My first thought: Dang raccoons again.

My second thought: Junior found himself a lady friend.

My third thought: I’m having omelets tomorrow!

My fourth thought: Whether it’s one, two, or three I’ve got to see what’s going on.

And sure enough, Junior was having a hay day in the run, fussing and squealing like a child who either just found out he’s having ice cream for dinner or mad as heck because someone took his toy away. The rest of the girls are trying to get out the trap door, but he’s carrying on so and I can’t really blame them for not wanting to cross his path.

As I peeked through the big window I see Dilly sitting in the first nesting box all by her lonesome. She’s rustling the shavings all around her, poking her beak around trying to find something to eat while moving as little as possible. She is perfectly content in her little spot, no matter the shenanigans going on at the other side of the house.

Oh, Dilly, don’t go getting sassy on me, mama. It’s a little early to be broody. We’re still recovering from the past weeks’ events… I promise, I’ll let you sit on them in a month or two.

Of course I can’t keep all the fun to myself – and I don’t really want to be the one to poke the sleeping bear – so I round up the boys, big and little, and we giddily march out to the coop. Chris opens the laying box hatch, Dilly scurries off, and there it sits. Pure, light brown bliss, still warm from Dilly’s interrupted diligence.

We congratulate the little lady and even giddier than before head back to the house, Noah inspecting our find.

About half an hour later I go back out there – most likely just to be nosy – but not to be disappointed:

I had to take the first one back out for this photo op.

I don’t know the culprit of the second one – she was clearly not feeling near as motherly and had rejoined the group quickly after her deposit. That’s alright, she can lay us as many as she wants,  we won’t make her sit…

As Ashley told us in her chicken class: An ounce of prevention is worth an egg in the basket.

Well double the first (and OH! we have) and, well, you can do the math.

Anyone care to join the Fords tomorrow evening for an omelet + farm freshness from the Colvins?

We Are Family

…Look at all my sisters (and brother) and me!

Remember the fella at the Farm Supply that I mentioned about getting chickens from when we were ready?

Well, yesterday we were ready.

We ventured over to Spring City to his farm with the intention of bringing back one, maybe two girls to add back to the coop – mostly in time to give Rudy company while we are gone to Florida for a few days, otherwise we would have waited until we got back.

Well, let’s just say that I am glad our boy goes to a wee-school, because his mama sure shouldn’t be the one to teach him to count:

A couple more than one or two…

 

Jim and Rose, the farm folks, are among the kindest and most generous folks I’ve ever met. They are originally from Miami, retired from law enforcement and nursing (Jim said, “I put them in jail and she took care of them” – she was a nurse in the prison), moved to their breathtaking piece of property in 2006 where they share it with horses, donkeys, chickens, guineas, turkeys, dogs, and ducks. Neither one of them had ever farmed or raised animals before then – and they have quite the thriving little homestead – my dream come true.

Introducing: Betty, Dilly, Junior, & Blondie

 

I asked them if they sell their eggs – “No – we give them away. Rose waits til she has about four or five dozen and then goes up and down the road giving them to our neighbors who don’t have very much.” Folks after my own barnheart

And of course, we didn’t owe them a dime. They couldn’t have been happier to gift us a few of their birds – even invited us back if we need more or happen to be in the area.

Junior, the rooster – Buttercup/Silkie mix; Blondie, Betty, & Dilly – pure Silkies

 

to not take any chances on the new flockmates falling victim to the same fate, we set traps – one in the run, one by the front door of the coop. I’d say it was a success:

These two bring the grand total to four – lucky for them they were “relocated” a little, um, differently.

It’s always good to know a raccoon guy.

The things he did to get those coons in the same trap were pretty impressive – especially after they were both in the same, wrong cage for a spell. And these raccoons won’t meet their end – they will be used for coon dogs. I can get behind that – who couldn’t when there’s even a sticker for it?

For now, Rudy gets to hang out in the kennel while her new friends get acclimated to their new home, and she to them.

