Posts tagged homesteading

Everybody Loves Chicken

After a morning of puttering around the Queendom, FM and I had just come inside and were beginning to prepare a late lunch of soup and cold pizza. Out the kitchen window, movement caught my eye. I called out,

Look at that! Our those eagles mating?

We ran to different windows, picking up both the binoculars and the camera as we tried to get a better look.

Fighting

FM answered and he was right. As we watched two full-grown Bald Eagles jostle for position, we could see that they were intent on getting the other guy out of the way.

Eating.

The dominant one had finally scared the other eagle back a bit and got down to the business of eating something. What was it?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Chicken dinner, anyone?

Oh my god! It’s a chicken! I saw the foot!

Oh no. It’s Benedict! Oh no!

I wailed and my eyes started welling up. How could we lose another of our flock? This cannot be happening. I stepped out on the kitchen porch to try to get confirmation. My panicked motion and voice sent both Bald Eagles and an angry Raven flying away.

We quickly donned our coats and boots (and safely turned off the soup pot burner) and ran outside. Before we left the house, he looked me in the eye and said,

There won’t be much that we can do for her.

Despite the situation at hand, it was a comical fact. There was nothing we could do. We could run over there but that was it. He was preparing his soon-to-be hysterical wife for the worst.

As FM headed straight out to the spot where the eagles had been, I ducked down under the front porch and counted. One, Two, Three. All three of our hens were cowering under the porch. Our fourth hen was safely locked in her broody pen in the garden shed. I recounted and put names to each one.

Benedict. Tweedle Dee. Chip.

With an enormous sigh of relief, I ran to catch up with FM and share the news that it wasn’t one of our hens.

The mystery chicken was, indeed, way beyond help. Already missing all the innards and the head, we couldn’t tell if it was a hen or a roo. The carcass consisted of legs and wings connected with the back bone. Orange-brown wing feathering suggested a typical Rhode Island Red. From our reading, we knew that if one of your chickens simply disappears from your flock, the culprit is either an eagle or an owl. Now we could see the truth behind it. The owners of this chicken could be our neighbours or could live many kilometers away. Probably they wouldn’t even notice their loss until their remaining chickens went to roost that night and someone counted them.

We left the chicken remains in the same place, hoping that the eagles or ravens would sate their hunger with the remainder of this chicken instead of hankering for one of ours.

Because, you know, everybody loves chicken!

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Snow Day!

As the day winds down, the snow just keeps falling steadily. It has been snowing heavily for a couple of days now and the accumulations are shutting everything down. And, although the local forecasters keep claiming that the storm is over, we have proof that we are still in the thick of it. No end in sight, says me! We are sitting at 28 cm at our place so far. I’d like to break 30 cm, at least.

A thick white blanket covered everything!

A thick white blanket covered everything!

As the day wound down, FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest.

FM measured the snow in a bunch of places. This 28 cm reading was the deepest. But it continues snowing!

The Queendom came to a stand still today:

No work – A district-wide snow day closed all the schools in the valley. FM decided not to risk a challenging drive in and attempted to work from home (between outages!)

No power – Truthfully we have had power some of the time but it was out for a chunk of the morning, out again for a few hours in the afternoon and then just as we were thinking about cooking dinner. Out here, no power means that our well water pump doesn’t work so our water supply is limited to what is left in the pressurized tank. It also means that our septic pump cannot pump UP to the field so you better limit your grey water and flushing. The good news is that the power outage was not due to one of our fallen trees. The other good news is that FM dusted off the generator in order to brew up a second espresso this morning!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful!

Everywhere we looked was beautiful! We sipped tea and read in between walk-abouts.

No heat for the chickens. The two read heat lamps in the coop are out so it cools down pretty fast in there. These birds are hardy but Tweedle Dee is in a full moult right now and has lost most of her feathers. With sparse feathering on her wings and about half of her usual down, she is practically trembling. It baffles me that this would happen to her in the winter. I’m thinking of sneaking her inside beside our wood stove. (Don’t tell FM)

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see her bald patches and chicken skin showing.  Brrrr.

Taken in the days before the snow, you can see Tweedle Dee’s bald patches and chicken skin showing. Brrrr.

