It Must Be the British In Me

Today we have seen the last hurrah of Tropical Storm Nate pass through our area.  It has been breezy, overcast, and rainy.  It has been a sullen kind of day.  And I love it.

The sky has been changing all day – from the heavy black clouds that greeted me during chores this morning to a glimpse of sunshine and back to a steel gray, ominous sky this afternoon.  While many folks will just look out the window and see an overcast view, I see changing patterns of white and gray.  I see hundreds of varied shades of steely blue-gray piling up, stretching out, and moving away.  I see intricate cloud patterns that change within moments, never to be repeated again.  I see brilliant leaves, wet with rain, splash their colors against the sodden backdrop – and it is beautiful.

I love being outdoors when the mist begins to fall.  The clouds seem to envelope our farm and wash away the dust and pollen making the fading colors pop.  The mist is gentle and refreshing, not yet heavy enough to chase the chickens and pigs into their shelters and under trees and shrubs.  The breeze whispers of brisk, cold days to come as it caresses my damp arms and face – and it is refreshing.

I love being indoors as the rain begins falling heavily and the wind tosses falling leaves into every corner of our property.  Today was a productive day of baking and canning – warming the house and penetrating the air with the smells of freshly baked bread, currant pound cake, and the spicy smell of applesauce cooking on the stove.  I love these smells that speak of home and comfort, safety and plenty.

This is my favorite time of year.  Darkness comes earlier and the coziness of that early darkness ignites a warmth and joy deep within me.  The glow of lights, the spicy warmth of mulling cider, the savory aroma of roasting meat, the pungent smell of wood smoke mixed with dying leaves all combine into a glorious patchwork of fragrance that is only surpassed by the fresh, piney smell of Christmas.

Dark, damp, cold days are some of my favorite days.  It must be the British me.

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Lucy

Before we entered into the realm of keeping chickens, we researched every last detail related to hatching, growing, health, feeding, and housing them.  We followed our list of do’s and don’ts faithfully (for the most part) until the chicken obsession overcame us – well, me – this summer.

I love having a variety of chickens.  After all, they come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.  I love to see the different patterns of their feathers, vibrant colors splashed against the backdrop of green grass.   Each of my ladies has her own quirky personality that is as unique as the patterns of their feathers.

Earlier this year, it became apparent that the number of laying hens in my flock was not keeping up with demand for farm fresh eggs.  With my husband’s approval, I began to search out new breeds to add to my already diverse array of chickens.  First on my list were six lovely Black Copper Marans – the ones that lay the dark chocolate brown eggs.  I happily brought these young pullets home and quarantined them in our nursery run.  You see, I knew not to mix new birds into an existing flock without a waiting period to ensure they were healthy.  I had encountered a couple of problems over the past couple of years through integrating birds too quickly, so was careful to follow protocol.

During the same period of time that the Marans were brought home, I placed an order for 15 chicks from a reputable hatchery.  I was able to add Silver Speckled Hamburgs, Speckled Sussex, Columbian Wyandotte, Whiting True Blue, and Salmon Faverolles to my diverse flock.  My littlest chicks were safely in a brooder in the garage.

Also during this same period of time, we had some folks buy chicken feeders from our mountainous stash of galvanized feed troughs.  They were local breeders and had a couple varieties that I had been looking at – so the barter system came into play and I acquired some Buff Polish and Blue Laced Red Wyandottes which happened to be the same age as the Marans.  Having run out of proper quarantine areas and because of their size compatability, I erroneously decided to put the new birds in with the Marans – which, by the way, were not cheap birds to acquire.  By the following morning, I new my error and would soon pay for it with the lives of two Marans.  You see, one of the Blue Laced Red Wyandottes had a respiratory infection that quickly attacked two of the Marans.  I have been fighting this respiratory issue for two months and I believe we have finally conquered it.  Which leads me to tell you about Lucy – the carrier of the respiratory infection.

Lucy is stunted in her growth – she is about half the size her sister Gladys.  She is the sweetest little bird in my flock.  She waits patiently for me to finish filling feeders so that she can eat her fermented feed from the scoop.  She stays close to Gladys, who watches over little Lucy all day, never straying far from her side.  Gladys is always perched next to Lucy in an effort, I think, to keep Lucy warm on these chilly nights.  Lucy does not free range with rest of the ladies (and roos), preferring instead to relax in the sun near our lilac bush.  She is never going to be a robust bird, but I don’t have it in me to end her life.  She is recovered from her respiratory illness, but will forever remain a small and somewhat fragile pet.

The coming of Lucy to our farm has reminded me again the importance of knowing where your livestock comes from.  She reminds me that quarantine is a must, not just a good idea to be followed when it is convenient.  She reminds me that good husbandry is essential to profitability and growth.  She reminds me that each animal – four footed or fowl – is a special gift to be nurtured and cared for to the best of my ability.  Lucy has become my mascot – a daily reminder to stick to the protocols of good management.

Sweat

Yes, you read that correctly.  Sweat.  The stuff that drips from your forehead, dribbles down your back, and coats your body as you work on a sultry summer day.  And all of that before 9 a.m.  Today began as one of those suffocating days – yet didn’t pan out and the windows could stay open and the fan cooled the house enough to be comfortable.

