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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Helga, my sweet

You all are familiar with Helga and her story of triumph against the odds, her lovability and quirky personality, her stint living in our bathroom, her charming attempts to become a house chicken and her inability to keep a secret. It is with a heavy and broken heart that I come to tell you, Helga is no more.

My precious, sweet, charming little weirdo was killed by a hawk Tuesday afternoon, in broad daylight, while she ate in the yard. I am bereft. She cheated death so often I am sure she cherished her time as borrowed but still I mourn.

Helga was a chicken like no other. Rescued with Momma, the two of them were the last of my aunt’s formerly large flock. The only two to survive a malicious dog attack, my aunt could not stand to leave them as fodder so she brought them to join my flock. Helga was barely grown but obviously possessing of a massive dose of personality. She loved people. If you were in the yard you must obviously have come to see her. She would follow you around clucking and talking, if you bent down to pet her she would hold her wings out and chortle. If you stood still long enough without paying attention to her she would try to leap into your arms.

After her reintroduction to the flock she would come to the back door and peck on the glass for attention. She’d stand on the porch railing to eat from the wild-bird feeder and she loved to lay eggs in the middle of my oregano pot. She was as unique and charming of a chicken as you could ever hope to encounter. Adorable and quirky with a large red comb and waddle and beautiful red blond feathers trimmed in black. She grew into a magnificent bird despite her scarred head which she wore without discomfit.

She loved treats, raisins, oats, biscuits but especially French fries. When grandma would send her twice weekly bag of chicken treats Helga would grab as many French fries as she could and would then charge about the yard maniacally, swallowing them whole, while trying to escape her sisters snatching beaks.

She was lovely and charming and I miss her terribly. It is horrible to walk to the coop in the mornings and not see her silly little head bobbing to greet me. I am so distressed to think she died scared and in pain. It breaks my heart because she was such a sweet creature without malice. Chickens can be peckish and grouchy and can be especially hateful with each other but Helga never was. She had a Rastafarian countenance that allowed her to roll with the punches never seeming to take a slight to heart. She never even held her almost-scalping against Momma, instead cuddling right back up to her as soon as she rejoined the flock.

I will miss her so very very much. I know people think it is silly to be so attached to a chicken. Thousands of them die every day in horrible slaughter house factory conditions but this is yet another reason I scorn and deride our modern day food system. It is so easy to walk into a restaurant and order that chicken sandwich and never make the connection that it was once a living breathing thing with feelings and emotions. People will tell you that chickens are stupid and dirty but this is what they tell themselves to make it ok to leave these animals in a world of pain and cruelty.

I tell you, they are not. They are neither stupid nor dirty, if properly cared for, they are not without feeling but are instead clever little charmers. I am not saying you cannot eat them, you are a creature of free will and can make your choices. Most humans eat animals it is the way of our world. What I am saying is that you have a responsibility to the animals you consume to ensure them a healthy and cruelty free life. If you believe you have no responsibility to the animals then I say to you: YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO YOURSELF. Your body is comprised of the things you eat, if you consume fear and pain and suffering these things will manifest in your life.

I know everyone will not raise the food they eat and some people like us will only raise chickens as pets with benefits, we do not eat our flock I do not eat chickens at all, but everyone can say no to the corporate farming greed that has so poisoned us today. Even a small step will help. You do not have to eschew fast food forever but think before you order. Choose it less. Choose somewhere local that locally sources their free range meat. Say no to the fast food even one time a week when you would have said yes.

Fred and I are not perfect. We still occasionally eat fast food. What I am suggesting is that we can all be more mindful. I loved Helga, she was a beautiful piece of God’s creation so how can I then deny that all the animals churned through our corporate food sources have the same value she had? They do. Ignoring them or pretending they do not exist does not lessen their suffering.

Dear Helga, I love you. I hope your short little charming life will be a lesson in humanity that never leaves me and I hope through this blog you may live on to teach others that kindness and forgiveness are quality to which we should all aspire. I hope heaven has a big farm and you have all the treats your little heart could desire.

Peace, love and sadness,


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Dominion: noun, Control or the exercise of control; sovereignty.

(Here is the disclaimer: This entry will probably fall along the lines of a rant so if you are not in the mood, do not read past this line.)

