Well, because I generally have the brain power for just one post a week, and because I’m pregnant again and therefore have a pretty easy framework for new material, I have neglected to talk much about our little menagerie for awhile. But I wanted to take a moment to memorialize a sad milestone in our farming adventure.
Last week, on a dark and stormy night, we lost a chicken.
Hera was a good chicken. She was about 17 weeks old, the only Buff Orpington in our little half-dozen flock. She was timid and sweet, she didn’t like to be pet but would eat out of my hand. She was getting big and nearing the time she’d start laying eggs. She had recently lost a bunch of tail feathers, making her look (to me, at least) the most dinosaur-like of all our chickens whenever she broke into a run.
I promised him I wouldn’t invoke the wrath of the Internet when telling this story, and I hope not to because he doesn’t deserve it: The Husband took a break from working on his laptop last Monday to lock the chickens in their coop for the night. (They free range all day and put themselves to bed at about 8:30.) He went out to check on them before the storm rolled in — even counted them all because they dogpile in their nesting boxes instead of roosting and are sometimes hard to see (need to figure that one out…) and then, unfortunately, went inside without remembering to close and latch the door to the chicken run.
In the night, something (fox? raccoon? coyote?) crept in and snatched up Hera. Whatever it was left behind a trail of bloody feathers and a rattled remaining flock. I think the thrashing, hours-long storm that struck was a stroke of luck because it probably kept away any later predators who would have taken advantage of the situation.
The Husband was beside himself with regret the next morning when I went to let the chickens out and found all but one emerging from under our porch. I felt sadder than I expected to, but not angry. For as absent-minded as I’ve been lately, it could have just as easily been me who forgot to latch the run.
Or, it could have been if I were ever awake late enough for it to be my job. The Husband has picked up so much slack since the pregnancy fatigue sunk in, including night chores for the animals, I feel bad that the responsibility has fallen almost solely on him.
Today, while walking around our pond with The Toddler before bedtime, I heard our dog crunch something (unusual, as she’s not a stick chewer) and found she had unearthed a chicken thigh bone with a few orange feathers stuck to it. Hera’s remains.
I can’t count how many chicken thigh bones I’ve discarded over the years without a second thought, but I picked up this one and brought it back to the porch.
Maybe it’s silly to bury a chicken, but that’s what we’re going to do.
If I hadn’t been up every few hours last night, the scene this morning would have shocked me.
For some reason, everyone in the house was hungry all night long — the cats woke me up three times (the first time for food, the second time to get locked in the basement for waking me up again, and the third time loudly scratching at the basement door and me letting them up so they wouldn’t wake up The Toddler, whose room is next to the basement stairs. Then, The Toddler woke up at 4:30 a.m. deciding he was starving and desperately wanted to nurse. My refusal sent him into a rage, and I had to send The Husband in to comfort him until the leisurely hour of 5:06 when I decided it could be “morning” and he could nurse.
(My sleep training logic is that if he wants to nurse, he has to get up for the day so as not to backslide into night nursing. 5:06 is disgustingly early, but he went to bed at 6:30 last night, so unfortunately I see 5 a.m. almost every morning. That’s our next hurdle to overcome, once sleeping through the night becomes more routine. So far we’ve only achieved it twice since the night weaning week, but usually wake-ups are quick and easily squelched without nursing.)
I digress. My point is it snowed like crazy last night.
While The Husband ate breakfast, I ran out to the barn with food for the goats. They’ll be stuck inside today, as the portable electric fence we use is rendered useless under heavy snow.
By the way, we renamed them finally! They came with the names Sehnsucht and Saudade (twin brothers) and Bazyll. While foreign names for the feeling of profound and melancholic longing are certainly poetic, we tend toward a sillier flavor of pet names in our family. So now Bazyll is Grover (after our favorite blue monster), Sehnsucht is Regular sized Rudy (or just Rudy), now our second pet named after a Bob’s Burgers character, and finally, the most inspired pet name I have ever or will ever have… the leader of our herd, formerly known as Saudade, is now Kid Cudi.
