I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Friday, December 31, 2010

Unseemly Chicken Behavior

For most of December our girls have been relegated to their coop. With snow often knee deep on the ground, letting them out of their spacious coop and run seemed a less than prudent decision. After the first few snow squalls I would find them huddled under the porch in a muddy heap with wet feathers and dirty feet. Fred and I talked about it and decided that keeping them warm and dry was probably better than fulfilling their desire to be out foraging in the snow, so for most of the month, as it snowed mercilessly here, the girls spent their days in the coop.

I made it up to them by frequent trips out for visits and petting and lots and lots of treats and warm water. Due to the frigid temperatures their water bowls were frequently iced over so I would repeatedly throughout the day replace their bowls with others filled with warm tap water. This seemed to work out fine and they got rather spoiled. As the snow began to melt and the temperatures began to rise they would stand and the open coop door and fuss at me to bring them their breakfast. Instead of hopping out the door as soon as it was ajar (as had been their normal routine) they seemed perfectly content to be waited on hand and foot. It seemed too much of a chore to sully their dainty toes in the melting snow.

I really thought this was odd. Normally they love to be out and if you wait thirty minutes past daylight to open their pen you can hear them fussing all the way in our bedroom for freedom. So as they changed their routine to fussing for full service I really was puzzled. This went on for about three days past the thaw until they saw me exit the house with left over birthday cake one morning. Apparently birthday cake has a cross-species significance and can trump even the most stoic resolve at stubbornness in man and beast alike.

I had opened the coop to retrieve their bowls and gone back in the house to prepare their breakfast. When I stepped on the porch they were all still in the coop fussing at the open door until they realized what I had in my hands. Then the shoving and jostling commenced. Squawking and pushing and basically rolling over each other out the door they came tearing and fussing at me like kamikazes on a mission. Forgotten were their cold feet and genteel sensibilities, all was lost in pursuit of cake!

They could be my biological children so great was their motivation to obtain dessert for breakfast. The snow had melted and refrozen in patches, the yard was a minefield of little ice rinks. Chickens tumbled and spun and slid their way to the porch on their bellies. I threw the cake into the yard and watched them decimate it with the abandon of lifelong Weight Watchers members at a holiday buffet. They cooed at me with icing smeared beaks and danced their delight with the little foot stomping chicken jigs.

It was as if the spell of their confinement had been broken with a magical bite of cake. Like Alice they relished their newfound freedom by exploring through the yard as if it were a magical wonderland. I thought we would slide back into our normal routine with ease. I should have known better. At dark I went out to close up the coop only to discover Mama was the only one in bed. It was full dark but the moon was mostly full so I had neglected to take a flash light out with me. I started back for the house, straining my eyes in the dark and whispering for my girls. As I neared the porch I heard chattering and cooing coming from under the steps. I stooped down and peered into the dark, as the clouds parted and the moon gave off a little light I was greeted by five pair of shiny chicken eyes gazing questioningly at my own.

I sighed. Great, now I figured I was going to spend the next hour chasing black hens around in the dark of night trying to get everyone into the coop. I seriously gave consideration to leaving them under the porch steps but the shepherd in me could not stand to leave my girls open to harm from the elements or from predators. I went back in the house and decided to try the easiest option first. I forsook a light fearing that it would only cause more confusion. I grabbed a can of corn from the cabinet opened it and headed back outside.

I shook the can and reached my hand under the steps so they could smell what I had. I was rewarded with much feather ruffling excitement and foot stomping. I started for the coop calling softly to them as I went. I glanced back over the moonlit snow and saw in my wake four little round black bodies trailing behind me and one slightly smaller red head fussily bringing up the rear. Well, that was easy enough. I stepped into the coop followed by all five chickens and poured a small mound of corn onto the floor. Mama heard all the ruckus and came downstairs to investigate. As all six chickens enjoyed their bedtime snack I slipped from the coop and made back for the house.

Fred and I talked about it and decided since they had been out of their routine for a few days that maybe the darkness just surprised them and when they realized it was full dark it was too late and they were stuck under the porch instead of in the coop. They tend to stay near the house during the days for fear of missing a treat from the kitchen. Plus huddling near the side of the house offers them some shelter from the brutal winds that have accompanied our ferocious December weather. Fred and I decided it was probably a fluke and would just wait and see.

I will note here that with the bitter cold and the harsh winds we have put a 125watt heat bulb in their coop. The coop is not greatly insulated and, although many sources say providing them heat is unnecessary, I know I do not like to be cold and I do not figure my hens enjoy it either. Happy hens are healthy hens and healthy hens are good layers. One bulb is not going to make that big of a difference on our electric bill and I would rather spend a little more on electric than another gigantic vet bill for frostbitten hen toes. Fred and I both wondered if the extra light from the bulb may have thrown off the hen’s sense of bed time or if they were avoiding heading to the coop because the light spooked them. Anyway I chalked it up to a fluke & turned my mind to other things.

The next night darkness found me making dinner so Fred went out to shut the girls in. He came back in the house shortly and told me that everyone was in the coop except for one of the BJGs in the darkness he could not tell them apart and he had come back to get a flash light to search for her. I panicked a little and left the skillets hot on the stove as I struggled into my boots and coat. Fred shouted for me to wait, he said what good would it do for me to stumble around in the dark but I was already half out the door, my imagination running rampant with visions of slaughtered chickens plaguing my heels.

I crouched in the darkness near the pine trees and began softly calling. As I neared the smaller of the two pines I hear the unmistakable chatter of a scared chicken. I reached out in the darkness and felt her soft bulky body half under the tree. I picked her up and tucked her under my arm and made for the coop. In the light from the heat bulb she appeared uninjured. I put her in with her sisters, disturbing everyone, much chicken fussing ensued.

We thought it strange that just one would be left out and Fred said when he went to the coop to shut them in the others were fussy and upset, like they were trying to let him know something just was not right. We once again decided that they just were not back into their routine so we left them to sleep and went back in the house.

The next morning Fred went out to let them out of the coop, a little later than normal, and noted that one of the BJGs had a chuck of feathers missing out of her back. It was not down to the skin and she acted fine but there is just a baldish patch with nothing but downy under-feathers showing. We assume that this was probably due to a pecking order dispute or some other nest-box competition but it was just another weird bit to add to the odd winter chicken behavior. They are all eating normally and fussing, laying and playing. No one is exhibiting any visible signs of illness so we are not exactly sure what is causing these issues.

Yesterday morning found another of the BJGs missing a matching hunk of feathers in a similar location to her sister. And last night found me back outside playing the Pied Piper of chickendom a second time. Once again all four of the girls were huddled under the porch with only Mama and Stacy-chicken in the coop. For some reason they will not follow Fred back to the coop and instead run around the yard willy-nilly forcing him to chase them hither, tither and yon. It is easier if I go out and call to them. They will follow me back to the coop and go to bed just like that is the way we have always done it.

Fred and I joke that they are spoiled and need to be tucked in but we are both concerned about this sudden inability to get to the coop by themselves at night. Darkness leaves them open for predator attack and having them out of the coop and away from the safety and shelter it provides even for just a few minutes past dark can be dangerous. The things that “go bump in the night” are a real threat to a silly little biddy.

We are open for any suggestions or ideas from anyone out there raising chickens. Our big issue is the girls not wanting to roost at night. The other side issue is the missing feathers on our two BJGs. I really suspect that this is due to a pecking order dispute and not any type of disease. But as far as the roosting issue goes we are at a loss. If it is due to their routine upset from the snow you would think eventually they would get back into the flow. I considered that it might be the light from the heat lamp so I have unplugged it until after dark but this still did not seem to motivate them to the roost. I do not know what else it could be. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks for reading & much love,


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Neglect , Blogs, Stores and Stuff

Well, Christmas is over and once again we are left with the aftermath of plastic wrappers and gluttonous appetites. In our family we really do endeavor to focus on the meaning of the Christmas season every year but somehow we too get caught up in the materialistic aspects of giving more. There is nothing like hearing your child say “THIS IS THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!” unfortunately that statement is rarely prompted by copious amounts of time spent with family and is, instead, usually expounded upon after opening a more expensive and more lavish gift than last year.

We really did par down this year, Fred and I put a limit on each other’s gifts and did use the gift money wisely, to buy things we could use but that were still somewhat luxuries. I bought Fred the new pocket knife he had wanted and he bought me a starter kit for harvesting our beeswax into bath and body products. Fred also made me a lovely braided copper bracelet from copper wire he repurposed. The bracelet is especially meaningful to me because he did not wait until the last minute and rush to the store trying to figure out how much to spend to prove his love. I look at my bracelet as a token of how the lessons learned in our greener lifestyle are actually beginning to sink into our daily lives, much like “devotions” sink into the spiritual realm of a person who daily studies the Word.

When I was a child I never understood the purpose of the ten or fifteen minutes my dad spent in the mornings studying the scriptures and talking to God. I was haphazard in my study and prayed when I needed something or felt guilty. I did not realize those few precious and deliberate minutes my dad spends in study of God’s word and in communion with God every day actually arm him to face the trials and tribulations of daily life. Instead of scrambling for scriptures and hastily praying from a fox-hole, my dad has made the Bible part of the fiber of his existence. As I got older I began to see the merit in his behavior, as Fred and I push our way into a changed lifestyle I not only see the merit in it, I see the necessity.

It is the same with homesteading and green living. One must daily practice what one preaches or we quickly find ourselves slipping off into the drive-thru lane or the take-out line of life. I will not lie. In this hectic season of Christmas, rushing from practice to play, from house to house, throwing decorations and wrapping in every available space, we found ourselves standing in the line at Taco Bell on several occasions and I believe I personally financed the new Abercrombie jacket my favorite waitress at the local Chinese restaurant was spotted wearing. Being green and doing things from scratch takes time and, unfortunately, that is something in our culture we always seem to lack.