Everyone knows how I feel about my animals. They are my additional children, fuzzy, feathered or reptilian. I care for them as I would want someone to care for my child and I believe that God ordained and commanded us to do so. In Genesis God gave man dominion over the earth. Yes, dominion implies some kind of entitlement and control or rule but dominion also confers responsibility. Allow me to follow this thought process through with some examples.

Good leaders rule with benevolence. They care for the people who are entrusted to them. They provide shelter, safety, food, comfort and security. Bad leaders abuse, use, coerce, rape, pillage, mistrust and mistreat their citizens.

Kings and queens have dominion over countries as do dictators, presidents, czars, etc. Some are good and benevolent some are wicked and cruel but all have a responsibility to the people over which they rule. Whether they choose to acknowledge that responsibility and do right by the people or whether they ignore it and serve their selfish goals instead, they were still mantled with that responsibility and will at some point be accountable for it.

If they choose to mistreat those people be it physically, fiscally, through spiritual or racial oppression, or if they mistreat those people based solely on their own ignorance or poverty, at some point they will be held accountable. Whether by the people themselves or from outside forces pushing in, or ultimately by God eventually something must give so that things may come back into balance.

In the Psalms David writes “For thou hast made him (mankind) a little lower than the angles, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet; All sheep and oxen, yea and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea. (KJV)” This clearly does not state that God gave man the right to pillage the earth and take without recompense but instead He gave us “dominion”. There is that word again!

I believe pet owners and people in general are responsible to animals in the same way leaders are responsible to the people they rule. This is not a vegetarian/vegan rant, so do not get your knickers in a twist, this is instead a call to responsibility. If you want to eat an animal that is your choice but you have a responsibility to make sure that animal did not live a life of cruelty and abuse. The same goes for animals in the pet trade. They have no voices and we, as good stewards of this earth, have a responsibility to be their voice. To speak out for their health and welfare, to ensure they are provided with proper care, attention and nourishment and to report when those things are found lacking.

I would go a little further to say sometimes reporting is not enough. I know it clears our collective conscience to think we took that extra step and reported the witnessed abuse or neglect but animals are not legally children and, often times, even though a report may be followed up on by the appropriate official, there may be little to nothing they can do on the animal’s behalf. Especially if a less than thorough or less than honest party is involved and clears the animal as healthy when it is obviously not. The “buddy system” which is alive and flourishing in my beloved West Virginia is notorious for allowing atrocities based solely on the so-and-so-is-a-good-guy-give-him-a-break school of thought. Meanwhile animals languish in pain and fear without proper veterinary care or basic necessities.

Fred and I have recently run up against a desperate situation. We have rescued a very very sick parrot from what we deem a horrible environment and certainly an impending, slow, painful, lonely and frightened death. We have named her Trinity because she is our third and because we believed God intervened on her behalf when she most needed us and when I most needed her.

At this point Trinity’s health is so poor that we do not know if she will recover. She is very sick, she has a severe infection and she is undernourished, she has an enlarged liver and she has plucked her feathers to the point where some follicles may be permanently damaged and may not grow back. But she is beautiful, she has a kind and loving, gentle nature and she is safe now. I wish I could say the same for all the other animals suffering right now in the under regulated pet trade.

I by no means think that pets should be outlawed or that animals should be taken from good kind owners or even from breeders who love and nurture and cherish them but I do believe this industry should be HEAVILY monitored and regulated with independent veterinary assessments made a stringent requirement. Fred and I are going to get involved. We want to see change, we want to see animals treated with compassion and we want to see pet stores and breeders held to a high level of quality and accountability. If you want to get involved email me I will let you know what I learn as I learn it.

You have been given dominion, what will you do with it? I choose to use it gently and kindly. I am sure I have never and will never use it perfectly but I pray to use it wisely.

Also if you would like to help with the cost of Trinity’s mounting medical care please contact me. She deserves a second chance and so do all the others who will sleep tonight in uncertainty.

Much love and thanks for reading,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Excuses, excuses...