Because he’s a kid. And he chews cud. Also because he loves weed(s). Please don’t make me explain it to you.
The chicks are getting bigger and featherier and braver at an improbable rate. We had to upgrade them to one of these last week because they seemed crowded in the brooder I constructed, and moved them into the guest bedroom so we could put the cats in the basement at night as needed without worrying for the chicks’ safety.
So if you’re planning on spending the night at my house any time over the next month or so… you’re going to have roommates.
Well, I thought I had a cogent point to this post when I started it, but there just isn’t enough coffee in the world this morning to bring me to a neat conclusion. It’s still blustering outside like it’s February and the toddler is sitting next to me covered in yogurt and trying to get me to name all the parts of the house he can see (Door! Floor! Ceiling! Clock!) so I had better sign off here.
On Saturday, The Husband and I left The Toddler with Grandma and drove an hour and a half into the heart of Amish country to pick up three young Nigerian Dwarf goats we found online. Their owner was selling them as almost year-old wethers (the name for neutered male goats), as she has milk goats and her herd was getting too big.
We ended up cramming the poor guys into a dog crate in the back of my Subaru hatchback because we need to do some repair work to the cool but temperamental old yellow 1972 Ford F250 we co-own with our friends. The ride home was a quiet but tense one, The Husband gripping the steering wheel and doing his best to keep the turns smooth and slow on the winding back roads, carefully passing Amish families in buggies while the goats stumbled around in an increasing puddle of urine in their crate. Not an ideal way to start the relationship, I’m sure, but they were exceedingly patient with us.
They arrived at our house and we corralled them into an area we have cordoned off with portable electric fencing very near our house. This is one of the big garden beds my grandparents used to manage, but which has over the past decade or two become utterly overrun with poison ivy, wild roses, blackberry bushes and feral garlic (from the time my grandmother threw some old, sprouting garlic cloves out her window. Advice: Do not do this. All last spring and summer the overwhelming scent of garlic wafted through our windows.)
Anyway, to answer a few questions we’ve been getting:
The goats’ main purpose is to help us manage this overgrowth (they prefer “browse” or “forage” to pasture–they like reaching above their heads to eat, more like deer than cattle. So the brambles and vines and saplings are prime eating for them.) They will also serve as pets. Also, their poop makes great fertilizer. Also, they’re pretty cute.
We have no interest at present in running a dairy. Nigerian Dwarf goats are bred for milk, but you have to breed goats about annually to keep the milk flowing, and breeding goats brings an overwhelming element to the adventure that we’re not willing to entertain right now: stinky, aggressive bucks (non-neutered males), helping with deliveries and keeping kids alive in the dead of winter, when they’re usually born, twice-daily milking and figuring out what to do with all those extra goats.
We haven’t picked new names for them. They’re still pretty leery of us (they were quite friendly toward their former owner, but being a year old and only with us for a few days so far, they’re taking their time warming up to us). So we’re keeping their old names for now in hopes that a little consistency in that regard helps open the lines of communication. I’m not going to get into what the currently are, because it’s kind of a longer story than you’d think, but we’ll let you know when we settle on new ones.
The Toddler adores them. He can see them out his bedroom window, and they have been added to the good night tour each night along with the chicks.
The Dog, poor Louise, got a nose full of the (honestly potentially not strong enough, it feels only slightly worse than getting a static shock from socks on a rug) electric fence when she first encountered the goats, and holds me personally responsible. She’s avoided eye contact with me since Saturday.
Here are some photos for your enjoyment… I hope as the goats get more used to us, there will be better shots, but I can’t get very close right now (and if I am, I have a spoonful of molasses in one hand and a lead in the other, which doesn’t make for easy photography.)