All I can say is: we did better this year than last and with our eyes to the future we will only continue to improve. As you can see by the scarcity of blog entries some things just had to be cut in this hectic season. In the interest of time and of finishing handmade Christmas presents the blog just kind of got lost in the tide. I am not really into New Year’s resolutions, mainly because we have been resolving things in our life all year, but I will say that as we look forward into 2011 we are happier, healthier, more wholly satisfied people as we have shaved off the unnecessary clutter of our lives, focused in on what is important and done more for ourselves. We as a family intend to continue on along this path expanding our endeavors at self-sufficiency and improving our homestead.

As many of you know, I stay home and Fred works a factory job to finance our lives. Although the chickens, bees and other homestead duties keep me busy I do find time to crochet, knit, quilt and create other crafty extras. As I slammed through the creation of my last few Christmas gifts this year it was commented upon several times that people would pay for the hats/scarves/tree-skirts etc. that I create. I actually had several people request to purchase hats just based on photos I had taken of gifts I made and posted on Facebook.

Fred and I have talked many times of opening an Ebay store to sell the extra stuff we make or no longer use but Ebay is expensive with lots of fees and commissions and whatnot. Similarly, we have purchased things on Etsy and had fantasized about putting up our own craft goods to earn a little extra. Etsy, like Ebay, has per piece fees and listing costs. Then a friend suggested Artfire. I perused the Artfire site on several occasions and finally was enticed to open a store when they offered a fixed low monthly fee. If you look at the top widget on the right side of the blog you will see a link to my Artfire store.

Please do not read this and think the blog is going to become one giant marketing tool for my merchandise. It is not. I may occasionally mention if we add a new type of product but for now I just want to make blog readers aware of it and that it is there if you are interested. For now, it is small and only contains a couple of my handmade hats but my vision for the future will include beeswax based products and maybe even artisan soaps, jams or jellies. Who knows? For now, like everything in this adventure, we are starting small. Baby steps. Two little hats may lead to great things or two little hats may fizzle out and leave us back at square one. Either way, we are trying to leave ourselves open for God’s direction and do not want to find ourselves caught back up in the materialism that consumes so much of today’s society.

I want to thank everyone for supporting us in prayer, in kind words of encouragement and by silently clicking on this blog to read our adventures. If we have disappointed you or let you down, I am truly sorry. We do not mean for this blog or our lives to be a stumbling block for anyone. Instead we wish to encourage and to be encouraged to commune with our fellow homesteaders (if only on the internet) and to share our joys and struggles. We are making progress and we are sure you are too! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and may peace and joy abound in your life.

With our heartfelt thanks & much love,


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blog it out, Bebe

I know the blog has been neglected for almost a month now. It is not that I do not have things to write about, although there is a definite slowing of the homestead activity level during the winter months, it is more like I have this nagging sense of writer’s block mixed with a hopeless wheel-spinning sensation that bogs me down in a blogging quagmire. I go about my normal routines and think of interesting (at least to me) blog topics throughout the day but when I sit down at the computer to write them out I find one-hundred-and-one other more interesting things to do (like update my facebook status with banal quips every five minutes). This entry is not focused on one specific thing, instead it is more my attempt to break through the wall of apathy the shorter days and colder temperatures always bring with them into my life.

Last year, about this same time, I was debating the merits of a new artificial Christmas tree. The one we have from before Fred and I got married has seen better days and is definitely starting to show its age. It is pre-lit but it is also pre-realistic-looking-needles. It more resembles a shredded, green colored, trash bag attached to metal pipe cleaners than it does an actual evergreen. It is also beginning to rust and loose some of those plastic needles. I find myself loading it down with more and more decorations every year to camouflage its burgeoning baldness. I am sorry to say last year the prohibitive factor in not purchasing a new tree was cost and not our care for the environment. This year we probably could have afforded a new tree (Kmart marked them down more than half off before thanksgiving) but our push towards a green lifestyle left my conscience in a dilemma.

In theory we would love to have a real tree, the fresh smell of pine, the family memories of traipsing into the woods to pick just the right tree, chopping it down with our own ax and dragging it home to decorate and love, making a festive day of the whole event with spiced cider and homemade cookies. Taking it to a tree recycling center after the holidays, leaving with the warm glow of knowing it would find its way to the bottom of a local lake to become a habitat for wildlife. Sounds great! The reality in our house would find Sarah with her eyes swollen shut and the cats using it as a brand new liter box. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell Christmas scene I envision.

So that leaves us with a problem: when this tree is finally kaput, do we go treeless, do we make everyone ill or do we buy another big fake tree that will eventually find its way into a landfill? We actually have three fake trees. We have our big tree that is approaching a decade in age and we have two smaller trees that have been given to us by different people. Now while I know that in reality all of these trees are artificial and will eventually find their way to the dump I do not feel entirely bad seeing as how two of them would already be at the landfill if they were not here in our house. (So yes, save your snide comments, I rescue cats, dogs, chickens and artificial trees.)

It would be nice if there were a “green” artificial tree alternative. Like one made from recycled tires or cardboard, or tofu, or something. I feel bad buying one more thing that I know will get thrown away and that serves no practical purpose. Maybe someone could make a tree out of those plastic grocery bags? I figure I can get a least a few more years out of our artificial tree as is but I know it is not going to “live” forever and I am looking ahead to replacement possibilities. It is hard to walk through Kmart or Lowes and look at the shiny, new, realistic-looking trees with their shapely needles and perfect colors. I feel like the kids in the Charlie Brown Christmas show gazing longingly at the aluminum trees.


On a homestead note: We have chicken issues. Do not be alarmed everyone is healthy but we have two big issues right now one being how to heat the coop and the other issue is how to keep them supplied with fresh water.

When we built the coop Fred left the top open and closed in with chicken wire to keep it cool in the summer and allow the air to circulate to keep the conditions sanitary and the smell to a minimum. He rigged a system to allow for removable insulation to be slid in the top of the coop when the temperature dropped to prevent a draft and to conserve heat. We put a thick layer of shavings and straw on the floor of the coop and in the nest boxes. I think this does a pretty decent job of insulating the girls but they will no longer roost on the perches at night.

Although installing the insulation did lower the roof of the coop they still have plenty of head room and should be able to roost as normal. However, every night when we go out to check on them we find them bedded down in a cluster on the straw. I do not know if they perceive the ceiling to be lower than what it is or if they are doing this to stay warm. Even with all the added bedding and the insulation in the roof the walls are still very thin and un-insulated. Most everything I have read assures me that chickens can survive frigid temperatures without a heat source but I feel mean and they look cold.

Last night, with the temperatures dipping into the teens and the wind chill lowering it further, we ran an extension cord and an incandescent light bulb out to the coop. We had a twelve dollar heat lamp bulb but it was broken sometime during the summer. I figured a regular bulb would at least take the chill out of their coop although I worry that too much light might interrupt their sleep pattern. When I went out this morning to tend them the bulb was burnt out, I assume the cold temperatures were too much for it. So we are back to the original coop warming predicament. I will gladly take any suggestions. So feel free to comment. If we put the heat lamp bulb out there and it breaks we certainly cannot afford to replace it every night.

The issue with keeping them supplied with water is a whole different problem. As it is I am going out several times a day to supply them with warm tap water. All of their normal waterers are completely frozen and the temperatures are not getting up high enough, or sustaining enough warmth, to thaw them out. I have seen waterers at the feed store for horses that have a heating element and will keep the water thawed and drinkable. My big issues with those are they are large (for horse), expensive, and I do not want to go out and find one of my girls electrocuted because she decided to take a warm bath instead of drink it.


So there is a little update on some of the things going on here. Mostly I am bogged down trying to get Christmas presents finished and decorations up before I wake up and realize it is January.

Much love,
Thank you for reading,


Monday, November 15, 2010

Soap Suds

Last Thursday, Veteran’s Day, I officially ran out of homemade laundry detergent. I made the first six gallon bucket of laundry detergent on April twenty-fourth of this year. Being as this was one of our first forays into homesteading I am happy to report it was a success. I think seven months worth of laundry on an initial investment of $18.01 is pretty economical.

You can go on to cut that price in half because I had enough of every ingredient (excluding an additional bar of soap) to make an entire additional batch. I will never have to buy the bucket again and I think I probably could have gotten a third batch of the detergent out of my original ingredients except I used some of the washing soda for other household cleaning and craft projects. So from here on out I estimate my investment in detergent every seven months, assuming I get three batches out of the initial ingredients, to be roughly $3.70 (and that is rounding up)!

I am taking up another whole blog about this because I want to tell you some of the things I learned from my first batch as well as share my pleasure at a completely successful, heart-ache free venture! First and foremost, it takes some time and is a messy endeavor to make laundry detergent, so if you are pressed for time, or you have run out of detergent and waited till the night before work to wash your uniforms, you are out of luck. It takes about an hour, maybe a little more, to make the detergent and then the concoction needs to be left to sit overnight before using. I waited till I was completely without detergent before make more because I wanted to see exactly how long one bucket would last (and it was a good excuse not to do laundry for an entire day).

Secondly, scooping detergent out of a six gallon bucket for every load is messy and impractical. I saved an “All” liquid detergent container, submerge it in the bucket to fill it up and then just use the lid as a measuring device like normal. Any liquid laundry detergent bottle that you have on hand would work. This way I can continue to store my product like normal detergent, above the washer, and it does not add an additional step to doing the laundry. I just push the bucket off to the side of the laundry room and only fool with it when the bottle is empty.

Finally, here are a couple of tips for the actual making of the detergent: The first time I made it I ran the bar of soap through my food processor, mistake. It was glommy and I like to NEVER got the food processor washed or the “mountain fresh” scent out of the plastic. Ick. I cook with that! Lesson learned. So this time around I just chopped the soap up with a stainless steel kitchen knife, much easier to clean but it did leave me with coarser chunks of soap to dissolve on the stove which took longer. I will chop it up in even smaller bits next time.

I also thought, last time I made it, I did not get the bar soap entirely dissolved and so my finished product was kind of gloppy and had a chunky consistency. Initially, I worried that is would leave residue on the clothes. That was not the case. It dissolved completely it just was not aesthetically pleasing.