Yes, I know the last post was in August and I am also aware that it is now November. My only excuse (completely untrue I have many excuses but this one was voted "best excuse" by the voices in my head) is that as I de-facebooked my life I have spent less and less time at the computer and by default have spent less and less time obsessing over the blog. It is true without Facebook at the forefront of my thought processes I have had a lot more time to do real-life activities and a much smaller captive audience for my snark so I have turned to other outlets (like incessantly annoying our local librarians and joining a senior citizen's book club) but this morning I find myself with some time on my hands and in need of a distraction.

Pablo is sick and the vet cannot see us until ten thirty, I have made laundry detergent, cleaned cages, washed dishes and am waiting on the dryer to stop so in an effort to stay busy and assuage my guilt I decided updating the blog was an appropriate task. It is not that I have willingly abandoned the blog but more like I have fallen so far behind that I do not know where to even begin to catch up. I have considered abandoning the blog completely and starting anew but that seems unfair to people who actually read it, I thought about trying to go back and update every aspect but that seems insurmountable, so I think the best option will be just to start where I am, update a few pertinent bits discuss somethings we are excited about and march on.

I really do not spend even a fraction of the time I previously did on the computer so I cannot promise that blog entries will come with the regularity they once did but I know there are people out there reading this who are trying to do some of the same things we are and I want to keep those lines of communication open so we can share and help each other grow.


I just got done making my third or fourth batch of laundry detergent so I will start there with the updates. In the past I have made the batches with lever2000 because that is the bath soap we buy (when we use store bought soap) and no one in our family seems allergic to it. While we were traveling over the summer I found Fel Naptha in a small five and dime. I had been unable to locate it locally. This was the laundry soap recommended on many of the detergent making websites I originally researched so I picked up a couple of bars and stored them for future laundry use.

The original recipe I found called for a whole bar of Fel Naptha but the bars are huge and the scent is strong. We all have sensitive skin so I cut one bar in half and used that this morning to make a new batch of detergent. As I tweaked the recipe and have started to use ingredients on hand over the course of this venture let me share my most recent concoction:

1.5c borax powder
1.5c baking soda (not the cooking kind I will explain)
1/2 bar of Fel Naptha
5 gallons of HOT water (roughly about 4" from the top of the 6 gallon bucket)

I found the Fel Naptha melted surprisingly quickly on the stove, much faster than the previously used bath bars, that was pleasant because in the past melting the bar has been the most time consuming of the steps.

I switched from washing soda to baking soda not out of a dissatisfaction with the washing soda but instead because I always have big economy bags of baking soda on hand. When I first ran out of washing soda I did a little research about substituting baking soda (the kind I have is label not for cooking I generally used it in the cat boxes to keep the odor down) and some of the discussions I read complained that clothes did not get as clean with baking soda instead of washing soda. I have not noticed any difference in the level of clean, Fred's uniforms still seem to be clean and fresh and since the cost of baking soda versus washing soda is even cheaper, and I always have it on hand so no special trip to the store is required, I have continued to use it.

(I will note the reason I put hot in all capital letters is because baking soda does not seem to dissolve as easily as washing soda so I have found that boiling a couple kettles of water instead of just straight hot tap water is necessary to fully melt the ingredients.)

As you can see I am quite pleased with our homemade detergent and have continued to use it. It saves an enormous amount of money and I know exactly what is in it. Making it at home has also become much easier with practice and we have the added peace of mind of knowing there is one less plastic container we are throwing into the landfill every few weeks.


I also want to tell you a little bit about our vacation this fall. Fred and I took a long weekend and went up to Seven Springs, PA for the Mother Earth News Fair. I cannot even begin to tell you how exciting it was to be surrounded by people who live like us to varying degrees. It is so much fun to commune with people who think like you and do not look at you like you have two heads.

One of the funniest things we noticed was that in a course of conversation if someone mentioned something seen on TV and we told them we did not have TV they rushed to clarify that they too did not have television that they had instead seen it on the internet or at a doctor's office, friend's house, etc. Apparently, it is a badge of honor among the hippie jet set not to have television. Fred and I are completely used to people looking at us like we said "we eat dog poop" when it comes up we do not have TV. It was a refreshing and highly amusing exercise to count how many people advised us they too eschewed television after we discovered this quirk.