The plan is to bunk them together tonight once they roost and they’ll wake up all together tomorrow like it’s been that way their whole lives. Wish us luck…

Rudy

This week was not the week to be a chicken around Casa de Ford. Not even if a little bit.

For anyone faint of heart, kosher, or a dedicated supporter of PETA you may want to go ahead and skip this post. I won’t go into visual details, however, the nature of the content will, by nature, lend itself to be rather graphic.

And if you’re still reading, here we go. Prepare to be, at the very least, heartsick at the end.

Monday evening: Chris and I ran into the big city to do some grocery shopping for Adventure Camp and get off of the compound for a couple of hours. We were after dark getting back – usually we put the chickens up before we leave if we think we are going to be late, but this time we didn’t think we would be gone so long. We stopped at the coop before taking the groceries down to the lodge – at first Chris just stopped in the road, but because I’m a big chicken (no pun intended, seriously) in the dark I asked him to re-angle so the car lights hit the coop.

Beady eyes stared back at us. From inside the run. Not good.

I run to the house to get headlamps, flashlight, and a sharp object of some sort. I run back down the sidewalk and across the road, toss Chris the rake so that he can go inside the coop where the varmint is hiding, chickens are going nuts in the run, the rooster is squawking and flitting about, and about the time I get to the gate the perpetrator scurries under the hole in the fence from, we assume,  whence it came.

I shine my light in the coop. One, two, three, four, five… there’s one missing. I shine my light in the run. We’ve lost one – she’s laying lifeless in the middle of the run.

Sadness. Anger. Hurt. Defeat.

Chris takes the shovel and starts to dig a hole up behind the house. He tells me I don’t want to be a part of it. I check on the other birds, making sure they aren’t injured, close them up, kick in the hole and put large toolbox in front of it, and go up the hill to help him dig. Chris lays her in the hole and we cover her up.

Wednesday evening (sun is just setting): I went out to close up the birds – a little earlier than usual to play it on the safe side. Tuesday was fine, but we weren’t t taking any chances. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The silly birds like to perch on the rope to the trap door until they are closed up for the night – then they flutter about to the roost and hang out there til morning. The fluttering typically makes quite the ruckus – birds jumping down, flapping their wings, squawking at the surprise – this time it did not. I think to myself that something’s not right. I peer through the big window like I usually do after closing them up – one lays limp under the roost. I can’t find the fifth one and I can see the rooster is hurt bad and cowering in the corner.

I run back to the house, devastated and frantic, and tell Chris the news. He goes out to survey the scene. He finds the fifth bird. She’s dead, too, under the rooster in the corner. We think he was trying to protect her still.

We stand there totally perplexed- at a total loss of what to do. We know we have to bury the birds. We know we have to separate the rooster, due to his intense injuries, from the remaining two.

Chris starts digging. I get the dog crate. We wrangle the rooster into the crate, away from the hen he was protecting. I help dig, mostly to blow off some frustration. We bury the birds and go back to the rooster. I try to clean him up with water and peroxide, he can barely stand. The left side of his face is in bad shape, swollen beyond recognition, maybe missing his eye. His comb and waddle are limp, he’s missing a patch of feathers on his upper right wing. His beak and jaw are cockeyed.

I figure he’s close to the end but I’m not willing to let him suffer. I think he will likely die during the night or have a miraculous recovery. For the latter, I am not so hopeful.

I call Derrick, the coon trapper, and settle a time for him to come set traps the next day. I don’t care if he takes them or offs them – I’m done with the varmints killing my birds.

We close them up, him in the crate & hens on the roost. We will wait and see what tomorrow holds – it’s likely not good. No matter how much I try to convince myself that I will nurse him back to health with love, salves, peroxide, and antibiotics, the realist in me knows otherwise. I flip through our trusty chicken book, email the chicken lady, Ashley English, for her input, and go to bed. I toss and turn for a while and eventually drift off.

Thursday morning: His condition is the same and worse than I originally thought. I doctor his wounds again – this time knowing for sure that he is permanently blind on his left side. Death for him seems eminent, I just won’t let myself believe it yet.