This time around I took the extra time and care to dissolve the bar soap completely so when I put my finished product in the bucket it was entirely liquid and the consistency of a thin syrup. Unfortunately, on Friday morning when I opened the bucket, it too had unattractively congealed. It is not a thick smooth get like a commercial detergent. Instead, it is lumpy, like the consistency of oatmeal. The plus of completely dissolving the bar soap this time was there are no white soap chunks in it, it is clear, just lumpy.

The consistency of the detergent does not seem in any way to affect the way it cleans. Our clothes, even Fred’s uniforms, come out fresh and clean and smelling great. We have not had any problems with skin allergies or clothes not getting completely clean. Also, there is never any residue on the clothes like with a powder detergent. There is also no soap scum, which was a personal concern of mine at the onset. So overall my verdict is I will continue to make our detergent at home, saving a fortune on the commercial alternatives and making a little baby step towards being a more responsible consumer.


In the same vein of getting things clean here is something else we have realized in the past two months. Dishwasher not only save time and alleviate a tiresome chore, they actually use less electricity and water than doing dishes by hand. Knock me over with a feather.

Our dishwasher finally gave up the ghost about two months ago and we decided to forgo the expense of a new one. I would wash the dishes by hand. I do not mind washing the dishes. I put on some music or use the time to day dream and plan, but let me point out, I cook, a lot, several times a day. I make at least two breakfasts in the mornings, sometimes three. I make lunch for myself and whoever else is home and I make dinner most nights, in addition to anything I bake throughout the week and any extra treats I may make. In short, I dirty a LOT of dishes.

In the past I would load the dishes into the dish washer as the day went on and then run the dish washer when we all went to bed. I would unload it in the morning and start all over again. I ran the dishwasher almost every day and occasionally twice a day. Well when the dishwasher went on to the great kitchen in the sky I was left piling dirty dishes in the sink. The sink basin is small and usually breakfast dishes alone filled it up and spilled over onto my limited counter space. This make for some technical difficulties when it came time to make lunch and dinner and I was left with no space. So I would at least have to washes dishes once in the morning and once in the afternoon and usually at least once in between to clear up enough space to turn around in.

You can imagine my shock and horror after putting in all this additional work only to find out that both our water and electric bills had gone up significantly! That did it. It was like adding insult to injury. Not only did I have at least an hour or two of extra work every day but I was paying for the privilege! GRRRR! We bit the bullet and went dishwasher shopping this past Saturday.

We settled on a lower price point whirlpool with an extended warranty. No, we are not crazy about buying one more plastic and metal thing that will eventually find its way to a landfill but we also are not in love with pumping scads more water into the sewage/waste water plant or using tons of fossil fuel to heat that water just to wash our dishes. Buying the new dishwasher seemed like the lesser of two evils, the greener of two brown choices. We bought an energy efficient model that supposedly only cost thirty-three dollars per year to run and we will install it ourselves this afternoon.

The recyclable parts of our old dish washer will go into the scrap pile and we will try and determine if we can come up with a use for any of the skeletal remains of plastic. HEY! Maybe I have finally found my backdoor composter?! We will see. In the meanwhile we are still learning and taking our small steps although this one was quite the eye opener. Who knew washing dishes by hand was really so costly. Of course if you live alone or do not cook very often it might be much more cost effect, just a thought.

Thanks for reading,
Much love,


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Great Egg-scape Part II

Ok, so remember that whole analysis of why Helga was the only one who could escape from the confines of our back yard? You know the others were too fat, or too small, or too old, etc. Nonsense. Toss it out. Sigh.

A couple of weeks ago, after successfully pruning Helga’s wings with very little incident, I thought we had effectively arrested the problem of the chicken escapees with minimal chicken drama. Helga did not seem in the least upset with being re-confined to the yard nor did anyone else appear to be exhibiting signs of wanderlust for the great green grass beyond the fence.

After all, our back yard is nothing to sneeze at, it is roughly a third of our property if not a little more. It is more than enough space for six chickens and there are several trees to get under and lots of shady places to scratch for snacks. Not to mention the “magical” back door opens several times a day and chickens are treated to everything from left over spaghetti (which they love) to raisins and oats (a little more common but equally desired). There is really no reason for a chicken to step outside the confines of the fence except out of sheer nosiness. Let me tell you: a cat's alleged curiosity has got nothing on a chicken's. Those are some of God’s nosiest creatures. There is a reason gossipy old women are referred to as biddies!

So several days after pruning Helga’s wings I was sitting here on the couch working on gathering some homesteading information when I heard some intense chicken squawking and it sounded astonishingly close. Allow me to pause for a second and address that the location of the couch is not close to the back door, instead I was sitting relatively near the front door and it distinctly sounded as if a chicken was attempting to sell me a magazine subscription. At first I ignored it, sound does strange things in the hollow and sometimes people talking several houses away sound as if they are on our front step. Then the ranting became incessantly louder. I thought maybe someone was stuck in a tree so I stepped on the back porch to investigate.

I called “stinky chickens” “stinky chickens” this is what they respond to in the way that a house cat will come to “here kitty kitty” Helga came tearing around the corner of the house at break neck speed, wings stretched out to the side she toddled as fast as her fat little legs would carry her. If you have never seen a chicken run you are missing a real treat, it is hysterical, they wobble back and forth and their fat thighs narrow down onto spindly little ankles and feet that look as if they will give way at any moment. You can see where the cartoonists got the idea of a spinning circle to represent a running animal, their legs appear to spin precariously through the air as they rush to their destination.

Helga was shortly followed by three of the Black Jersey Giants and Momma lethargically bringing up the rear (Momma is in a molt, a topic for a later blog). I called some more and examined the BJGs to see who was missing. Gina-chicken was notably absent from the group so I called specifically for her by name. I gave everyone some oats (so they would cease chattering and pecking my toes) and listened. I could hear a distant ruckus that sounded distinctly like a chicken stuck somewhere. I left the back porch and began walking around the house towards the sound. As I rounded the corner I saw Gina-chicken standing outside the chain link diligently jamming her little chicken head in between the links and fussing as loudly as possible. Good grief. Some days I feel like Charlie Brown perpetually having the football yanked out from under me.

I went back in the house and out the front door, the shortest route to the escapee. As she saw me exit the front door she started up at ruckus that had me in fear of the ASPCA being called at any moment. She was beating her wings on the ground and making enough noise for a dozen chickens instead of one solitary soul. Clearly, she was extremely put out that she had been over the fence for quite some time and no one was heeding her demand of immediate reentry. In fact her fair weather sisters had eagerly abandoned her to her fate as soon as the opportunity to procure some snacks became available.

I am still at a total loss as to how they manage to “fly” out but cannot seem to work out the mechanics of “flying” back in. I walked up to her and gently lifted her under my arm, pinning her wings at her side and allowing me to briefly examine her for injury without being flogged half to death. Flogging does not really hurt (at least not from a chicken that size) but it does present the opportunity for the bird to injure itself and it is really annoying and hard to work around. I checked her over she seemed fine except for being riotously angry.

I considered walking around the yard to the gate or taking her back through the house but in the end the easiest solution seemed to be to just put her back over the fence. I held her wings at her sides and her body out in front and leaned as far over the fence into the yard as possible. (Note: I am still wearing pajamas at this point, all I need are rollers in my hair and I am sure my neighbors will begin taking their morning coffee on the porch to watch the show.) I am not the tallest person in the world so even leaning in as far as I could left Gina-chicken roughly a foot to foot and a half off the ground. Oh well, at that point it was either drop her in or fall in on top of her.

I let her go and she angrily fluttered to the ground, she turned and tried to peck my finger, I assume in protest of her man handling and I thought to myself, “Go ahead sister, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait till this evening.” I figured Fred and I would need to clip everyone’s wings as soon as he got home from work. Helga is the tamest of the bunch and pruning her wings was no treat. I was not in the least looking forward to chasing down and trimming the BJGs.

I checked on the girls several times throughout the afternoon and I had practically convinced myself that obviously Gina-chicken was the only one who could get over the fence so maybe we would only need to clip her and Helga and everyone else would be fine. Then Fred’s mom came to visit. Fred’s mom grew up in Illinois where her parents and grandparents raised most all of their food, including chickens for both meat and eggs. She was our main detractor in our chicken endeavors stating that chickens were mean, filthy and stupid. She and her younger sister had always been left in charge of the chickens and to this day she wants absolutely nothing to do with them.

I told her about how Helga and now Gina-chicken were getting outside of the chain link. I shared with her that I was afraid one of them would panic and get hit by a car or worse that one of the roving neighborhood dogs would sneak up on one of my girls while they were waiting to get back in and maul them. She agreed that those things were possible and then she shared with me a charming story about how several of their leghorns had broken their necks attempting to get out of the fence and falling short only to land with their heads stuck on the top of the fencing. She said they would come home from school to find dead and half dead chickens swinging by their necks on the gallows of their own design.

That did it. Everyone was getting pruned the second Fred got home from work. I was NOT coming home to find one of my birds swinging on the fence line. Poor Fred, I did not even give him an extra second to stop, he sat his lunch box down and I handed him the sheers and hustled him out into the yard. Now here is the second part of our dilemma. The BJGs do not particularly like Fred. In fact, they tend to flee from him at amazing speeds. I told him they can smell the chicken on his breath. I honestly do not know why they do not like him other than he just is not around them enough for them to get comfortable with him. Whatever the issue, it was like they could sense something was up the second we stepped outside. They headed for the big pine and hunkered down.

It was a comedy of epic proportions as we tried to flush the BJGs from hiding all the while Helga was underfoot like the annoying pup from the Bugs Bunny cartoons “Where ya goin’ hey, hey, what ch doing? Can I go? Hey, hey, what cha doing?” and Mamma stood on the sidelines watching the excitement. We had decided we did not need to clip Mamma, as old as she is and being in molt I was afraid the additional stress of clipping her wings might make her croak. It is funny how they can sense that something is amiss. Only the BJGs hid as their inner radar alerted them that they were the ones about to get the business.