In chick news, the girls are getting bigger and bolder and feathering out nicely. I bring them a treat each day (either hard boiled eggs… yep, the original chick feed, as weird as it sounds, or smashed chick peas, or raisins or freeze dried meal worms, but eggs are their No. 1 jam) and they hop into my hand and go nuts. A couple of them have even been testing out the mini perches we put in their brood box. So cute!
They also survived an attempted massacre by my cat while we were out picking up the goats. Fortunately, everyone was accounted for soon after we got home. We have reinforced the boxes to keep that from happening again (I hope.)
Matilda the Silver-laced Wyandotte testing out the perch. She fell asleep like this. 🙂
The mess of pine shavings on my basement floor after my cat decided to push the brood box off the table. Everyone survived.
In parenting news, The Toddler is 15 months old now. He’s absolutely a toddler, exploring everything, throwing tantrums, picking up more and more words (his current favorite word is “gouda.” Ha!) and being equal parts heart-explodingly sweet and unbelievably challenging. I am addicted to his hugs.
This week, The Husband is on spring break from school so we’re finally working on a gentle approach to night weaning. (Yeah, I know a lot of moms figure this one out 6 or 10 months in or whatever, but we’ve been lazy and he’s been down to one quick nurse a night unless he’s sick or teething.) Anyway, every night the husband is “on duty” no matter what for an increasingly longer amount of time. Usually if I send him in, The Toddler screams and points at the door for me until we cave, but he’s going to have to take comfort with his dad for longer and longer period of time until he figures out we can’t all get 3 a.m. milkshakes every night.
Speaking of 3 a.m. milkshakes, The Toddler’s dwindling need to nurse, coupled with my persistent attachment to frozen yogurt and string cheese and buttery toast, means I’m starting to gain back a little of the baby weight that fell off so easily from breastfeeding. So today starts a conscious effort to pay attention to my appetite and get some exercise. I went running outside for the first time in eons. It felt like I was running with a backpack full of bowling balls, but I got through it and it felt good to break a sweat. Here’s hoping my saying it on the Internet will help me stick to it.
Time for a very desperately needed shower! Until next time.
Yesterday was the big day… chick day! My brother accompanied The Toddler and I to the farm supply store to retrieve our flock (he traded shifts with someone at work, explaining he was going “to pick up chicks with my sister,” heh, heh. So he was my wingman, wink, wink.)
Anyway, I would have posted yesterday but The Toddler decided to nap for only 20 minutes and I spent all that time trying to convince the chicks to love me.
I promised lots of baby chick photos, so here you go:
There you have it! Day one of the chicken adventure. I hope they like me!
Good morning, Internet! As I’ve alluded… we’re going through some exciting additions to TLMB household and I’m thinking of shifting gears to a more hobby farm/parenting blog… workshopping the title, which I hope will make sense to you soon as it is basically one clever turn of phrase after another.
I have been up since 3 a.m. with inexplicable insomnia. Except it’s not really inexplicable… If I’m being honest, it’s a shadow of the sleeplessness I felt waiting for The Baby to arrive, fed in equal parts by sheer excitement and my obsessive need to plan. Because, my friends, in two short days I will be welcoming six new babies into my house.
Fluffy little chicken babies.
Yes, The Husband and I are taking the leap into hobby farming with a half dozen chicks, who will, if luck prevails, provide us abundant eggs and entertainment.
I’ve trawled chicken blogs, researched breeds, assembled a brood box (though I still have to finish the second one and build a “chunnel” today), bought feed and bedding and heat lamps. We thought about building a coop, but after careful reflection on our carpentry skills and less than ample free time, we decided to buy a ready-made one that is now waiting for us at Tractor Supply to see if we can get our old yellow truck started to pick it up. (Note: A Subaru Impreza hatchback is not large enough to transport an 8 chicken-sized coop, even unassembled.)
First thing Tuesday morning, The Baby, my brother and I will head over to Grace Brothers Nursery to pick up the girls (which, despite its lackluster website is a great small business… and while we’re now closer to the North Royalton location I highly recommend anyone on the West side of Cleveland check out their urban farm shop on W. 65th.)