No light in the coop and this makes the birds CRAZY! A few months ago, the power went out so I headed out to check the chicks. There was mad flapping and crashing and begawking going on as they flew around in a panic. Ever since, I have left a battery-powered night-light inside which gives them a little glow.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

Florentine is the only one brave enough to peek out at the storm.

And on the fun side:

Snowshoeing instead of shoveling! Our driveway is LONG and there is no way we’d consider shoveling it but tramping the snow down with snowshoes was pretty fun. We managed to drive one car out to the end of the drive for easier escape tomorrow. The car acted like a snowplow and left a smooth center between the tire ruts.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

After sinking deeper than my calf-high Bogs, I realised snowshoes were really in order.

There is no way to shovel this on. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

There is no way to shovel this one. Using the car like a plow had a similar effect.

Hot Tubbing – Aren’t we glad we opted for the wood-fired variety! We spent hours in the tub over this snowy weekend.

It's hard to read but that thermometer reads 106!

It’s hard to read but that thermometer reads 104° F (40° C)!

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Is there a better place to enjoy a snowfall?

Creative Cooking – We had to pre-thaw a tub of homemade chili in the hot tub and then transfer it to a pot on the wood stove. We warmed up some of B’s Foccacia loaf and had a candle lit dinner for two.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub jsut long enough for it to loosen.

FM floated the chili container in the hot tub just long enough for it to loosen.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

We already had the stove cranking out the heat so warming the chili and foccacia was simple.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides.

You gotta roll with the atmosphere that nature provides. FM is sipping a scotch while waiting for his rustic dinner.

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Poor Roo is Dead

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

Gather ’round his stew pot now and cry.

He wasn’t very old

But he had NO heart of gold

That’s why such a fella had to die.

Roo - between crows

Roo – between crows

Yes, it is true. We put Roo out of our misery last Sunday. FM and I have spent about three months discussing his antics, observing his behaviour and trying to reason with him before we finally decided that he was unmanageable. We read endless articles and blogs about mean roosters and we both found solace in one that claimed “Life is too short to keep a nasty rooster”.

Roo was a heritage breed Chantecler, hatched at a local farm which specialized in a few heritage varieties. Looking back, we think that this flock had been so inbred over the years that negative characteristics were amplified. Funnily enough, we haven’t seen any bad temperament among his three sisters – although Croque Madame’s death could have been a result of heredity.

I explained his neurotic symptoms in a previous post but now those descriptions of his aggression seem tame. On any given Saturday, we would head outside early with a long list of chores but, soon enough, FM and I would both be back inside the house, trying to escape his endless crowing. And his attacks became truly dangerous. He would fly at us, claws first, over and over again for no apparent reason. I became quite a master at catching him mid-air and then holding him on my lap as a time-out. This would calm him down and he would usually drift off to sleep in my arms but the lesson never stuck. Mere minutes after being released, he would be back at it again. FM became highly attuned to the sound of Roo’s feet racing towards him as he mounted an attack from behind.

I was especially upset to hear that he even attacked Ginny when she was doing us the favour of collecting eggs and refilling water while we were away last weekend for Thanksgiving. This was a sign that his aggressive behaviour was universal, not just against us, his captors.

We were considering catching Roo and taking him to the local butcher for processing. I didn’t think that I could take part or be witness to his death. But then I read an article by Erica at Northwest Edible Life (an amazing blog, BTW) that changed my tune. This is the meat of her article:

[They are] Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.

I suddenly realised that, by being a chicken farmer and reaping the rewards of our hens, we had to take real responsibility for our chickens when it was time for them to be dispatched.

And so, while awash in tears, I caught and held Roo, helped FM place a milk-jug cone over his head and held him tightly upside-down as FM slit his jugular. It wasn’t pretty and we definitely have room for improvement in our slaughtering technique (thanks youtube!), but we did it. Although I participated in all of it, FM did the work – slitting, chopping and gutting – while I blubbered away.

And, since you asked, Yes, we will eat him. Why wouldn’t we? He was fed the best feed around, got plenty of outdoor time and breathed fresh air. And despite his nasty disposition, he was loved. Would you like to come over for a fabulous Coq Au Vin on Saturday?

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

We can still hear his crowing loud and clear

The chickies in the coop

Will miss that clumsy goof

But his attacks will no longer bring us fear.