The weekend was packed with classes and seminars. We took bizarre, fun classes like "How to Finance a Green Cemetery" and "How to Build Your Electric Motorcycle with Recycled Parts" and we took more practical classes like "Building Your Basic Herbal Apothecary" and "Organic Beekeeping." Some of my favorite classes taught about nutrition, eating raw, baking bread everyday (this was taught by the authors of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" AMAZING!) and using herbs both in cooking and medicine.

I am proud to say we implimented much of what we learned and we met so many interesting and friendly people we have created for ourselves a whole new network of cohorts. We really did not want to come home but the Fair ended (as all good things must) and the homestead needed us. Since Grandma and Elvis had what can best be described as a personality clash, we had to get home lest Elvis end up in the pot.

By the time we arrived home Grandma had come up with some, lets say, "creative" homestead management techniques. Apparently, the first night Grandma tried to put Elvis in bed he was having none of it and he proceeded to sound the goose equivalent of a "stranger danger" alarm for the better part of thirty minutes. Grandma gave up and let him spend the night on the porch. By the next morning Elvis had screwed up his courage (he must have spent the night on the porch giving himself positive goose affirmations) and decided it was his job to protect the homestead from the interloping grandma.

What ensued can only be described as chaos, and although I am sure Elvis has his own tale, an indignant Grandma was the only survivor coherent enough to share the story. It seems Elvis decided Grandma was the enemy and snuck up on her, biting her several times and chasing her from the yard. Since he shares the yard with the chickens Grandma could not simply abandon him to his fate, heaving his food over the fence as she would have preferred, but was instead forced to arm herself with a broom and chase him about the yard while she tended her much beloved flock of gran-chickens.

Oh how I wish we had set up a hidden camera.

As you can imagine, Grandma was seriously indignant and disgruntled upon our return. Elvis appeared no worse for wear from the subsequent broomings and of course went on to try and make a complete liar out of Grandma and her tales of evil-goose-gone-bad by immediately climbing on my lap and nestling under my arm as soon as I sat down on the porch steps. The only theory we have come up with is that Elvis was convinced Grandma had kidnapped me and was intent on protecting the rest of his flock (aka the chickens).

Thankfully Grandma is not abandoning us. She will continue to care for our flock but has advised us she will only enter the back yard broom in hand. I have warned Elvis but I guess we will have to wait for another vacation to see if he heeds my advice or his stand off with Grandma continues.


I am sure there are lots of other things I could ramble on about but that is probably all the updates you care to digest at the moment.

Much love and as always thank you for reading,


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As the Homestead Turns

I have been sorely reprimanded by Fred for my irresponsible blogging but I will plead my absentee updates on an unbelievably hectic schedule including vacations, harvesting, canning, driving school and back to school preparations. Disclaimer applied. I have some wonderful news and a funny story to tell. So sit back and grab some ice tea.

Remember Autumn-chicken’s untimely demise from my last entry? Well as should be expected things are not always as they seem in the world of homesteading. I should know this by now. Bare with me as I will pick up the tale where I left off: I had gone to the DNR to obtain the trap. It was a smallish contraption and, although sturdy, it did not inspire a lot of coyote catching optimism. It would probably have held a neighborhood cat, maybe a small terrier, maybe (and that is a big maybe) a small to medium-ish raccoon.

On the first night of our epic homestead battle Fred and I diligently baited the trap with a can of kipper snacks. We had previously been warned about the wiles of the coyote (we both grew up watching cartoons) and we thought ahead to wire the snack to the trap to avoid our nemesis using some Acme tool to alleviate us of our bait. Fred positioned the trap outside our fence but close to the coop and the creek. We figured our culprit was coming down the deer path to the river and would be intercepted by the enticing aroma of fish snacks rotting in the heat, barf.

Fred brought home my shells and I positioned myself inside the yard within visual range of the trap location and the coop. I had my back to the house and figured I would sit very still and “drop me” a coyote as soon as he poked his head over the fence. Fred has some trepidation as to me a) accidentally shooting a neighbors dog, b) my inability to kill anything remotely pathetic or sad-looking and c) the very real possibility that in my murderous wildlife rage I might accidentally shoot Fred! Tee hee. I assured him that while my marksmanship probably would not win any awards, I was perfectly capable of shooting the broad side of a barn or a coyote within a relatively close distance and of discerning the distance between said coyote and my beloved hubby.