I told Fred just to wait I would go in and get some raisins. I stepped back out on the porch and shook the box. Of course, like me, their bellies overrode their common sense and they came barreling out of the pine onto the porch. Fred snuck up behind them and while they were eating he grabbed Autumn-chicken. Of course the other three quickly made for the pine tree and Autumn-chicken began to fuss & carry-on like it was the end of the world. Fred flipped her upside down and instead of relaxing she kind of stiffened in a really good imitation of rigormortis. I struggled to stretch her wings and trim the feathers, she jerked a few times and began to drool.

Now, let me tell you, I have NEVER seen a chicken drool. I did not even know they could drool. It was pitiful. In the few second it took me to clip her feather she had drool a great big slimy puddle on the porch. Fred eased her back to her feet and she was so shook up she just stood there for a few minutes. She would not even take a raisin offered right in front of her beak. She finally staggered away, made it off the porch, shook herself and ran full tilt for the pine screeching at the top of her lungs.

We realized that we were not going to immediately catch any more chickens so we waited about thirty minutes before once again trying to bait them back up on the porch. We thought we had a pretty good system. Once they were on the porch they were cornered so it was only a matter of snatching up one and doing the pruning. Ha, anyone who tells you chickens are stupid is probably a moron. They are not going to solve the NY Times crossword anytime soon but they are not brainless and they do remember things.

I coaxed them back on the porch and they were moving around so furiously we could not determine who was who, and who had already been trimmed. As Fred made a move to grab one they panicked so badly they began running into the railing of the porch and knocking over my potted plants. They were so distraught that two of them managed a feat I would not believe if I had not seen it with my own eyes. They squeezed between the porch railings and hopped a good three and a half to four feet to the ground. Their body width is easily twice that of the space between the slats. It was like watch a train wreck and being unable to look away as wings were wrenched backwards and sheer terror propelled them through the bars.

I thought surely we had some injured chickens on our hands, but no, other than being terrorized they seemed fine. We managed to capture and trim one more before we finally gave up and decided to grab the other two after they had gone to roost that night. Somewhere in the midst of this mayhem I came up with the bright idea of painting the toenails of the ones we had trimmed so that they would be easily discernible in the dark. We painstakingly applied pink polish to the middle toe of the left foot of both the clipped BJGs and left them alone until dark.

Once the sun had set and the girls had gone to roost we snuck out with our Coleman lantern and our kitchen scissors and determined to get the job done. They were on to us, The whole thing about chickens being comatose and docile after dark? BUNK! They had huddled as far away from the coop door as possible, piled on top of each other against the far wall, blocking the small door and outside of arms reach of the nest box. And did I mention? There was not a painted toenail in sight.

We sighed, set the lantern down and began the arduous task of climbing around the coop in the dark and wrestling unwilling chickens into submission. It was a nightmare they were terrorized and for our trouble we were pecked, flogged and drooled on. Feathers flew everywhere and it is amazing that everyone escaped without injury. Needless to say none of us are looking forward to the next time pruning is necessary. Also probably needless to say, we did not see eggs for several days and when we finally did see eggs again they were hidden all over the yard like a vindictive and deranged Easter Bunny had escaped the institution and gone on an egg hiding spree.

There is a steep learning curve in the chicken raising business and so far I feel consistently on the bottom of the bell. Oh well, they are not dead yet so we must be doing something right. Stay tuned.

Much love,


Friday, November 5, 2010

Henry, a Life Interupted

Many of you will read this and wonder what it has to do with the general theme of this blog. I can save you some trouble and tell you absolutely nothing, however, I cannot let Henry “go gently into that good night” without at least pausing to honor his life and the importance he has in mine. I have many things backlogged to blog about but none as important to me as this.

In 2001 I was newly married and desperate to channel my maternal instinct into some childless path. My husband at the time had one cat, Sophie, but Sophie was solely his and solely a one person animal. I wanted my own cat, something I could love and baby, something all my own. In looking back I realize that this all consuming desire to love something and to have that something return my love unconditionally obviously reflected on the frailty of, and the seismic flaws in, a marriage that should never have been.

What I really wanted was a child but that was not to be and, as hind sight is always twenty-twenty, I realize now the marriage was doomed from before we said “I do” so it was better that we had no children. It is much easier to maintain custody of a cat then it is a child. These later realizations did nothing to quell the almost all consuming desire to mother something. We argued about the merits of another pet. I had an overwhelming desire to save every animal I saw and my then husband had a much more pragmatic view of taking good care of the one pet we had versus struggling to feed more animals or our combined minimum wage salaries.

I whined, I cried, I moped, I threatened, I wheedled, I argued, I pleaded and eventually I merely wore him down. He conceded to one more cat, but that was the limit. I could choose the cat but he would have the privilege of naming the new addition and that new addition must be declawed, spayed/neutered and vaccinated before entering Sophie’s world. These were terms I could readily agree to so off I went to the Kanawha Valley Animal Shelter looking for a cat of my very own.

When I arrived at the shelter, just like every other time I had visited, I found myself overwhelmed with the sights, smells and sounds of a small venue filled to the brim with terrified, lonely, confused and unwanted little creatures. (I applaud the shelter, the workers and the volunteers for taking on a monumental task that involves so much heartbreak and so little reward. I could not do it. I can barely stand to walk through the door. I would gladly give my last dime, all my worldly possessions and the clothes on my back to save everyone of those little souls but even if I took home each one there are countless others awaiting their spots. It is heartbreaking, it is always heartbreaking.)

I wandered into the cat room and found myself face to face with numerous pairs of pleading eyes and countless tragic little faces. I wandered from cage to cage as paws reached out to touch me and warm fuzzy bodies threw their purring weight against the bars of their confinement. You cannot put your fingers in the cages for fear of cross contamination, so I laced my hands behind my back, and stopped at each door to talk to the little prisoners. Their eyes tell sad stories of loss and abandonment, of heart break and hope, I desperately wished I could save them all.

I was pretty sure I did not want a tiny kitten for fear Sophie would make mincemeat out of it and I was afraid an older cat might already be too set in their ways to blend well into a family where the position of alpha female was already well secured. I was leaning towards a tom and had pretty much decided I would need to choose a bigger kitten when my eyes locked on a half grown waifish looking hair ball meowing at the top of his adolescent lungs from behind his bars. I walked towards his cage and he immediately set to wailing at me, reaching through his confines with arms that seemed two-times too long for his spindly body.

He looked distinctly like he had been standing at the end of the line when God was handing out the cat parts, and had gotten the very last scrapings from the bottom of the barrel. He was mostly a dingy white, with a half grown half starved body, he had very long legs, a very long tail, and a very large head quite in disproportion to his slender trunk. His head looked as though someone had placed a tabby helmet on it and cut out ear holes, his back and tail continued the tabby motif making it look as though he were a white cat dressed in costume for the tabby ball. I was in love. He had a spot on one ear which lent him a flair of quirky charm and when he rolled on his back his belly sported a single tabby spot above his navel which would forever be referred to in Seuss-ical fashion as “stars on thars.”

Like I said, I was in love. I thought him charming in an awkward and gangly sort of way. He was very much a four legged representation of the type of man I was attracted to, poised and intelligent, trapped in an uncomfortable and ill fitting physical structure. I paid his bail and had him shipped to the local veterinarian we used for his surgery and vaccination. I was over the moon. When he came home several days later I was disappointed to be questioned as to why I’d “picked the ugliest kitten in the pound?” I did not care I was in love, he was not ugly, he had potential.

I was advised his name would be Henri Cartier Bresson after the famous French photographer who specialized in quirky black and whites. That was fine by me, Henry was a perfectly suitable and charming name and he soon grew into a lovely French accent and haughty French attitude as his personality blossomed. I do not know whether cats take on the traits we believe them to have, or if we shape their personas around the traits they naturally exhibit, but either way there could not have been a more fitting name or pseudo-heritage for my Henry.

He was odd, as all artists should be. He hid his feather-tailed mice in the food bowl. He was fast and vicious with the “fuzzy-mitton” strike, he could thunk Sophie or Pablo so hard on the head you could hear the distinct sound of plunking a ripe cantaloupe and never see a thing. He tattled on his sister when she fell out the bedroom window by nonchalantly pointing with his nose. He preferred his treats on the carpet because the linoleum was too cold. He snuck into the kitchen at night to chew the stalk of my Christmas amaryllis and let his sister take the blame as he sat innocently washing his face. He loved David Bowie and many Bowie lyrics were slightly altered to suit his name and personality and, most importantly, he grew into the child I so desperately wanted.

The marriage stalled and eventually failed. I moved out, but by this point Pablo and Sheva had ingratiated themselves into our family and the cat limit had been abandoned. We divided up the children. He took the girls, Sophie and Sheva. I took the boys, Henry and Pablo. The three of us packed our belongings and moved to an apartment across the river from my parents. It was an adjustment. We were not used to living on our own but we had each other. I cried myself to sleep many a night with a cat on either side of my pillow offering wordless comfort and creating a little fuzzy family nucleus, just the three of us.

Henry would sit on the table and watch me intently as I ate my solitary dinners for one. He would give me his attentive poochy face, his mouth would purse and his whiskers would come forward and if he had opened up his mouth and begun pelting me with advice in a thick French accent I do not think I would have been in the least bit surprised. He and Pablo were my companions, my family, my therapist, at times it felt like they were all I had and at time they were the only ones standing in the gap between me and the pits of despair. Our little family grew to include Dorian, and Henry begrudgingly made a spot for him on the bed. He continued to wear the mantle of “first-born” with an air of dignity and an iron “mitton-paw” of authority.

We moved several times. I fell in love, I fell out of love, we moved some more. At one point we moved back in with my parents the four of us descended on the five of them (my parents and their three cats) like an extra, unwritten, biblical plague. We moved back into my high school bedroom. We made do. Pablo and Dorian have Rastafarian countenances, they roll with the flow. My precious Henry was slightly more high strung, with more discerning tastes and was not at all pleased to share sparse quarters with grandma, grandpa and their brood but eventually he forgave me my bad taste in men, and my inability to function normally, and we made the best of our situation until we could once again move back into our apartment.