We decide to leave the birds inside for the day. We will be gone for the better part of the day and don’t want to take any chances. If something returns through the hole or digs a new one, it at least won’t be able to get to the girls and the wounded. Hopefully the coon trapper will be there later and we can resolve this once and for all.

We headed out for the day, taking Noah to school, meeting Adventure Camp in Soddy Daisy, and picking up chicken antibiotics and wire to bury under the run to prevent anymore digging. We stopped at the Farm Supply on the way home. I told the fella what we were dealing with. He said, “Do you want to know what you honestly need to do?” I told him of course, knowing what the answer would be.

“I’d put him out of his misery.”

Apparently once a rooster is injured, especially on his head, and is hiding his defense mechanisms (ducking his head, not crowing, not puffing his feathers, etc.) then he is in a lot of pain. Even if he recovers he will likely continue to be in a lot of pain that could literally make him go mad.

The man tells me that  I can go get a rooster and as many hens as I want from his farm, just call his wife and tell her I’m coming. My first thought was “How am I going to take on more chickens if I am losing my babies by the day?”… I will likely call him in a couple of weeks, just not yet.

Derrick, the coon trapper, never calls. I am hoping we won’t be given reason to call him back.

Thursday evening: On the way to supper at the dining hall I find a good ole boy, one who I know is privy to farm life. I ask him if he knows anything about or cares to take care of our rooster for us. He obliges. Chris leads him over to the coop, loads up Foghorn, and he takes him off. I didn’t ask any questions. I tell myself that he took him off and gave him lethal injection – he never felt a thing.

This was probably the hardest part of this whole situation- I had grown rather attached to him and he fought as hard as he could to protect his domain. He just wasn’t old enough or big enough or even have his spurs yet to rightly defend what was his.

I make sure the girls are safe and sound, no holes in the fence, trap door shut.  They are in for the night…

Friday morning: I go to let the two girls we have left out for a few minutes while I take the crate out and fill up their food and water.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Another one is gone. Dead under the roost.

Son of a…

I am so over it. So done. How the heck does this keep happening?

I start to fine-tooth comb every inch of the coop & run – but I didn’t need to look far:

Need a closer look?

The terrorist is coming through the window – the double reinforced window four feet off the ground.

Defeat. Frustration. Confusion.

What in the world is small enough to fit through a 2×4 inch slot and push through the chicken wire? Raccoon? Opossum? Weasel? Rats? The folks at the co-op had varying opinions, solutions, and personal tales to tell – those will have to wait for another day…

The gist is this: Raccoons and opossums are scavengers – they like for whatever they eat to be well into the decomposition phase before feasting. This is likely why the vandal was only killing the birds, not taking them away – because they will wait a few days and come back for their kill, once it’s had time to reach that aforementioned phase. When it came back, couldn’t find it’s original victim, it struck again, thus, extinguishing all but one of our flock.

And the one that remains? The runt.

After three, maybe four separate attacks she proved to be the strongest some way or another. And we are very proud of her strength and her survival instincts. We had held off on naming any of the birds, except Foghorn, until they were fully grown, so we really knew how to tell them apart. With her being the lone survivor, we decided to name her Rudy – after the 1990’s movie about the football player who never gave up. Appropriate, I think.

We hang our heads in sadness, but will not be taken so easily. The flock will be avenged.

So tonight, we set traps. And wait.

Update: I started this post Friday night – it’s Sunday and we’ve had a whole lot of action:

One trap set, baited with a chicken taco (I know – the irony), behind the coop in the run next to the ramp into the house. Rudy is closed up tight, new shavings replace the old, the window has been reinforced.  We are sitting in the living room watching a program, the windows open listening to the rain.

A cry comes from the coop – not of the avian variety.

“I think we just caught something,” I say to Chris and Jess.

“Yeah, I heard that, too.”

We wait. Give it time. Make sure he’s really good and caught.

Like a scene from a movie – I with my garden rake under an umbrella (I was quickly told that it’s not very tough to raccoon hunt with an umbrella… at least I was dry.), Chris with a large machete, Jess with the mag light – we walk into the night while it’s raining and the steam rolls over the gravel road.