Roo in the foreground

Roo in the foreground

Roo – a hideous molt!

Roo - ever curious and helpful!

Roo – ever curious and helpful!

Here he is, mid-crow, as Chip and I have our morning chat over coffee.

Here he is, mid-crow, interrupting my morning chat with Chip over coffee. (Yes I do have a Chip on my shoulder!)

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The Log Splitter Wins Again

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Fingernail pain is like no other pain! The Iroquois knew this well according to early Canadian history!

It was just last summer when the log splitter and I had an altercation and I ended up at the hospital, getting xrays. I now approach the big machine with caution and know that I should not attempt to lift huge log rounds. But with one lesson learned, no doubt another lesson is coming down the pipe!

We were cutting another cord or two of wood on the weekend and I simply misjudged where I placed the log. My ring fingernail got kind of squished between the log and the metal rack that holds the logs in place. It was just a quick pinch but it left me reeling in pain, seeing cartoon-like stars and acting like my arm had been severed.

After the drama, we called it a day for hard labor. My nail bed was red, filled with blood and throbbing. After listening to my woes and being genuinely sympathetic, FM offered to drain the nail bed using a method common to runners with blistered toe nails. With a red-hot paper clip, he would attempt to make a hole at the base of the finger nail which would allow the fluids to drain out. The source of the pain is in the pressure created beneath the nail bed, not the actual injury itself. So I gave him my hand and tried to be brave.

Surprisingly I could clearly feel the burning paper clip and I pulled away before a hole was complete. I decided that I would just tolerate the throbbing and carry on.

But when night came, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up every hour, thinking about my squished finger and wishing that I could put mind over matter. Finally, at 3:00 am, I realized that I had to be pro-active and I got up. I heated up a safety-pin to red-hot and finished off the job that FM had started in the afternoon. It was a gruesome enough result (no photos, thankfully). With my nail bed drained, the pain was instantly gone. I was able to drift off to sleep within 10 minutes.

Here, you can see the little drainage hole that allowed us to relieve the pressure.

Here, you can see the little drainage hole that allowed us to relieve the pressure.

ADDENDUM:

Healing takes time, indeed. Here are a few updated photos of the finger after the nail sluffed off. It looks gruesome but doesn’t hurt at all.  It sure got munched!

My nailbed, 3 months later!

My nailbed, 3 months later!

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The Amenities of the Coop

It seems that all of our recent improvements to the Queendom have focussed on the hen house. Many of our real projects have been put on hold while we figure out how to make life sweet for our chicks. Here is a photo collection of the latest amenities, documenting our labour of love (for eggs!):

The Nesting Boxes

Many years ago, in our old life, we renovated our kitchen and we kept all the cabinets. The old above-the-stove-hood-fan cupboard turned out to be exactly the right size for two nesting boxes. FM removed the doors, added a lower edge and a roosting bar and mounted it 36 cm above the floor. As I hinted before, I made curtains for each box since chickens require a dark, safe and private place to hide while laying. Apparently, their innards partially come out while pushing out an egg and we want to reduce pecking and cannibalism as much as possible. (These beasts are wild!)

We were told that up to six hens can share one nesting box so we knew that our two boxes were more than enough laying space. But wouldn’t you know it – there is an impatient line-up  some mornings as they all wait their turn!

Tweedle Dum and Croque Madame are settled in the boxes. Peeps is letting them know that she is in a hurry and next in line. Chip is pacing the floor

Tweedle Dum and Croque Madame are settled in the boxes. Peeps is letting them know that she is in a hurry and next in line. Chip is pacing the floor.

In fact, one morning, Tweedle Dum was taking her sweet time in the box and Tweedle Dee could no longer hold her egg in, so she hopped in and made herself comfortable behind and on top of Dum.

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The chicks who lay together, stay together!

During our vacation, the chickens were confined to their coop and run, so all the girls have (mostly) learned to lay in the nesting boxes and our daily easter egg hunt has almost ended. The golf ball trick seemed to work! It is music to my ears when one of the girls comes ‘begawking’ out of the coop to announce proudly that she has laid a good one and earned her keep.

The Chicken Waterer

Having an endless supply of clean water is essential. Filling a bucket  or milk jug with water will do for a day or two, but FM devised a system which will suffice for longer absences.