Henry never abandoned me, he never tried to run away. Through all my bad decisions and all my lack luster choices he remained faithfully mine. He never shunned me for another, he never made me second pick. He never cared how fat or thin I was he always, faithfully treated me the same, every day, for almost ten years.

Eventually our lives settled down. We found Fred, and in Fred we finally found unconditional love and stability. Fred’s love for all of us is a lot like Henry’s love for me, it is without failing and it is faithful. He took us as we were, a motley, bedraggled crew of rejects, and he loves us without the desire to change us. Shortly after Fred came into our lives our merry band of misfits expanded to include Bettie and not long after Fred and I were married Johnnie was thrust into our lives. Henry as the patriarch of this crew took each addition with grace and aplomb if not a small measure of disdain.

As our lives settled into a more normal routine Henry seemed content. He could still cut you down with a look or dole out the “fuzzy-mitton” of judgment as necessary, but he spent more time curled on my pillow asleep or nestled deep in the covers of our bed. He never missed the opportunity to snag a treat and occasionally he would feel his inner kitten well up and be smitten with the desire to chase a toy, wrestle his brothers or dance with the string.

Cool mornings had begun to find him with a slight limp on his way to the food bowl or the litter box but nothing alarming and nothing that seemed to slow him down. I assumed he, like me, was beginning to feel the effects of age settle into his bones. His attitude had not changed and his lust for life remained the same. I still awoke in the mornings to “needle feet” massages and opened my eyes to a giant cat head peering into my face and white whiskers tickling my nose. His high pierced “meow!” would still greet me when the bottom of the food bowl was visible or when the litter box was not cleaned to his satisfaction.

He was not ill, ten is not old for a house cat.

This past Sunday, when we arrived home from church, I found Henry’s body lying in our bedroom floor at the foot of our bed. I screamed his name. I checked for breathing and a heartbeat, I found none. His eyes were open and his stare was vacant and my heart was torn asunder. I picked his body out of the floor and cradled him to my chest as I ran out of the house screaming for Fred. I fell in the yard with my beloved baby in my arms and I wept. He was gone.

I feel heartbroken, I feel robbed. I know many of you will read this and find me and my grief ridiculous. I have lost my child and there is no solace for the bereaved of another species. People say things like “he was just a cat” or “he had a good life” and while those things are true and logically and I understand them it does not ease my heartache and it does not “fix” my grief. Ten years was not long enough and describing Henry as a “pet” does not even begin to encompass everything he meant to me. I am heartbroken.

Beloved fuzzy child, Mommy loves you. I will never forget you. I hope all kitties go to heaven because you have taken part of my heart with you.

I will endeavor to wrench this blog back on topic but I am not making any promises.

Much love & sadness,

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Great Egg-scape

Helga, [hel-guh], noun -A wildly expensive chicken with a mind and a personality all her own!

Friday before last, while I was out with my mom and Sarah, Fred cut down three small trees from the curve of our driveway. These three had been choked by poison ivy and were in imminent danger of toppling during the next storm on to our West Virginia lawn ornament (a Caprice that has not run in almost a decade), or of blocking the driveway. Since neither of us has any desire to use the chainsaw in the next big gale Fred took the preventative measure of storing up a little early firewood.

Louie our dog loves to be where ever the people are. He is a great off-leash dog because he does not want Fred or me out of his sight. He does not wander off chasing scent trails(we are pretty sure he cannot smell), he does not (normally) run off with other dogs and generally he does not chase things unless they are in our yard. It is safe to work outside doing chores or whatever and assume that Louie will stay in close proximity.

While Fred was cutting down the trees, he looked around and realized that he missed Louie. He thought maybe the sound of the chainsaw had scared him so he took a moment to look around. What he saw was Louie at the fence line of the back yard, near the beehives, watching Helga manically tearing up and down the fence line. You remember Helga, right? Bionic, wonder-chicken? The chicken with the bazillion dollar emergency vet bill, the reason we ate brown beans for a week? I thought so. She is hard to forget, with a personality all her own and a quickly compiling biography to rival a VH1 behind the music special, this chicken is really something.

Anyway, Fred thought her behavior was peculiar enough to warrant attention so he laid the chainsaw down and started for the back yard. As he got closer he realized she was on the outside of the fence. Yes, Helga raced up and down the fence line in a red-hot panic as Stacy and Miranda mirrored her maneuvers from inside the yard. She had somehow managed to maneuver herself outside the fence line and could not figure out how to get back in and she was desperate to get back in. Our back yard (where the chickens live) has several pine trees and lots of nooks and things for the chickens to get under (which they love) our front and side yards, by comparison, are relatively barren with little cover and more importantly without her sisters who were all still obediently within the confines of the fence.

Fred picked her up and carried her through the gate without further incident. When I got home he related the story to me and we debated the possible methods of escape used by Helga the wonder hen. Fred seemed to think she had flown over the fence but was not sure. If she had flown over the fence then why did she not just fly back in? Chickens, while not the smartest of God’s creatures, can operate under learned behaviors and once they have done something are usually likely to do it again.

You see, of all the chickens Helga is probably the only one capable of “flying” anywhere. Allow me to pause for a moment and define flying for a chicken, it is a kamikaze run at something, full tilt, wildly flapping wings with a little prayer and a jump. It may get them an extra foot off the ground for approximately a nanosecond before they land with an unceremonious thud roughly in the same vicinity in which they started. The four BJGs are way too large to “fly” anywhere and Mama is much too small to get any real height, so Helga is really the only bird in our flock of a big enough stature and light enough weight to get her butt up off the ground with any significance.

We discussed it and figured it was a fluke. Helga loves people and, much like Louie, always wants to be where we are. Just to be safe, we walked the fence line and checked for holes, we checked the gate and along the ground to make sure nothing had been tunneled through. Everything seemed fine. We chalked it up to an overzealous bid for attention on Helga’s part. We figured in her desperation to get to Fred she had excitedly jumped at the fence only to magically find herself on the other side. Once through the looking glass she had no clue how to return to her own world and without a cake marked “EAT ME” or a bottle marked “DRINK ME” she merely chose to plummet herself wildly along the fence line until Fred rescued her. We check on her several times that evening and throughout the next day. She seemed normal and content within the confines of the yard so Fred and I shrugged and chalked her escape up to a freak accident, a fluke. HA!

Sunday found us arriving home from church to a crisp fall afternoon, a beautiful sunny sky and a chicken escapee once again running the fence line and squawking wildly for reentry. When we got home from church I stepped into the backyard to gather the eggs. As I walked towards the coop I was followed by five of my six hens. Helga was missing. I called for her and could hear her squawking like a maniac. I looked and called and her shrieks became increasingly incessant. As I rounded the corner of the house I could see her. This time she ran the fence line that boarders our front yard. Howling at me and probably convincing all of my neighbors I have a chicken torturing operation in my back yard.

I yelled for Fred and told him where she was. I did not want to leave the back yard for fear she would panic if she lost sight of me and bolt for the road. Or worse, if I tried to go get her all the others would follow and then I would have chicken anarchy on my hand. I really do not have any desire to log on to facebook someday and find myself the subject of the latest viral video, chasing chickens all around the yard like a lunatic. I talked to her and tried to keep her attention as Fred walked around the house from the other direction and picked her up. There was no real fear of her bolting, all she wanted at that point was to get back in the yard.

As Fred carried her back into the safety of the fence we discussed the fact that she was obviously flying out either after something or someone and we needed to put an immediate stop to it before one of the others began trying it or before she got hit by a car or became an expensive snack of one of the local dogs. I told him we needed to clip her wings. Now in theory this sounded great. I mean how many times have you heard the term “clipped wings” in some cliché fashion? I figured how hard could it be? Fred pointed out that neither of us had any wing clipping experience nor did we even know how to go about trimming said wings or which feathers to cut. I pondered this and left Fred to babysit the chickens while I went back in the house to do a little research.

Well what else can you possibly do when you do not have the answers or the expertise? That is right; I Googled and Google took me straight to a do-it-yourself YouTube video, yay for the internet. In three minutes flat I was practically a chicken wing pruning expert. Just to be sure my skills were perfectly honed I watched the video a second time, transferred it to my phone, grabbed the kitchen scissors and went outside. I made Fred watch the video twice to make sure we were on the same page and then I asked, “cut or hold?” Fred responded with a blank stare and I said, “Do you want to hold her upside down or do you want to trim her wings?” He decided he would hold. Lucky for us Helga likes to be picked up and held so we did not have to chase her all around the yard.

As Fred began to flip her upside down she began to flap her wings and screech in protest but as she rotated one hundred and eighty degrees she became suddenly, magically still and quiet. I do not have any idea why and I do not know if it applies to all chickens but something about flipping her over immediately stunned/calmed her. I stretched her wing out and Fred and I had a momentary debate as I almost cut the wrong feathers. Once we had agreed on the proper feathers to trim I unglamorously hacked away at them with my kitchen shears. Let me tell you, kitchen scissors are NOT for feather pruning nor are feather cuticles at all easy to cut through. However, after several minutes of sawing Helga was pruned and her feet returned to terra firma.

She seemed no worse for the wear and so we went about our business. There were no more escapes through Sunday afternoon and as I let them out Monday morning she seemed quite fine and not at all discontent with her new shorter feather do. I fed them and watered them and was a little concerned that Helga might be standoffish with me after having been manhandled the day before, but like a loyal dumb dog she ran up and let me pet her and begged for treats and followed me around the yard as I completed my chores. She seemed perfectly content and normal until later that morning when I went to the back porch to offer them some treats.

I called for the chickens and they came running from all over the yard as usual. Helga was in the middle of the pack. As they bounded up the stairs I saw Helga aim for midway up the side of the staircase, as she jumped and spread her wings she promptly clotheslined herself on the middle step. Oops. Apparently wing-pruning is not without drawbacks. I watched as she tried three more times, knocking herself back each time. I put aside some treats and waited to see if she would figure it out. Eventually she walked back around to the bottom step and, with wounded pride, climbed the steps slowly, one at a time. I hand fed her some raisins for her humiliation and she quickly recovered from her embarrassment.

