Monday, July 30, 2012

Right now I'm

- thankful for cheap battery operated fans, though not as thankful as the chickens
- happy the 'fake egg in the nest' trick actually works
- discovering a new-to-me Olympic sport and loving it!
- reviving my joy of white water sports
- listening to the stirrings of an overtired 2-year old
- hoping she sleeps a little longer
- reminding myself that the tv is going off after the kayak races are over
- learning about swimmers ear and natural treatments for it
- curious what my water bill will be due to chicken water parks that must be activated multiple times a day in this heat!
- pondering the necessity of getting electrolytes for the chickens
- loving the cooler weather in the morning
- giggling that cooler is 91F!
- enjoying a peaceful moment to myself and a lovely cup of coffee

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicken Egg Farming

Well, I guess it's official, we are egg farmers! The girls are all laying now and I think we've been with them long enough to have a grasp of what's going on.

The classes, books and websites all told me that I woul eventually get to know each chicken's personality, when they laid, and be able to just tell when something wasn't right. Like parenting children. This is my story of the beginning of egg production.

About a month ago, I checked the hen house for visitors (aka predators) before putting the girls to bed (as usual) and found an egg. What a surprise! Now to figure out who laid it... Emagene had a theory: the yellow one, with yellow feet, Ella. Two days later I walked in on that chicken in the nesting box. Mystery solved; we had a layer! She laid every other day for a week but then along came the 4th of July, stressing out the animals and put a halt on egg production.

A few days later, I had a perplexing day of homesteading. The day started out normal enough: teeth brushing, feeding animals, letting the chickens out, checking the nesting box for eggs, walking through the garden picking of pill bugs and looking for grasshoppers. As the chickens stretched their wings and started grazing I noticed Ella was a bit off her game. She has always taken her time to leave the run but usually hurries up to join the flock in the morning grazing. This day she was walking particularly slow and keeping to herself. When I looked closely she appeared to have waded through a bog. Since I have to no bogs in my yard I was concerned. What was matted on her belly? It looked sleek and shiny and... a little yellow??? Checking beyond the nesting box I found a soft shell split around the center sitting on the floorboard. She had laid on the floor of the hen house and then tried to nest without any padding resulting in a broken egg and a sticky mess.

Bathing a chicken is not something I recommend for everyone, but in this case it was necessary. The only way to free up her movements and not attract unwanted guests was to wash her. Surprisingly, she let me. I sat her in a shallow bucket and gently splashed and rubbed until she was done. She then rolled in the dirt, like a good chicken. Unfortunately, she had ingested some of the egg goo and had an upset stomach. I panicked slightly when Ella had an eggy poop, but after a conversation with seasoned poultry farmer and friend and a small fight at bath time, I assumed she was feeling better. The next day she was more active and chased a bug or two. I took a deep breath and relaxed. She'll be fine.

About this same time, Minerva and Ferdy began looking like they may start laying any day .A week after Ella's unfortunate accident, she started laying double yolks. That day, we found 2 eggs in the nesting box. Emagene's theory? The black chicken with yellow feet. Minerva came running at us as we took our gifts inside, begging for scratch. We obliged. She laid again two days later.

Then started the decimation of the garden. Ferdy, the Demon Chicken as Pete calls her, was stressed. She was getting ready to lay for the first time but the nesting box didn't have enough nesting material, the fire pit was full of ash and the garden was off limits. Once I figured this out and overloaded the coop with straw, she found enough peace to take care of business. We assumed we'd sorted it out: the girls were timed to share the nest and we had time until the last one was ready.

We were wrong. Fluffy was in a tizzy the next day and Ferdy was back in the garden.

When the chickens were tiny, they slept in a giant litter box filled with straw. The box has been repurposed serval times since the completion of the coop, but in between uses it lives on the porch near the straw bale. We took the lid off for one reason or another and the girls occasionally sit inside. Following this cue, I filled it with straw at left it where it was. It was immediately inhabited by Ferdy who took a bit of time on her off-laying day to fluff the nest and satiate her nesting drive. Today she left us a gift in this new nest of hers that still doesn't have quite enough fluff. Such a posh and pampered princess!

Fluffy has needed to be locked in the run the last day or two to take care of business. She seems intrigued by the porch nest but not able to focus. The garden calls her. Emagene removes her. It's only her third try at this, but she's starting to prefer spending the noon hour in the hen house. Immediately followed by Ella who is desperate for the box by early afternoon.

And, there you have it. A rough look at the transition into egg harvesting, from a human perspective. I am grateful that is has cooled down in the mornings so Emagene and I can spend the late morning hours being outside and watching the girls. We do our best to stay off the porch or watch through the bedroom window if the porch box is in use. We say thank you and gently pet the girls when they come running to tell us they are done. We keep the waterers full and the scratch ready. If the chickens weren't so focused on the garden, we'd weed and water in these cool morning hours. But alas, we spend our time carrying birds around, talking softly to them while enjoying our coffee and juice. Some times we watch the cardinals and mockingbirds fight the chickens for their grasshoppers or the hummingbirds and finches nip at the tomatoes. But mostly we get excited at the discovery of a new egg and a morning spent watching and learning from nature.