So caught. Beady little eyes cower at the light. It’s a raccoon, just as we had suspected.

The next series of events, I will spare the details. Just know this – the villain was “relocated” far, far away and will never be messing with our chickens ever again. I don’t particularly love the means to the end, but it’s necessary. There’s a chain of life and we sometimes must be an active part in it.

And then we set the trap again… same place, different bait.

Same result.

After much thought and good talk with the Chicken Lady, we will get Rudy a companion tomorrow before leaving town at the end of the week so she won’t feel as though she’s been abandoned, left to fend for her own.

For now, the traps remain – and I honestly hope to find them empty from here on out.

Chicken Lady

Working on the coop and hanging out with the chickens is kind of like therapy for me – always something to work on where I can be busy with my hands, not think a whole lot, and get lost in what I’m doing. I like that. If I could only justify more hours spent out there and less, well, other places, life would be grand.

But then people might start calling me the Chicken Lady – and we already have one of those here. She’s buried on the front forty near the waterfront in the Union Star Cemetery. So maybe we should go on and get that goat – I could get behind being the Goat Lady….

(Give me a break – it’s late.)

I say all that to bring you this, something almost totally unrelated. My kid really loves his chickens – all the way down to raking out pine shavings and filling (and emptying) their feeders. He’ll be a good little farm boy yet.

“kih-kin!”
Good afternoon, Agnes…
Toes do not equal worms, chicken.

Little Ladies

And now what you’ve all been waiting for… formal introduction to the little ladies of the house.

Well, I suppose that would require them to have names. And while a couple of them have been “named” by the Bullington kiddos – Streak, Sweet-somethingornother, etc. – I can’t remember them all or decide who is who, so names are still yet to come.

Without further ado:

One little, two little, three little chickens…six little chicken girls (we think!)…
They are big fans of checking their stocks.
Mam-bo introducing Noah to the little ladies – he thinks he’ll keep them.

And because environmental education has taken over every square inch of my “free time/me time” and it’s taken me this long to get their first photo up, they don’t even remotely look like that anymore. They have at least doubled in size and are starting to don their pretty ruby-ish color, hence the name Rhode Island Red.  Their spiky-soft yellow fuzz is a distant memory and cute little feathers have replaced it. Their combs are coming in and their tail feathers wiggle when they walk.

Little ladies about three weeks old…feathers for fuzz.
Look who found their roosts – the top ones at that. Good thing I spent all that quality time in there that one time… you know the time.

My tendering partner just came in and notified me that all the ladies are in for the night, not so much roosting as cuddled in the corner. Looks like there will be more lessons in their near future…

I have a sneaky suspicion that one of the little ladies may not be such a lady afterall… more to come on that subject. Weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow so I will likely be spending most of my day outside, partly with the chickens and their in progress rain barrel and partly with the garden and it’s in progress fence – notice a trend?

Happy five weeks of life little ladies (and lad?) – only fifteen more to egg laying time…

Fort Knox

Since I told the fella at the co-op my story of my iron-clad security at the chicken house, I suppose it’s only fair to share the wealth (of laughter) here. My sister likes to refer to this as Chapter 1 in the book that I will write. One day. Not today. Maybe tomorrow…

So while the Bullington kids were up for Spring Break (can I say how much I love that it’s become their family tradition to come camp out with us for part of the week? – love it) we moved the little ladies over to their new house – pictures to prove it soon, promise. Well, Tuesday was a busy day for us – take Noah to school, plunder the wonders of River Sports in Knoxville, explore the Southwest Point Fort, lunch at Handee Burger, retrieve Noah from school, come home and clean up and prep for cooking out over the campfire. In between all that the chickens needed tending to, of course.

Sidenote: I like to refer to myself, thanks to Ashley English – see her book down & to the right a bit, as a Chicken Tenderer. Not to be confused with a chicken tender – you see how that could get confusing? She kindly signed my personal copy when I took her class, “Happy tendering, Beth!” hence the title I’ve given myself.