We’ll get some combination of the following breeds, selected for their temperament, hardiness, size, egg production and status (as available) as heritage/threatened breeds:
Golden Buffs (apparently a.k.a. Golden Comets or Red sexlinks, I think). This is a hybrid bird, and the sexlink means that female chicks are one color while males are another. They are bred to lay a lot of eggs.
Buff Orpingtons. These are extremely common, extremely big/puffy, and known in chicken circles as the “golden retriever of chickens” for their friendly, easygoing demeanor.
Dominiques. This is the breed I’m most excited about, as they are among the oldest American breeds, developed by some of the first European settlers to North America. Their barred black and white feathers provide camouflage against predators, they are extremely active foragers, very cold hardy and friendly. They’re also medium sized, I think about on-par with the Golden Buffs.
Silver-Laced Wyandottes. These are probably the showiest of our selection… check out those feathers. They’re big like the buff orpingtons and cold hardy, too. Perusing the chicken forums, I suspect these might have the greatest potential to be less friendly, but they’re still considered pretty easygoing and docile.
The chicks will spend about 6-8 weeks indoors getting bigger and growing feathers before they move out to their coop. I’m excited to see how The Toddler takes to them! (Don’t panic: No small children or dogs or cats will be left unattended with the flock. Handwashing precautions and kissing bans will be in place to prevent salmonella.)
So that’s the news in chickens.
We still just have the one human kid (15 months old now. How?!) But in a week, we’ll be adding three literal kids to the family. Goat kids.
The Husband and I found three Nigerian Dwarf wethers (neutered males) available for sale from a lovely woman who lives in deep Amish Country, about an hour and a half south of us. We went to “interview” them a couple weeks ago and decided we had found the pets/weed eaters for us. They’re actually almost a year old, so maybe not kids much longer, but they’re super cute!
No, we’re not doing dairy goats. I know we’re already teetering on “more than we can handle” territory and can’t imagine keeping up with milking, let alone having to breed regularly and deal with newborn kids. And no, despite our jokes and hypothetical talks last summer when this crazy idea first crossed our minds, we’re not raising them for meat. They’re going to eat all our poison ivy and wild roses and enjoy the sunshine and sleep in the barn.
What I’m most nervous about with goat ownership is parasite/worm control. There is definitely a learning curve, but the woman selling the goats has already been really helpful in sharing resources, and we’ve been doing a lot of research and reading on our own. There’s no greater teacher than experience, though, right?
So on Saturday, we’ll go get our little herd. Today we will be setting up the electric fence and finishing setting up their barn stall and outdoor shelter to keep them out of the rain. And finding a mouse-proof place to keep the goat pellets we bought that isn’t the dining room.
More on goats as the story develops.
And life is sweet.
Our smallest new charges will arrive by the thousands in April. This is the piece of the hobby farm pie I’m most nervous about, as it seems you need an advanced degree to keep up with all the maintenance and disease prevention, but we’re going to start beekeeping.
We’ve been taking classes with the Medina Beekeepers Association over the past month, learning about bee anatomy and hive dynamics and mites and pollen and honey. While it will be really nice to have fresh honey if it works out, I feel a moral duty to at least try to take on this task, as honey bees continue to die out and be threatened by insecticides and pesticides and mites.
I don’t have much more to say about beekeeping yet because I still have so much to figure out, but by late April we’ll have the hives installed, and if the weather conditions are right, we might be able to harvest a little honey by the end of the season.
So there you have it. Our little homestead is taking shape, and my days of reading books and folding laundry and freelancing will also be days of sweeping a coop, trimming hooves and checking hives. It’s going to be a big change for our family, and thus a big shift in topic matter for the blog. I hope you don’t mind. Stick around–if for nothing else than the many, many pictures of baby chickens I’ll inevitably post in the coming weeks.