forwarding the fowl

IMGP1799My boy is a chicken fanatic. I know I’ve mentioned that many times before but I’m saying it again now: Ira loves chickens. At this point in his chicken-fancying career, he seems most intrigued by the many different (especially rare) breeds of chickens that are available. He likes to place a big chick order from a hatchery each year. Then, once those chicks have matured, he likes to let all of those strange varieties of chickens cross-breed with one another and set the eggs in his incubator or under a broody hen, just to see what the outcome will be. He says he wants to invent a new breed of chicken and I don’t doubt him. Some of the resulting chickens have been quite strange, indeed. Most of the time, I don’t think his cash outlay gets recouped, unless you take into consideration the entertainment/enjoyment factor, which certainly has its own merit. Especially since we don’t go out to movies or buy a bunch of video games to keep the kiddos occupied. Having activities on the homestead that the children are passionate about, and can learn valuable lessons from, is hard to put a price tag on. IMGP1774In our own chicken rearing, Eric and I have always tended to favor old-fashioned heavy breeds of chickens that lay a consistent supply of eggs. Selling eggs at our market has always been a source of cash-flow for us… some years certainly more lucrative than others, depending a lot on the local fox and hawk population. We can proudly say that our style of chicken rearing produces one mighty fine egg. Arguably one of the best eggs you can acquire. Plus, what the chickens do for the pasture, under our rotational grazing system, is incredible (which is another benefit that is hard to put a value on). For the most part, we enjoy keeping chickens and we certainly enjoy gourmet omelets.

But, sometimes, unexpected things happen. LIke a broken leg. Or maybe an unplanned pregnancy. Or a father-in-law enduring cancer treatments. Sometimes all of these things collide and leave a person feeling winded and over the top.

And then sometimes… sometimes we reach a breaking point and something’s got to give. Sometimes, we have to stop beating our heads against the wall and make a change. Don’t we all know that sometimes change is a blessing?

Over the weekend, Eric and I sold our flock of about 100 laying hens to a fellow farmer.(Thankfully, a sweet farming family that were thrilled to find organically produced, pasture-raised, very healthy hens. I know our hens will be well cared for.) We just had to let something go. It was the first big step in lessening our chore load right now. We can always get more chickens, and I’m sure we will again someday. But as it was going, that one more chore might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.IMGP1773Then, there are those moments we suddenly see what was a burden turning into an opportunity. A win-win situation developing from a severe headache. Or… killing two birds with one stone if you would rather. We have a child that currently has eighty-some-odd young chickens of his own. Eighty-some chickens that are getting bigger and bigger and requiring more and more space to range. We always raise our chicks down around our homestead for the ease of caring for them, but as soon as they are big enough, they get moved up on the hill to the pasture where there is more than enough space. Down in the hollow, our space is quite limited and eighty-ish chickens quickly learn that the outdoor kitchen is a great source for all kinds of treats. Like the shiny perfect tomatoes that were intended for our lunch. Or the melons in bins that might have made their way to our freezer for winter smoothies. Or the cat’s food. Have you seen the resulting mess when a whole slew of chickens have a gorge-fest? Have you ever had to clean that resulting mess up out of your kitchen? Gross. Ira’s chickens were driving me so crazy that I’m afraid to admit that I threatened the use of the shotgun as an option in curbing their errant behavior. (You know I’m only kidding, right?) What I wound up doing was having Ira put a net fence around our outdoor kitchen to prevent his chickens from walking freely into that space. Not perfect, but better than the shotgun. Also understand that my patience might be slightly more compromised than usual as I am seven months pregnant, it’s ninety-five degrees each day with no A/C and I can’t get relief from swims in the creek because I have a broken leg and a hot-as-hell cast. IMGP1781With all of this said, our light bulb moment came when we realized that liquidating our flock would not only lessen a chore and put a little cash in our pockets, but would leave our coops vacant and available to a little boy and his fledgling chicken operation. (This also results in no more chickens in my kitchen!!!) So that’s just what we did. Ira immediately moved his flock up to our coops in the pasture and has officially taken over the Bugtussle poultry operation. In exchange for the use of the coops, feeder, fencing, guardian dog, guardian geese, and solar charger he just has to manage his birds according to our standards (with a little help from Papa, I’m sure) and give us some eggs to eat once his chickens start laying. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Oksi is even excited about her new charges...