Monday, July 23, 2012

an update and some musings

While there has been a healthy mix of stress (see last post) and boredom in my life these days, I seem to struggle finding time to blog. Some of this is because I filled in the last page of my paper journal and am hesitant to blog without filtering my thoughts on paper first. (Note to self: must by a journal ASAP!)

So a brief update to all 11 of you followers and the countless eavesdroppers out there: After a much needed full moon rite and meditation, a tiny little money chant (please don't run in fear!), and some positive days with the garden, I got a call from the local chapter of my union and got to work! Yay! When life is tough, nothing helps me see the silver lining and feel like I can and am doing something to help better what can be seen as a negative situation like earning my half of the income. Soon after these 2 'glorious' days in Fort Worth, a friend started texting me out of the blue with news of work days back in Tulsa. I jumped on it, called the steward and then proceeded to spend most of my week driving back and forth, working long hours and hardly sleeping. Oh! but the joy of doing something made it all worth it! (that and seeing some really good people whom I've been missing.)

We're not out of the woods yet (as "they" say), but we feel a little saner. Those first few months of student loan repayments can kill morale, motivation and joy. Not being able to find additional work, chickens tearing up the garden, borrowing money, adding these to the mix can lead to frustration and depression if not careful. I think we, as a family, are getting a handle on dealing with these moments and are starting to make headway.

Next, depending on one or two factors, we will decide if we are indeed staying in Denton and pushing on or returning to Tulsa, picking up old jobs and hoping for a better outcome. The dream is still to go to Portland for Christmas and stay there, with jobs, living arrangements and all that. Until that happens, I will keep living for the dream (and collecting eggs everyday since all the girls have started laying as of today).

Saturday, July 21, 2012


We've all been there in some form or other. We've had the unfortunate, or wonderful, encourager to get things done. Whether these are things we've been procrastinating or things we just didn't want to admit as reality, we've either risen to the occasion or fallen under the burden. Whichever path you choose in these moments sets the course for the future. Not always in a tangible way, but set a course nonetheless. Who's to say any path is 'better' than another? We all learn something along the way and depending on what is learned, stress can be a blessing.

I'm not gonna go into detail about the source of our current stress, but rather say that stress has an uncanny way to motivate me into action. Today that action is to apply for jobs I don't really want that may require putting emagene is state funded daycare. This could be described as my worst nightmare: leaving her with strangers while I work a depressing, deadend gig just to feed her. Our it could be seen as a learning moment in preparation for our next life change that may require our family to sell all our belongings and live in multiple states dreaming of a better future.

This sounds scary. And exciting. It's not much different than some of your grandparents and their coming into the states in hopes of work with the dream of moving the whole family and being together again sooner than later. It's the story of most people the world over. It's why going to the movies is so popular. Dreaming of a better future starts with believing in a better now. If that can't be tangible quick enough, let's watch other people live it in high definition.

If we stay here will we starve, if we move we have hope. But if we can't buy groceries, how do we afford to move? By setting things in motion and hoping for the best.

(I wrote this a week ago or so when I was at my wits' end. Things are better now and in motion. Only time will tell what will happen and where we will be.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

We have eggs!!!

Well, one egg.

I went out last night, once it had cooled down, to sweep the coop before chicken bedtime. I opened the access door and saw this! Surprise! It was a lot bigger than i had expected. I kept hearing about marbles, but this is a full on egg!

They just turned 4 months old. So the age is right (between 3 and 5 months = start looking for eggs). Now I'm confused what the marble business was all about... I did have one chicken showing signs of change in her poop structure. (never thought I'd use the phrase: 'poop structure.') guess that's what the marble was??? Im still learning.

Emagene was super excited and ran inside with daddy to crack open her present from the chickens and eat it all! She's gonna help me look for eggs everyday now; adding that to list of things to watch outside.

What's on the list you ask? Well I'll tell you.

1. Is there food in the bird feeder?
2. Have the tomatoes turned green?
3. Is the basil still there?
4. What, if any, birds can we see in the tree? (she can point out doves, cardinals, blue jay, and mocking bird)
5. Are there eggs?

My favorite is number four. We do this usually while sitting in the not-hot tub in the evenings. Often she'll see birds before I can. She knows the difference between the Mommy Cardinal and the Daddy Cardinal. We've seen them share water gathered from the garden sprinkler at the end of a 106 degree day, gobble grasshoppers, sing....

Anyways- I could go on forever. We're learning, having fun, not roasting too bad in the heat and now we have farm fresh eggs in our backyard. Yay!