The other unexpected side effect is that she can also no longer make it to the porch railing to eat from the bird feeder. While I will miss seeing this during my morning coffee break, it is a small price to pay to keep her in the fence and not have to worry that she will become dog food or road kill. She can still hop up on my lap when I sit outside although her balance is somewhat lacking. This chicken body modification has not seemed to tarnish her pride or ego in the least. She still tries to get in the house at every turn and expects special treatment when humans are in the yard. She also has become quite the jealous green eyed monster. If she catches you petting anyone else they are surely in for a sneaky head pecking, this includes the dog (and Fred).

Much love,
Thank you for reading,


Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Abundantly: In Memory of Julie

As many of you who know me in real life know, my aunt Julie died a week ago Monday after a fifteen month battle with lung cancer that had metastasized into her spine and shoulder. Jewel lived a rough life and although cancer was, by normal standards, a death sentence, for her it was a reprieve. That fifteen month gave her time to “put her house in order.” She was granted something that many of us, caught up in our day to day struggles never recognize, she was given a time of reflection. Like the season the Jewish community recognizes between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, she was given her “time of Awe” to look back and make peace with her family; she recognized her past and came to terms.

I will not defame Julie’s testimony by setting her up here as a saint. She lived a life fraught with heartache and wrong choices. Haunted by addiction, cancer brought her to her knees and ultimately to Jesus. I have learned something from Julie’s life and death and that is this: life is preciously short and flimsy. It can be snatched away from you in a moment or it can be wrested out of your grasp by a long debilitating illness. I do not mean to lose the focus of this blog or to totally stray from our mission statement but I will tell you this; a more “God centered” life is not just a pretty turn of phrase for Fred and me, it is the ultimate goal of our lives. Julie made the most of her last fifteen months, she tried, she gave it all over to Christ and she did her best to make amends.

I do not want to spend the last fifteen months of my life scrambling to “live right.” I want to do it now. Part of that for both Fred and me includes doing more to be self sufficient. It behooves us to be better stewards of our lives' and world's now instead of scrambling in the end to make right things that have been neglected. That said since last Monday I have neglected a lot. Short of the chickens, and Fred and Sarah’s stomachs, which refuse to be neglected, I have pretty much gone into zombie mode. I have mindlessly and numbly auto piloted my way through daily activities.

Do not misunderstand I was not shocked by Julie’s death, it was expected. Nor am I in abject mourning. I know that Julie no longer suffers and that it was better for her to die quickly than to linger painfully in the hospital, just like it was better for her to die in a state of grace than one of turmoil. I do not think I have vegged out of life due to some overwhelming grief (although I do admit the amount of loss and death in the last few weeks has been staggering) instead I think that loosing Julie has forced me into a state of reevaluating my life, our goals and focus. I know, many of you probably think, “good grief does she do anything but introspectively reflect?” but I promise I do not sit around contemplating my belly button everyday (the blog just seems like it).

Ultimately, what Fred and I are trying to do, in all of our “green” endeavors, is to simplify our lives. You may think we are taking on way to much work to make things simple but even in hard work there is peace. There is a satisfaction in removing the middle man and of holding a finished product in your own hands, something in which you have a vested interest, not just a buck ninety-nine from the grocery. I can happily say that there are now more eggs in my refrigerator that I can use and I find myself trying to come up with creative ways to slip eggs into every meal. The satisfaction of holding something that represents our goals, as tiny as an egg is, fills me with such joy and gratitude that it is hard to express. I tell you, the pleasure of having a finished product is more rewarding than any career in which I have ever participated. This is a big statement for me, I can honestly say in my career as a firefighter I had a part in actually saving lives, and as rewarding as that was you still went home at the end of the day feeling tired, sometimes let down and often disappointed.

I said all of that to say: I want Julie’s life to be an illustration for myself and others. I want to do it right the first time. I am sure if Julie could tell us all one thing from heaven that would be it. Do it right the first time, do not spend your end scrambling to repair relationships and to atone for things, take your time to slow down now. Be kind to each other. Be kind to the world in which you live. Live each day with meaning and do not let your life become bogged down whether that be with possessions or unimportant details. Live fully and live well.

Jesus told us, "I came that you may have life and have life more abundantly." That is what I want "life more abundantly." What about you? I challenge you today, examine your life. If you knew you were down to fifteen months what would you do? Who would you make amends with? What would you change? What would you live without? Now live like that, live more abundantly!

I would like to make you promises about being back in the blogging saddle but the last few weeks have been so hard I am promising nothing but my best effort. I have lots of things to catch up on here on the “homestead” so the blog may be pushed to the bottom of the pile for now. I want to thank everyone who has prayed for my family and who has supported us in this time of struggle and need. Thank you.

Much Love,

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Plug for 18th Century Living

Hey guys here is a link and a brief description of an event going on this weekend. Fred and I will be there it is sure to be lots of fun & I am sure there are lots of things to be learned from the frontier that are still applicable to modern homesteading. Hope to see you there.

"Middle Creek Station Harvest Weekend Oct 1-2 Middle Creek Station is an 18th century Living History group comprised of men women and children who strive to open an authentic portal into 18th century living through live -demonstrations, lectures, and presentations. The station sits at the mouth of the Middle Creek tributary to the Guyandotte River, six miles east of Hamlin WV. The station is an 18th century re-constructed garrison (under construction) that demonstrates everyday hardships that our forefathers endured in defense of their homes and families as they carved out an existence in the western frontier (present day WV).
Our weekend activities include....
Gates open at 9:00 am to close at 5:00
Demos are to include
1. Spinning and weaving
2. Sheep shearing
3. Blacksmithing
4. Military, Militia, Flintlock Firing, Cannon firing, camp life etc.
Washington's 13 VA regiment
5. Fur trade (actual furs, traps and accouterments)
6. A surgeon's life tools and methods of 18th century medicine.
7. Eastern woodland village and life skills.
8. 18th century apothecary and field remedies.
9. History of the arms that won our freedom museum.
10. Archeological dig, School children will be allowed to dig a site to
recover actual hand knapped arrow points. (any artifacts (reproductions)
that they find they will be allowed to keep)
11. Multiple static displays exhibiting 18th century building techniques
and life skills.
On Friday, a group from the local elementary school will be attending after 12:00. Homeschoolers are welcome to attend at any time. There will be a concession stand selling hot dogs & snacks on Saturday."

Link to directions: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=117935442830806981231.00048f0d6703b39818281&t=h&z=19

Link to facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=162668810412428&index=1

Updates: Chickens, Bees and Master Gardening

I am sure many of you have noticed that since I have committed myself to one more undertaking (the Master Gardening Course) that the blog entries have dropped off substantially. I am endeavoring to, at least, get in one update a week but until this course is complete I probably will not get much more than one per week. That having been said I will try to keep this entry as coherent as possible but without one big theme and with lots of little things to touch on I cannot make any promises.

Let me start with the thing that I know is foremost in many of your minds; as you wait with bated breath on the edge of your seats, I am here to tell you bionic-chicken, aka Helga, is now back in the coop. She is now functioning in chicken society, a little worse for wear but no longer under attack, and laying normal eggs every day. While Fred and I are extremely pleased that she has so easily assimilated back into chickendom she on the other hand is slightly miffed. It seems as though through her ordeal, suffering the mental angst and physical abuse she was subjected to at the hands of her feathered sisters, she has somewhere along the lines developed a welfare-like sense of entitlement. In other words, she firmly believes that she is now a house chicken and is only slightly less than enraged that she is being forced to return to outdoor farm life. Her constant attempts at getting in the house, her ability to stand at the door and screechingly berate me for hours coupled with her now uncanny resemblance to Pinhead make her a Halloween novelty I am sure our neighbors tire of as I type.

I also owe a great debit of thankfulness and gratitude (and probably some baked goods if I ever get a spare second) to the staff and vets at the Elk Valley Veterinary Clinic here in Elkview. Dr. Stephenson from Good Shepherd referred me to them for help with the chickens. Specifically she referred me to Dr. Marshall who was a great help and kindly and patiently answered all of my chicken questions. He, the other doctors and their staff were wonderful and understanding and removed Helga’s stitches and gave me lots of useful information. Not the least of which was: (drum roll please) Helga’s eggs are once again safe to eat. The half life of the antibiotic she was given in such a small dose at the emergency clinic should have no lasting effect on the safety of her eggs. I can attest that we have been eating and cooking with them and no one in my family has grown a third eye or come down with any bizarre catastrophic illnesses since consumption.

In further chicken news I believe Stacy-chicken, Miranda-chicken, Gina-chicken and Autumn-chicken may all begin laying eggs this fall. I had not expected any of the BJGs to start laying until next spring but over the last two weeks or so they have really hit a major growth spurt. Even Gina-chicken is easily three times the size of Mama and probably twice the size of Helga. Their combs and waddles are bright red and have started to get bigger. Their butts have started to spread and their feathers are fluffier. So I am once again combing every nook and cranny of the yard for eggs. I am sure that my neighbors enjoy the parade of me, followed by six squawking chickens and one weird dog, walking the fence line every day and climbing under all the trees. I have had a noticeable flair up in childhood pine allergies since starting this daily ritual, anywhere along my arms that come in contact with the pine needles looks like I have contracted the pox for about twenty four hours then it fades away. I am glad the weather is cooling off so I can wear long sleeves because it seems that egg hunting is not just for Easter anymore. Oh well, it beats the heck out of emergency vet visits on Sunday afternoons.


Sadly there is little bee news to update. The poor bees have pretty much been neglected for the last several weeks since the chicken drama set in. I was supposed to attend the state bee conference last weekend but with all the loss and prior family commitments I was forced to forego my trip. Hopefully next year Fred and I will be able to attend together. The sharp cooling off and daily rainy drizzle have made getting in the hives nearly impossible for the last few days so we are in a holding pattern. Our main plan is to get 3 empty supers and set up a feeding system to coax all three hives through the winter.