Oksi is even excited about her new charges…


right now :: spring peeps

This morning, the call from the post office came informing us that our chicks had arrived. Well, Ira’s chicks that is. And when Ira heard Eric tell our postman that we’d be there soon, Ira let out such an excited whoop that Eric couldn’t hear what other instructions were being given from the other end of the line.IMGP0669Ira is a chicken fanatic. He often claims to be “part-chicken”. (If you get a good look at his feet, you might tend to agree…) He loves all of the fancy breeds, contrary to his parents that prefer hens that actually lay nice eggs and severely limit the number of roosters. But I suppose that style of contrariness can be tolerated. Best not complain. Eric and I do our best to support his endeavors, but he asks nothing of us financially. He saves all of his own money from market (and selling his possessions to his sisters) to purchase his birds and all of his feed. We do try to help him understand that there is such a thing as too many roosters, and we certainly put a limit on where all of those roosters get housed (like no where near the cabin!!!)IMGP0684And now that Ira has his chicks in the brooder in the greenhouse, he is mightily devoted to keeping the woodstove in that space nice and toasty… which the peppers and tomatoes love. Eric and I love that, too, because it’s one less chore for us…

Ira had the greenhouse so steamy that my camera lens fogged up...

Ira had the greenhouse so steamy that my camera lens fogged up…

Anyhow, Ira is in chicken heaven right now… wouldn’t you agree?IMGP0683

just a little bit longer

After supper this evening, in the gathering darkness, I hopped on the tractor and went up on the hill to move the chickens. Rain was beginning to fall. I paused for a second on the front porch and pondered borrowing Ira’s big umbrella for my ride, but then thought “nah… it’s just one more thing” and pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt and went on my way.IMGP0517The poor birds. They have been sitting stationary for much, much longer than we like. When we had all of the snow and freezing weather, their coops (“the chicken train“) froze to the ground. And then all of the snow that had fallen on the structures slid off the roofs and piled up in big mounds right at the base of the coops insulating the frozen-to-the-ground-runners that much more. Today was the day to finally get the chicken coops moved to fresh ground before the weather turns nasty again. And as the day went, like most days, it wasn’t until that absolute-critical-last-possible-moment-to-get-something-done-before-it’s-too-late-kind-of-moment. You know, like in the dark and in the rain, but before the snow starts flying again. Like after a filling supper of biscuits and sausage gravy when my belly is full and I would much prefer to lounge on the couch and listen to the rain pitter-patter on the tin roof.

Ah, well. My wet clothes will dry. And I will rest easier knowing that the chickens have been tended.IMGP0513I am harboring secret fantasies that the weather forecast for the coming days is wildly wrong. I’m a little over the cold and the snow. I know I really can’t complain too much compared to so many other folks experiencing much more intensely severe winter weather. But, I chose to live here in southern Kentucky after all. I did not choose to live in, say, Vermont. Or North Dakota. For crying out loud, it is March! It’s time to start seeds, not shovel more snow! We often have numerous crops growing in the gardens by this point in the season, but, but… OK… So maybe I’m complaining just a bit. Sorry about that.

Today was warm. Sixty-ish. A tease. I was in bare feet a good portion of the day. It felt so good. The kids played outside for long stretches and got wet and dirty and tired. Soon the days will be here when we scarcely set foot in the house. The house stays so much cleaner in the summer. The kids do their playing outside and we aren’t hauling so much dirt in the house with the firewood and all of the clothes and the boots that we want to keep warm by the fire. Damn. There I go again with my longing and complaining. Jeez.

The past few days, the Sandhill Cranes have been on the move. Any time I step outside I hear their trilling. Flock after flock after flock circle and bank and try to gain altitude. Sometimes they are so far off that my eyes can’t even find them in the vast sky, but I can hear them. Today, the wind took their place. I didn’t hear nearly as many today. They know what is coming. They know it is time to hunker down just a little bit longer. Really, I don’t think they hunker down, though. They have the gift of flight. They spread those long wings and say “see ya later!” and head to greener pastures. I don’t know, call me jealous?

Surely I can handle just a few more days of winter. Surely another snowstorm isn’t really any big deal. Surely I can wait. Just a little bit longer…IMGP0570

Surely you’ll be here soon, won’t you Spring?