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A self-filling waterer contraption (apologies for the lack of focus)

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Top view of the toilet tank fill valve

The chickens peck at the red 'poultry nipples' to get all the water they desire.

The chickens peck at the red ‘poultry nipples’ to get all the water they desire.

Since the coop used to be a bathroom, the plumbing is in place and access to water is easy. FM built this contraption out of PVC pipe, a toilet tank fill valve and six poultry nipples and then hooked it up to the old water line. It has taken the chicks a while to get the hang of it but we adjusted the height so that they have to reach up to it and they seem to use it more often. It refills quietly and I put a metal drip tray below in an attempt to keep the coop floor somewhat dry.

The Chicken Run

This was a big project which evolved and improved as we built it. Although the chickens have been running free, our plan is to keep them penned in while we are away or at work. We want them to have access to outside but we want to keep them safe from eagles, raccoons, and other chicken lovers.

Using two fence panels, a bundle of multi-link wire fencing, three plywood sheets and a gate kit, we managed to construct a 6′ x 18′ run that is partially covered and partially open. The fence panels and gate should provide some shelter from the wind and rain that previously howled right in through their coop door. There are still some finishing touches left to do, but as it stands, it has kept them safe and secure during our holidays this summer.

Before the chicken run

The Before Picture

The chicken run

The After Picture

The gate

The gate

View from the back – The wire fencing is buried about 20 cm deep into the ground around the whole run. The roof is only roughly done in plastic deer fencing at this point.

View from inside

View from inside – shelter from direct sunlight, rain and eventually snow

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A Dozen or so …

The laying has begun!

Here is the first week's bounty minus the two that we ate and the two that were pecked or broken. 17 eggs in one week?  We better open a market stand!

Here is the first week’s bounty minus the two that we ate and the two that were pecked or broken. 17 eggs in one week? We better open a market stand!

FM and I went away for a week-long backpack trip (more on that later) and, while we were gone, we took our 6 chickens to a friend’s house (more on that later, too).  When we returned to collect them, we found out that two eggs had been laid during our absence – our first two eggs!

We brought our brood home and waited for the next eggs to show up. Sure enough, throughout this past week, the girls have produced more than a dozen eggs. The first few were small, perfectly-shaped and laid in one of the two nesting boxes. I actually watched as little Croque Madame laid hers, with watchful and attentive Roo at hand. Tweedle Dum was also one of the obedient layers who knew exactly where to place her treasure.

Little Croque Madame laid this one.

Little Croque Madame admiring her work.

But now, the egg hunt has become a daily activity. One egg was found on the gravel by the woodpile; three were laid underneath our front porch; one was laid from the height of the night roost; one was found in their dirt bath and another was found crushed in the watering tray.

Almost all the eggs are a pinky-tan colour, with the exception of two. The crushed egg and another one had paper-thin shells which crumpled with even the gentlest touch. It takes a while before newly laying hens master their egg formation so the size, shape and colour may vary.

The egg on the left is a store bought white egg for siz and colour comparison. The top right egg has a paper-thin shell that was pecked. The middle egg is the long, slim white egg (mystery layer) and the bottom egg is super teeny and freckled (I suspect Chip laid this one).

The egg on the left is a store-bought white egg for size and colour comparison. The top right egg has a paper-thin shell that was pecked. The middle egg is the long, slim white egg (mystery layer) and the bottom egg is super teeny and freckled (I suspect Chip laid this one).

We are a bit confused about who is laying and where. Chanteclers lay light brown eggs and Welsummers lay terracotta-coloured eggs with freckles. So who laid the white egg? My bet is that we actually collected an egg laid by one of our migrating Cedar Waxwings!

After reading up on it, I have placed a golf ball in each of the nesting boxes. This is supposed to show the hens that this is where eggs belong. I have also read that hens need a dark, safe place to lay eggs. Unfortunately, one of our nesting boxes gets the full brightness of the coop light so I am working on a way to darken it some more.

This was the first egg laid in our nesting boxes. The two nesting boxes are a recycled kitchen cabinet from above the stove hood fan.

This was the first egg laid in our nesting boxes. The two nesting boxes are a recycled kitchen cabinet from above the stove hood fan.

Do you think I’ll get the title of “Crazy Chicken Lady” if I sew curtains for the nesting box?  Tune in to find out!

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