Because we did not medicate we have been assured by many of the bee elders that we will not have any bees next year but I guess that remains to be seen. We will continue on as if the bees will thrive through the winter and hopefully we will be able to come up with an effective feeding plan that will at least allow them to limp along till spring. Now that we have a somewhat better idea of what we are doing next year we will redouble our beekeeping efforts and hopefully harvest enough honey for our own use and some Christmas gifts, if not a little extra to offset the cost of beekeeping supplies which can become quite pricey.


I am now three weeks into my Master Gardening course and I have to say so far I am disappointed. Week one was a foray into botany the likes of which I have not seen since Mr. Walker’s high school science class. So much Latin was involved that my brain felt like it had been through the food processor on high speed for three hours. We were lectured on the different types of plants and the means by which to identify them based on characteristics like the edge of the leaf, leaf cluster and veining pattern. While interesting and informative, my seizure riddled brain may just be too far past prime to absorb this kind of information in three hours.
Week two found us being lectured on soil by expert from the Putnam County extension office. Now, let me tell you, I was excited about this guy. The teaser in week one was that he was a pig farmer who naturally tilled and fertilized his soil via a free-range pig herd. Ok, now that piqued my interest. That is exactly the kind of thing Fred and I get into. Well, he was a very interesting man. He basically moves the pigs from lot to lot in the fall and lets them forage in a given field until they have tilled under any standing vegetation, then their manure and the plant life they have worked back into the soil act as natural fertilizer. He then turns them loose in forty acres of forest to forage for the fallen chestnuts before taking them to slaughter.
I was fascinated. He really seemed to have a handle on it and this seemed to be a great method. Pigs, unlike chickens, really till up the soil so they are not just scratching up some weeds and leaving manure they are really aerating and composting the soil very efficiently. The only drawback for me is of course that I do not eat pig so slaughtering it would not really work into our plan, plus with our limited space we really could not sustain a herd (or even probably a sow) of free-ranging pigs.
As I sat listening, and fantasizing about pig farming, he transitioned the lecture into soil types soil samples and how to identify your soil and collect a sample. He went through the process and told us step by step how to collect the samples and label them for shipping to WVU for analyzing. We all got our little forms and looked at the fancy on-line soil mapping program then he told us when we got our report back it would tell us just which type of chemical fertilizer to put in our gardens. WHAT!?! Hello, was not the first two hours of this lecture about how these chemical methods were not sustainable and how they would eventually sterilize the soil?
I called him on it. He paused for a moment and then told me I was the first person who had ever questioned him. Really?! REALLY?! Are we all this committed to polluting everything and doing everything the easy way that we do not even ask questions? I was shocked. I explained I was taking this course to help our family create a more sustainable existence, etc. He then lectured briefly on composting but advised that in the first couple of years until we perfected our composting methods we would probably still need to put some kind of additive in the soil, yet another disappointing week of class.
Week three found me even more excited than week two. Entomology. BUGS! I had skimmed through the chapter and was sure we were going to learn about all the exciting things pollinators and predators and helpful critters could do for our gardening endeavors. Boy was I disappointed. The lecture broke down into about twenty minutes of natural and helpful bugs and remedies and about two hours of recommendation on which was the best pesticide to use. Do not misunderstand me, there was some really helpful information disseminated about how to identify bugs by both their physical characteristics in larval and adult stages and by the damage left behind on plant matter but I was really hoping to learn more about natural methods of pest control and more about bugs that are helpful like my honeybees. I was disappointed by what I perceived as basically a giant commercial for, and I quote, “our crown jewel: pesticides.”

I do not know what next Monday’s class entails. I admit I have not even looked at my book to check out the next topic. I have been really let down by the last two classes and the huge push for chemical everything. I guess what I really needed was a course in natural gardening or organic gardening instead of a Master Gardening course.

Stay tuned,
Much Love and thank you for reading,


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

a song

My heart is heavy this morning with the loss and sadness and suffering I see all around me. I have held off for several days on any new blog entries hoping for something lighthearted and pleasant to write about. I have systematically avoided writing about the things that have been so prominent in my mind and since these things have become almost all consuming there has been nothing else of which to write. Unfortunately, this cloud of sadness has not lifted. Instead of continuing to avoid the blog I decided that I need to address these things because they are not going away. I feel compelled to write because all other roads are barren and these thoughts must work themselves out of my mind and heart:

Everyone struggles, even Christians, even Christians who walk closely with God, and struggling does not equate punishment. Sometimes we struggle because there are lessons to be learned and sometimes we just struggle for no apparent reason, other than we live in an imperfect world. I know how flip that sounds and what a poor and lackluster reason that is to give someone whose world is wrenched apart by grief but sometimes it is the only answer we have. So often we are quick to pass judgment on those among us who suffer. We think God is judging them or they have done something wrong to merit the suffering in their lives and so they are reaping what they have sown. We judge ourselves and question God and wonder “what have I done wrong? Why is God punishing me? Why can’t I ever win?” When, in reality, as our salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” sometimes our suffering is too by no fault of our own.

This week I lost an old friend, whom I had not seen in years and had only recently reconnected with through facebook. He was only thirty-three years old. We had chatted on line and said those things like “let’s get together soon” feeling for all the world like there were many tomorrows stretching ahead of us because, really, no one thinks at thirty-three that we will die in our sleep. This week a former colleague, whom I hold in great esteem as an honorable man of God and whose family I greatly respect as good and kind examples of practical Christianity, lost a son to cancer. They knew their tomorrows together to be finite but I assume their grief is no less sharp for the knowledge, because twenty is too young to die of cancer. This week I have watch a friend struggle with her son’s illness and vague diagnosis and with all the financial burdens that weigh down single parent’s everywhere and I know as I look at him that eighth grade should be a year of carefree fun not of doctors visits and tests. This week I have watched my dad struggle with his chronic pain and more surgery. I look at his sleepless face and know that retirement should be a time of ease and enjoying grandchildren not a constant struggle against insidious pain and depression. This week the nucleus of my own family has struggled and I find myself helpless.

In this time of powerlessness all I can do is give my struggle and my doubt to the Lord as we are instructed in I Peter 5:7 “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you,” because I can do nothing else. I am staggered by the vast amount of suffering everywhere. As I look out my window onto the first calendar day of Autumn I see with my physical eyes a beautiful, calm, warm and sunny day. As I look around me spiritually I see the storms of life raging all around the people I love and rocking their boats, and mine, to the point of capsizing. I see friends and love ones clinging by their spiritual fingernails to the planks of driftwood that are all that remain of their lives.

Growing up in Sunday School I was taught that we are always in a state of spiritual warfare, that we are in a constant struggle with the unseen to maintain our soul’s integrity. I do not so much believe this as I have gotten older. I believe that if you truly accept Christ as your savior then that ultimate battle has been fought and won. I do not believe that it is then somehow my responsibility to fight and re-win that battle every day. That lends a “works” aspect and a sense of futility to the whole thing that I just cannot swallow.

That being said I know through my own practical experience that being a Christian does not somehow magically exempt me from suffering, from hurt, from loss, from bad decisions, from death or from hurting others. We are still human, we still function inside this flawed world, we are still children of flesh and blood who bleed and die. So if Christianity does not exempt me from suffering then what practical good does it offer me? I think this is where I personally have struggled and where I have seen so many loved ones fall away. They often feel as if God did not answer this specific prayer with the answer they begged for so: A) God obviously does not love or care about them, or B) God does not exist. Well, I have been there. I have been on my knees begging for healing, begging for a job, begging for relief from pain, begging for specific answers only to feel like my prayers hit the ceiling and fall back down on my head.

I think too often we want to treat the Bible like a magic eight ball or a Google search, expecting it to magically fall open to a verse tailored for our specific question when we reach a crisis. We pray to God like he is a genie who will grant our wish if we can just find the right combination magic words. Too often in our day to day lives God gets pushed to the back, Bible study becomes a once a week social excursion to church or a five minute cutesy story with an abbreviated Bible text blurb at the end. If we sit down and really delve into the Bible God does not promise us lives of ease if we follow him. In fact Christ tells the disciples the opposite that if we follow him the way of righteousness will not be easy. Matthew 7:13 tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” The undemanding path will ruin you.

That leads me to the conclusion that the Christian life will never be easy but I will tell you this; I will tell you, from my own experience, that surrendering your burden to Christ offers an ease of the spirit if not an ease of the circumstance, a shelter in the storm. Immersing yourself in God’s love and surrounding yourself with the church, delving into the scripture and truly seeking God’s face is like rubbing a balm on a wound. It will offer comfort. It can ease pain and prevent the suffering and the hurt from infecting your heart and eating away at your joy the way disease infects an open wound.

King David was a man who lived an extraordinary life. Reaching the loftiest heights of accomplishment and sinking into the lowest depth of despair. As I face the rest of this week and try not to be pulled down into despondency I seek comfort in the word of God, in my Christian friends and family and in prayer. I also look for inspiration and words to comfort those around me who suffer. I look to the words of David as he wrote poetry to God in the Psalms; “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”

We have the promise of God to always lift us up again. It is easy to look down and sink beneath the waves. Faith is sometimes a struggle and keeping our eyes on Christ is not always easy as the grind of daily living tries to churn us under the waves, but that is why it is so important not to neglect that relationship with God, that daily time spent in prayer, those moments spent reading the Bible trying to gain a deeper understanding and not just an instantaneous answer.

I am sorry if this blog is kind of disjointed. I should have been writing all along instead of trying to stuff down things I needed to get out. This week as I have watched so many around me suffer and have felt so powerless to help them I go back to the story Jackie tells about the flood that took away our church building fifteen years ago. Jackie talks about how, when they were trying to clean out the copious amounts of mud, she felt powerless and helpless but amidst all that suffering and pain she could still sing. And that song became her prayer, her plea, her communion with God. I feel that and I can relate whole heartedly to that elemental cry. When I can do nothing else I can raise the song in my heart to God’s ears and let the emotion of my soul cry out for me when I cannot find my own words.