I put the chickens up a little early and waited. I sat until full dark, nothing. I sighed, checked the coop door and headed in for another sleepless night of worry. I put the gun close to the door.

After I packed Fred off to work the next morning I headed out to check the trap. Now let me say, Fred had asked me (forcefully) to wait until he got home to check the trap. I think it was probably a combination of the fact that he placed the trap in a densely thicketed area of our property, the inaccessibility of that corner and either the fact that he thought I might bludgeon the villain to death with my broom or the fact that he thought my years of animal rescue would get the better of me and I would let the killer go free. I told him I would think about it, which clearly meant as soon as he was out of the driveway and the sun was up I headed out. Before I went to check the traps I did a morning head count of the girls, still five. No one had disappeared in the night but no one had miraculously returned either.

I prepared to face the enemy. Donning my armor, which consisted of long sleeves, long pants, a hat, boots, gloves a machete and a shotgun, I headed into battle. Not only was I concerned about the rabid little monster rapidly growing in my imagination attacking me with dripping gums but I did not want to come home covered in ticks either. I looped the machete in my pants, to cut through the undergrowth, and I loaded the shotgun. It was barely light so it was around 7:00am and I had to go all the way up to the railroad bed, within sight of the hard road, to cross around behind the fence. I think I may have startled more than one morning commuter with my militia-chic look. I crossed the creek bed and clamored up the hill side, by the time I had neared the trap my imagination had worked me into such a frenzy I am surprised I did not manage to Barney Fife my own foot.

I pushed toward the trap, slightly sick to my stomach with my heart pounding in my ears. Could I really shoot it? What if it was a coon and not a coyote? I was definitely mad enough to shoot a coyote, but not only was I not sure I could off a fuzzy raccoon, according to the DNR legally I could not shoot a raccoon. I would have to transport it to a public land or take to private property with permission of the land owner. Who was going to let me release a coon on their property? Get real. Nobody wants one of those little garbage mauling machines in their back yards! I do not care how cute they are with their little hand and bandit masks. I knew a raccoon would mean a trip to Kananwha State Forest dressed like Rambo's homeless ex girlfriend.

As you can imagine I did a lot of sighing to myself as I trekked across the creek bed. I finally fought my way through to the trap only to find the it sprung and lighter by exactly the contents of one kipper snack can. Cue more heavy sighing. Now what? I thought as I stared at the licked-clean-and-still-tightly-wired-to-the-trap can. I mashed my way through the brush back to the house where I peeled off my costume and promptly banished Louie to the back yard with serious admonishments about how he was to dog-up and protect the flock. Eye roll. He spent the entire day throwing his body weight against the sliding glass door and barking himself hoarse to get back inside. I took a small amount of comfort in the level of commotion he created figuring, although it would win me no neighborhood popularity contests, it would, hopefully, scare off any impending doom in the form of four (or two) legged beasties.

I spent a lot of that third day of the ordeal considering my other trapping/hunting options. Obviously, something had come to eat the bait and that something was big enough that when they sprung the trap it would not close all the way. They could eat the stinky buffet and back their fat self out to freedom. I wondered if I and the shotgun should spend the night in the chicken coop? Should I buy a bigger trap? The DNR only had one size available. Should we bait the trap again? I tell you, the most frustrating aspect of the whole thing was just not knowing what we were up against. It is hard to fight an invisible enemy. How does one set a trap for an unknown foe?

Fred came home from work and we decided to bait the trap again and press our luck. He tried new, and even more disgusting, bait in the form of a kipper snacks and peanut butter combo which he stirred together and smeared on the actual trap itself, hoping to lure our nemesis deeply enough into the bowels of the trap to alleviate them of their freedom. We repeated the previous nights shenanigans which included putting all the girls (and Elvis) to bed early and me sitting with the shot gun until I had become anemic from acting as a mosquito buffet and it was too dark to see. Still no evil villain with glowing read eyes and slobbering jowls approached. I went to bed that third night and slept a dreamless sleep. I was too exhausted to even toss and turn.

