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,