So I encourage you, my brothers and sisters in this life, to raise your voice to God, find your song and let it pour out of your soul. God will hear you. He will understand. Throw your burden on him. When you are too weak to read and feel too abandoned to form the words to pray let your song take those emotions and carry them to God, let that be your prayer and let God heal you. He will give you the strength to carry on. I encourage you to spend time in the scripture and study when you are not in crisis so that when the storms of life rage you are standing on a firm foundation but when you can do nothing else, please, sing.

Much love,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Healing Helga and Master Gardening

I have very limited time this morning but I figure that so many of you have been so supportive and encouraging with our recent chicken struggles that I definitely owe you at least a quick update on Helga’s health. There are even strangers subscribed to the blog now. Fred and I find this very flattering and really are amazed that people who do not know us find our lives interesting enough to read about (although I will admit to finding the nameless faceless “facebook user” silhouette a smidgen creepy), all that aside, I cannot thank you all enough for your well wishes and kind words and support. If anyone has thought something unkind they have kept it to themselves and that is also greatly appreciated!

Helga, I am happy to report, is well and sassy. Her head looks like Dr. Frankenstein decided to begin his medical feats of wonder on reattaching a chicken head before he began his human experimentation but the swelling has gone down, there does not appear to be any sign of infection and she is eating and drinking normally. She is basically back to being a lively little chatter box and begging for treats anytime she hears voices anywhere around her bathroom.

Yes, notice it is now her bathroom. I feel bad because she has to spend so much time in the dog kennel and she really likes to get out and peck at the linoleum but we cannot let her out too often because chicken poop is nasty and I do not want to clean it out of the bathroom floor. Yes, I have considered buying chicken diapers. I said considered, not purchased. I think some of my extended family and in-laws might have me committed if they came over and saw a chicken running loose in a diaper!

For the first two days of her confinement we had lined the dog kennel with newspaper and she was so unsettled and fussy that I was really concerned her head was causing her major pain. Then after changing the newspaper multiple times a day I realized that she was probably more uncomfortable due to the cold metal floor of the dog kennel underfoot and the constantly messy paper than anything else. I stopped at greens and got a fresh bale of straw and Fred rigged it up so cardboard buffers around the outside of the kennel. We did away with the inferior newspaper bedding and put down a nice fluffy layer of straw. She seems much happier and more content now that she can arrange her bedding to her satisfaction and scratch around in it for misplaced raisins.

We had some trouble at first administering her antibiotic. The TMZ-TCP they sent her home with from the emergency clinic is an oral liquid and “dosing” a chicken is much more difficult that dosing a cat or dog. I tried putting it directly in her mouth but attempting to hold her head still without disturbing her stitches was impossible. I read you could put it in their water but I was afraid she wouldn’t get all of it or would get too much one day and not enough the next. I also tried dribbling it on some oats, this method worked slightly better than the others but it made the oats sticky and chickens are not big fans of sticky so I still was not sure she was getting the entire dose. Finally, I hit upon putting it in some kind of porous scrap. For example, last night it was “meatless” loaf, it absorbed into the bread and she gobbled it up. So I think as long as the scraps have some kind of bread or other absorbent food in them she will eat her medicine and be none the wiser.

Which leads me to the only other major hurdle in Helga’s care: her medicine. As I stated in the last blog the emergency clinic does not normally treat birds so they were not only doing us a gigantic favor they also had to patch together some semblance of avian treatment from what are facilities and supplies used normally for only feline and canine patients. They did a great job. However, in the course of her treatment, during her surgery, they gave her an antibiotic injection of Baytril. It is my understanding that Baytril is normally used to treat cats. I was not majorly concerned and we did not intend to eat any eggs Helga laid during her treatment so I really did not think too much about it until Tuesday morning.

I kept my niece all day Tuesday and we spent much time in Helga’s bathroom petting her and talking to her and feeding her snacks and just generally keeping her company. She was very happy to have all the extra attention and my niece, who is twenty months old, was thrilled to once again have a “boc boc” living in the potty. So everyone was happy. During late morning nap time, just as my niece had drifted off to sleep, Helga began to make an awful fuss. A half crow and loud gurgling chatter was coming from the bathroom. Thank goodness my niece is a sound sleeper. I worried that once of the cats had gotten in the bathroom so I left the dishes I had been working on standing in the sink and rushed to check on Helga.

When I got in the bathroom she was standing off to the side of her makeshift nest and was staring intently at what, from the doorway, appeared to be a broken egg. As I got closer I realized that it was not broken so much as it just was not all there. In her nest was a gelatinous mess, it looked like the white part of the egg with no yolk and half of a mushy ill formed shell. It was like a soft rounded edge cup with little flecks of egg shell attached.

Now, remember, on Monday even after all the trauma she had laid a small normal shaped if slightly discolored eggs, so this monstrosity really concerned me. I had spent most of my free time through the week on backyardchickens.com trying to read through the help forums to see if anyone else had ever dealt with any similar situation. In the process of sifting through the copious amounts of information on their site I had scared myself to death reading about chickens that are egg bound, prolapsed, have passed ovaries and a myriad of other egg laying related horrors. So one can imagine this little mutant egg terrified me.

I called our regular vet, Dr. Stephenson at Good Shepherd, (she and her staff are saints) and explained the situation. I told them the whole store from finding her pecked, to the emergency trip, to the now mutant ovum. Dr. Stephenson was not concerned about the egg itself, she told me that trauma or stress of any kind can disrupt a chicken’s laying cycle and can cause them to stop laying, to lay misshapen or strange eggs. She said after Helga finished her medication she should go back to a normal laying cycle. What did concern her though, were the antibiotics Helga had been given. She told me she did not know if we would ever be able to eat any eggs that Helga lays. She gave me the number to the state vet and told me to call them and explain what had happened.

I called the state and talked to a very nice very sympathetic woman who told me she was the secretary to the vet and that the vet was out of the office for the day. She took down all my information, took notes on Helga’s story and said the vet would call me first thing in the morning. True to their word, I got a call shortly after nine yesterday. The state vet, Dr. Plumly, confirmed what Dr. Stephenson had said about Helga’s egg production but unfortunately she could not give me a definitive answer regarding whether or not we would be able to eat Helga’s eggs. She told me that like humans chickens are born with all the eggs they are ever going to have and so in theory anything the chicken eats or takes could leave traces inside their ovaries.

She said in normal chicken situations, with an antibiotic designed for poultry most recommendations on safety are that one cannot eat the meat or eggs until thirty days after the chicken has finished the medication. Since Helga was treated with an antibiotic intended for another species this was considered an “off-label” use, and while not a incorrect method of treatment it simply means that there may not be studies regarding the safety of Helga’s eggs for consumption after being given this antibiotic. She advised me that it is the responsibility of the treating veterinarian from the emergency clinic to give me a decisive answer on the matter. That would be Dr. Chase, to whom we will be eternally grateful even if Helga has to live the rest of her life in our bathroom, just for treating and saving our pet. I have yet to be able to get in touch with Dr. Chase and actually as soon as I finish typing this blog I will call the emergency clinic. They keep weird hours because they are open when normal vets are closed.

Dr. Plumly also brought up another concern, which had crossed our mind but we had yet to dwell on, and that is how exactly we will reintroduce Helga into the flock. In the backyard chicken forum others had expressed the same concern. I am not entirely sure. I really do not think Mama is “out to get” Helga, in fact I believe she is mourning her now. She has not laid any eggs since Sunday. I think she believes the nest box she sleeps in to be hers and was probably ready to lay her own egg when Helga was sitting on it and simply flew into a rage trying to claim her spot and just murderously pecked at Helga’s head in a violent attempt to get her off the nest she felt was her own.

I guess if we can never again consume Helga’s eggs it will solve both the problem of reintroduction and the problem of the nest box in one fail swoop. We will have to build Helga her own coop. I told Fred she will just have to be our porch chicken if that is the case and we will build a small coop up on the porch for her with a separate roost and nesting box. I would really hate that because I do not know how we would isolate her from the rest of the flock without keeping her penned all the time. Chickens are such social little animals I would hate for her to not be able to stay with the others. Oh well, I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there.

I am guessing that all in all the dose of Baytril she was given was a single use and it was such a minute amount that I cannot fathom it will eternally effect the safety of her eggs. I mean good grief; I have seen what chickens are given and what is done to eggs in commercial production. I do not think this one time single dose of antibiotics is going to render her eggs inedible forever but I hope to find out an authoritative answer today. I am much more concerned with Helga’s immediate health and with her reintegration into the sisterhood of the backyard chickens then I am with the long term edibility of her eggs for now.


In other news: I was accepted into the Master Gardening course and was granted a reduced tuition of fifteen dollars because I was loaned the book from a fellow beekeeper. I am very grateful to both the book owner and the WVU Extension Service for making it possible for me to participate in the program. That said, I may be in over my head. The first night’s lecture was on botany. BOTANY. By the end of the three hour class I felt significantly older and less intelligent. I was never the best science student in high school and as you can imagine I have been out of high school for many years.

I really hope I have not gotten in over my head. I, in reality, need to complete this course not only to participate in the program but to help Fred and I in our homesteading endeavors. We really hope by this time next year to have raised most all of our own food and I would rather go into the planting aspect of gardening with as much solid knowledge as possible instead of the hit and miss, learn as you go style in which we have approached everything up to this point. The book is five inches thick and I get the distinct feeling that everyone else in the class has some history personal experience like having been Eagle Scouts or the female equivalent. They seem to be able to identify the plant species by a two inch blurry black and white picture on a handout while I struggle to take notes and remain on the correct page.

In my defense I was still under an intense amount of stress on Monday evening so I am hoping, with some diligent studying, by next Monday I will be better prepared and able to hold my own at least through the question/quiz portion of the class that will surely consist of lots of Latin and scientific terminology. I wonder if my blank stare gives me away?

Much love,
thank you for reading
and thank you for praying (especially for Franken-chicken aka: Helga),