The next morning found Louie once again banished to the yard and me gearing up to check the trap. Again, everyone was accounted for except poor little Autumn-chicken. This being the fourth day of her absence, my belief in her untimely demise had been solidified. The trap was once again empty. We were not winning this battle. I left Louie out in the chicken yard anyway and continued my day's chores with frequent trips to check on the flock.

Fred came home late that afternoon and went outside to do a few chores. I was standing in the kitchen when I heard him yell for me. Oh great, I thought, here we go again. I grabbed for the gun and went running out the door. He stood just off the porch with some stale bread, surrounded by chickens and said to me,

"How many chickens do you see?"

I looked down around his legs and counted five chickens. Five, that is how many there were that morning when I let them out.

"Five, what is your point?" I said my heart thundering loudly from the sudden adrenaline and my feet filthy from running through poop.

"Um, honey," he patiently chastised, "there are FOUR black chickens and ONE red one!"

My mouth fell open as I counted again. Then I panicked. Where was Helga?! She was no where to be seen. I ran into the yard barefoot and for the second time that week began screaming for a chicken at the top of my lungs. False alarm. Apparently, Helga had been off on some kind of chicken adventure around the building and, as soon as she heard my panic, began tearing towards me with the same breakneck insanity I was exhibiting. Relieved, I looked back at Fred and recounted. Sure enough, Autumn-chicken was back. There were once again six chickens in my yard four black and two red.

We stopped what we were doing and lifted up prayers of thanksgiving for the miraculous return of our bird. We put all the ladies (and Elvis ) to bed and then we began to try and puzzle out Autumn-chicken's great adventure. Where had she gone? How did she get home? She appeared unscathed but had she been abducted by aliens? I started calling everyone who I had alarmed/annoyed with the original Amber Alert. Everyone had a theory on Autumn-chicken's absence.

My dad insisted she had been chicken-napped and returned. I could not really picture it but when I questioned him as to why someone would merely kidnap her for a couple of days and then bring her back unharmed he informed me that their guilt, coupled with the fact that she was not a great layer, compelled them to return her to the yard.

I poked about a million holes in his theory but he stuck to his guns. In fact he repeated this obvious rationale to me so often I began to give it some credence. Maybe there was some pervert sneaking around molesting chickens? I mean really, not even a week before on the news some freak high on "bath-salts" kidnapped his neighbors goat and murdered it while dressed in women's underwear. So maybe dad was not too far off. Maybe some drug addicted redneck stole my chicken for some nefarious reason and then, struck by their latent Baptist guilt, felt the overwhelming alter-call of returning her unharmed? Maybe. I mean I spend all day on a homestead, mostly by myself, after a while I can start to believe anything.

Mom put forth a slightly more believable theory. She suggested that Autumn-chicken in fact had a boyfriend and had hopped the fence and gone off on a lover's weekend. This would seem far fetched except several days before her disappearance I had spotted a handsome Bandy rooster strutting his way across our local Dairy Queen parking lot. (These things happen in West Virginia) But how did she get back, I wanted to know. And how did she get over the fence with clipped wings anyway? And how did she get back in the fence even if she managed to get home of her own accord? It still just did not fit.

In contrast to both these theories I still had to point to the fact that Autumn-chicken was indeed one of the most timid, if not the most timid of the whole flock. Someone could coax Helga out of the yard, I could buy that, but I do not think Autumn-chicken would let anyone other than myself or maybe Fred close enough to grab her. My dad, sticking to his abduction theory, said it was simple: someone offered her a doughnut. Maybe he was right. Those stupid biddies would do anything for sugar coated fried dough. I could only throw my hands up. Heaven knows I did not have any better theories.

Things settled down and we got back into our normal routine. Louie was thrilled to be back in the house and I was thrilled not to have to listen to his constant yelping. That next evening Fred went out to put everyone to bed. He came back in and said,

"Don't get upset, but Autumn-chicken is gone again."

WHAT!? I sprung up out of bed in my night gown and headed into the yard. Where had that chicken gone? Ok, at this point we figured it was pretty obvious she had to be in the yard somewhere. Was she getting into something and getting stuck? Fred and I began to meticulously comb through the yard, inch by inch, we looked like psychotic jammie ninjas, I was starting to believe one of the Candid Camera theories that had been lobbed at me. Maybe my brother and Ashton Kutcher really were hiding somewhere with captive Autumn-chicken, filming us looking for our lost bird.