Back to the story.

So, we gathered up all of our campfire goods and headed down to the water’s edge for some old fashioned kumbuya-ing.  At some point I wandered off to take something somewhere for someone and decided that it was getting late and the little ladies needed to be put back in their house, safe from our pesky raccoon bandit.

I merrily went along shutting windows, closing gates, locking latches, refilling waterers, topping off feeders, herding pullets… you know, the typical tasks of a Tenderer. I was hanging out with the little ladies in their house, teaching them about their perches when I realized that in all my latch locking and window shutting I had securely secured myself in the hen house.

Secured securely surely.

So secure I had to squeeze, and I mean squeeze myself out of the trap door – you know, the one that’s big enough for a full-size chicken to scurry out of.  The good news is that I fit through the hole fairly unscathed by chicken droppings and was only nearly beheaded one time by the door that is eerily similar to a guillotine when you are staring up at it ( I have no idea how to spell this word and really why would I?).

Escape from the chicken house – success.

But then there’s the run that I was now standing in. Good thing dad thought it would be a good idea to put wire across the top of it to keep aerial threats at a minimum. Yep, real good thing.

And to keep climbing out at an even smaller minimum.

Well, crap. The family is down by the water’s edge surely devouring delicious hobo stew and moving on to chocalatey, marshmallowy, banana boats by this point and I am pondering the most poop-free spot where I can sit until someone realizes I’ve wandered off.  Brilliant.

So what did I do?

Well, what any tough, rugged, wilderness woman of the woods would do – I started hollering Chris’ name at the top of my lungs – waited – and hollered some more. You have no idea how defeated I felt… standing in a wired-in chicken run waiting for my knight in khaki shorts.

I’m such a girl.

I could hear the crunch of the gravel and knew my rescue was near – followed closely by my humiliation. Chris got within shouting distance and said, “Where are you?”…

“In the run. Don’t ask questions. Just let me out.”

He chuckled – gracefully.

“Don’t tell them what I did.”

He smirked – not near as gracefully.

The biggest chicken in the hen house.

Coop-eration: The Peek

Now that you’ve ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the amazing hen house that my dad and Chris built from scratch with only the plans dad drew up all by his lonesome, prepare for more bewilderment with the peek behind the curtain, so to speak.

The hen house – still debating on a name…

The peek (how they did it):

  • All of the lumber was a) reclaimed from another project around camp that would have gone to a burn pile or b) recycled from a no longer standing structure such as my sister’s deck in Alabama or Building 14 that stood in the coop’s place.
  • The large white window was the top half of our old back door on our house that dad replaced last year when we moved in. He sawed it in half and voila – chicken house ventilation. The small metal framed window was also from Building 14 and gives an excellent front view of the little ladies in their home.
  • The roosts were cut from Kelly’s decking and provide plenty of space for a good night’s sleep.
  • Some of the hardware was also reused from various places – the old shed, a secondhand store, etc.
  • The only thing that we had to purchase outright were the materials for the run and doors – the chicken wire, galvanized fencing, hinges, and posts – all purchased from the local co-op. This is not an area where someone would want to skimp on the materials anyhow…
  • The paint used was from old projects around camp – we used already open cans to give the house a splash of color.

All in all I think we spent about $200-250 of our tax return (including food container and feeders) to give the little ladies a beautiful, spacious, clean, low maintenance and “green” space to live in. We’ve since added an herb stand (Trash to Pleasure – stay tuned), a repurposed wooden box to hold the food container, adorned their wall with a barnwood frame containing their very first feed bag from the co-op whence they came, and we are currently working on the rain catchment system that will provide the birds with water. I would like to put a small solar light out there as well to be able to have a light source… I am on the hunt for a bargain.

We just moved the little ladies in last week, at the ripe old age of three weeks. So far they are loving their new space and digging being outside. Literally.

Once the coop is to complete completion, I am thinking about sending it in for LEED certification

I hope my dad is ready to build a few more…