Finally, as we were about to surrender her to alien abduction once again, Fred noticed a small tear in the chicken wire surrounding the new goose coop addition. When he got down to examine it more closely he realized there were two beady black eyes staring back at him making the unmistakable chortling sound of a broody chicken!

Autumn-chicken had not only managed to go broody and pry her way under the goose coop but she had dug out a lovely chicken shaped trench filled with TWENTY-ONE spoiled eggs. No, I am NOT kidding. Here we thought our flock had been so traumatized by a predator that they had stopped laying when the fact of the matter was they were conspiring against us with Autumn-chicken to hide the eggs, make us look like simpleton greenhorns and give us full fledged anxiety attacks. Really, at that moment I could have put her in the pot. She is seriously lucky I do not eat meat.

All rage and joking aside, I am thrilled to have her home. Although I did suffer some minor embarrassment at the DNR when I returned the trap, overall everyone that works there was helpful and kind and generally just happy that my flock was intact. As am I. They did caution me that there are predators living in our immediate vicinity and just because we had a happy ending this time did not necessarily ensure all our future stories would end so joyously.

This was confirmed for me last night as I stood at the kitchen sink drinking a glass of water and staring at a hawk who had apparently made a failed poaching attempt from my yard. I dropped my glass and ran scream (once again) out the back yard. Flailing my arms like a lunatic I jumped up and down and basically had a conniption-fit (as my mother used to call them) until I was sure my yard was predator free and all of my girls (and Elvis) were present. I know this is the life of a homesteader and yes I understand the importance of predators in our ecosystem but my yard is NOT McDonald's drive through and I will do everything in my power to keep my flock intact.

Much love and thanks for reading!


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bad things come in threes...

Well we have had our first real homestead tragedy and unfortunately it may be far from over.

Allow me to back up momentarily, it has been a busy spring. We had a difficult time getting our garden in the ground due to the local monsoon season but fortunately we were able to get everything planted and the work has yet to slow down. It looks like we only lost the carrots and peppers to the rains but I can live with that. I admit I was looking forward to a crop of multicolored bell peppers but I guess those are a luxury we can do without.

We have had a blessedly humongous crop of almost everything which means constant harvesting, tending and preserving. I finally broke down and invested in a pressure canner, other than costing a kidney, it seems like a genuinely legitimate expense. I mean, who does not want to eat a twenty dollar jar of green beans right (eye roll)? I canned my first eight quarts of beans this morning. I started at 4:30am and finished around 10:30am. All that work made for a long morning but getting started early meant I could use the stove without it being blisteringly hot in the kitchen.

The bees are fine, if generally neglected. We are now the proud owners of a couple of geese and we had some turtles foisted upon us over the Fourth of July holiday. That pretty much catches you readers up on everything in brief. I am sure I will touch on all those subjects in depth in the future but as the title of this post implies this entry is about the bad.


Yesterday was hot, and by hot I mean the blistering, muggy nineties. I spent the day running around getting stuff caught up in town and basically beating my head off the side of bureaucratic brick wall. I came home tired, cranky and basically glad these days I spend minimal amounts of time immersed in the arm pit that is humanity. I made a quick dinner for everyone, ignored the dishes teetering dangerously towards the floor and headed to the back yard to spend sometime with my feathered family.

My mom loves to send a hodgepodge of left overs to my house, sometimes they are for Fred, sometimes they are for Sarah, sometimes they are for Louie but generally they are for the chickens. She loves the chickens and their giddy frenzy over anything edible amuses her to no end. Last night's treat was a mix of stale cookies and rice cakes, sounds gross right? To a flock of chickens it is like ambrosia. They were thrilled. Everyone came to get a bite. Much clucking and fussing and jostling for position was followed by lots of chortling and cooing as they enjoyed their evening treat.

That was about 6:30pm. I had been sitting outside for quite a while but the bugs had started to bite and Sarah needed a ride to church. I sighed and pushed myself off the steps of backyard heaven and headed in to grab my keys. I dropped Sarah at church and headed home to park it on the couch with Fred for a few. I did not sit for long. We always put the geese and chickens to bed around 8:00pm. It is still daylight but they can spend a little time in yard of the coop settling down and getting ready to roost.

Having the geese has thrown a little bit of a wrench into the normal bedtime routine but we are working on it. A mutual fear makes for and uncomfortable goose-chicken bedtime alliance I have found that putting the geese in their coop first lets the chickens relax a little and stick to their normal bedtime routine. The geese, Elvis and Priscilla, thought last night would be the night to try my patience, by the time I finally got them both in the coop and tucked in I was a little flustered. I stepped into the chicken coop with their oat and did a head count, Autumn-chicken was missing.

I did not panic. After all with all the goose drama I realized she may have just gone to hide under one of our pine trees. I locked up all her sisters with their bedtime snack and fresh water and set out to hunt her down. Apparently I was not the only hunter last evening.

I looked every where. I called, I shook the oats canister. Nothing. Finally I went in and recruited Fred for the cause. We were both still sure that she was hiding somewhere. Although Autumn-chicken was usually the second into bed and never tried to stay out past snack time, we should have known. There was no sign of her anywhere.

Fred suggested she may have gotten over the fence. It was highly unlikely considering her wings are clipped and she and Miranda-chicken are the least adventurous of my girls but we expanded our search to the rest of the neighborhood and recruited Sarah to the cause. We scoured the yard the trees, and the neighborhood we even opened the goose coop to make sure she had not inadvertently gone in the wrong door. No little black chicken. I was starting to panic.

Fred asked the neighbors, no one had seen her. Fred went to the river and back up the creek circling the outside of the fence line. Nothing. Meanwhile I stood in the yard shaking the canister and calling for her to come home. Nothing. I tried to fight down my rising panic with reason, after all there was no chicken carcass, no bloody mess of feathers, no sign of a struggle just a vanishing and an uneasiness in the chicken yard. I listened for the sounds of chickens roosting for the night, nothing.

I finally pulled a lawn chair to the middle of the yard, far enough from the coop so the girls would not feed off my anxiety but close enough to see the door and the outside gate and wait and pray for a chicken's return. Nothing, as the sun went down my anxiety and panic gave way to grief and my grief to resolve. Autumn-chicken, my quiet little unassuming opposite was gone. Worse than the certainty she would not return was the heartbreak of not knowing her fate.

Had she really escaped over the fence? Not likely. Had someone come into our yard and lured her away with a treat? Again, unlikely. Fred and Louie and I were only a few mere feet away inside the house. Had a hawk swooped in and lifted her from my yard? Probably not, being a BJG she was large for a hen and would have required and eagle size raptor to lift her away with no trace. No, the more likely culprit is either a fox or a coyote.

Both have been seen in our area. The scariest part of this is that they will probably be back. Both foxes and coyotes are know to treat chicken coops like drive through grocery stores. So what do we do? I was so upset but I did not have a moment to mourn Autumn-chickens loss. I have to protect the rest of my flock. I shot off a quick and emotional email to the DNR and I am happy to report that they called me promptly at 8:00am this morning.

The really helpful women of the DNR loaned me a trap and gave me a brief on the law, and how I can and cannot legally dispose of the culprit(s) (if they can be apprehended), they also confirmed what I suspected: the total lack of evidence pointed to either a fox or coyote. Fred is stopping on his way home to buy me a box of shell and tonight may find me camping in the yard. I do not know what else to do.

Last night I held out hope that Autumn-chicken might magically appear this morning, but as daylight broke there was still no sign of her. I have made about one-hundred trips into the yard today to do a head count and make sure everyone is safe and maybe catch a glimpse of her, no such luck. I have resigned myself to the fact she is gone. I morn her sweet little unassuming self and I resolve to protect the rest of my girls (and Elvis).

The worst part is just not knowing what happened to her and worrying about the unknown homestead-boogyman lurking in the shadows. I am sure she is dead. I hope she died quickly with little pain. I know this is part of the homesteading experience and on a larger scale part of the circle of life. To everything there is season. But just for the record this season sucks. Bad things come in threes and the other two pale in comparison to our loss.

RIP Autumn-chicken you will be missed and I will do everything in my power to protect your sisters from whatever took you.

Much love, thank you for reading, pray for us,