I always seem to pick the muggiest and hottest mornings to tackle the job of cleaning out the chicken coops.  It must be a subconscious need to torment myself that manifests itself in the desire for a poop-free coop.  This morning seemed pleasant enough as I fed and watered my flock of eager hens and roosters.  The sun was shining and it still felt cool as I collected the wheelbarrow, shovel, and bag of pine shavings.

I started with the nursery coop which was beginning to stink from my sweet young chicks.  They are about two months old and somehow chick poop seems to smell worse to me than adult chicken poop – probably it’s all in my mind, but I digress.  Their coop is small, so I made quick work of scraping, shoveling, and removing the soiled shavings.  Fresh shavings fill the floor and that little job was done.  And then I decided that I might as well do the big coop, too – since it was a pleasant morning.

I realized too late that the humidity level had apparently risen along with the sun’s heat.  As I shoveled the poop and shavings out of the big coop, I began to glisten – that is the polite term for sweating.  The glisten soon became dribbles that trickled down my back making my light cotton shirt stick uncomfortably to my wet (glistening) skin.  Pine shaving dust stuck to my damp skin and began to itch.  My upper lip was leaking profusely and I knew instinctively that my face had become as blushed as the tomatoes on my windowsill.  My socks were wet inside my barn boots as I plodded to the compost pile with the last load of poopy shavings.  I quickly spread fresh pine shavings around the coop and nesting boxes, put my implements of destruction away, and retreated to the coolness of the house.

As disgusting as sweating profusely is on a hot summer morning, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from working up a good sweat.  It is the feeling of accomplishment, a job well-done, another item to check of the never-ending list of things to do around the farm.  It is the feeling of hard work – of working toward a goal of sustaining one’s family and livestock.  I worked up a few more good sweats throughout the day – and they were all just as satisfying as the early morning sweat that began my day.

“A dream doesn’t become a reality through magic.  It takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”  -Colin Powell

 

Beauty in the Little Things

It has been a very busy summer here on the farm.  We’ve been adding critters left and right…or so it seems.  Piglets born in February, April, and July.  A calf born in April.  New chicks arriving non-stop for two weeks in June.  I do believe we are done for awhile.  During these busy times it is sometimes hard to slow down and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us even in the busy times.

During this hectic time I have taken my camera along to capture some of these treasured moments and I have shared them with my Facebook friends and family.  They are bombarded with pictures of glistening spider webs in the early morning sunshine, wildflowers swaying in the gentle breeze, new chick pictures almost daily filling their newsfeed.  There are pictures of colorful bugs and slimy slugs.   Images of pig snouts, mushroom sprouts, and wooded turn-outs.  The list goes on of the natural beauty that I capture with my camera during the most mundane tasks of farming.

Why do I take the time to capture these images?  Why do I continually post these images to Facebook?  Why do people continue to look at such ordinary images?  I’ll tell you what I think – I think that many people are not in a position to see the beauty in the ordinary.  They live in cities devoid of endless variety of natural life.  They are busy running from home to job to shuffling kids around to endless sports activities.  They live lives that are removed from the rhythm of nature and the heartbeat of country life.  I think in some small way I am bringing the beautiful into their lives – encouraging them to stop and see the intricacies of creation all around them.

I hope in some small way I am helping others to see a loving Creator that thoughtfully planned a beautiful world for His creatures to enjoy.  Take a moment and look around  you as you go out your door tomorrow.  See what beauty is in your own backyard – and relish every moment.

Chicken Math 101

In the world of chicken keepers, there is a phenomenon called Chicken Math.  In the real world, we all know that 1+1=2.  This is an unchangeable fact and that is why children learn math facts.  However, real-world math does not work when chickens are involved.  Let me explain.

About five years ago, our daughter, then six, decided to participate in the 4H Incubation and Embryology project.  It was thrilling.  We learned all about chickens, chicks, and the embryonic stages of chicks inside the shell.  We faithfully turned the eggs morning and night, monitored the humidity level and temperature – we took these little eggs very seriously.  After the 21 day incubation period, we started hatching – what a thrill!  We coddled those little chicks, socialized them to their humans and decided that it would be fun to keep a handful of chickens to provide our family with fresh, home-grown, healthy eggs.

Well, these little chicks needed a coop, so we over-built a coop and run for our handful of little chickens.  Our first loss came the day we moved them from the brooder out to the new palace.  Our favorite little Buff Orpington poked her head out between the gate and the fence while our dog was investigating these chirping young chickens.  Needless to say, we were crushed, the dog was in the doghouse so to speak, and Chicken Math was about to become reality.

You see, when you lose one chicken, it has to be replaced with a number greater than one.  And this continues throughout your chicken-keeping adventure.  Fast forward to Spring 2017.  Two of our hens were left of the original batch.  They were living out their lives as non-layers but we were too sentimental to euthanize them.  Sadly, Ruby died of old age late one afternoon while I held her.  I went in the coop to check on Belle who had been in a nesting box all day long.  She had difficulty standing and as I picked her up, realized that under all her fluffy feathers, she was skin and bones.  We euthanized her and another older and unhealthy hen than evening.  While this sounds cold and cruel, it is part of caring for the creatures entrusted to us.

This left us with 15 hens.  Now for most folks, you would think that 15 hens would be sufficient to supply a family of three with enough eggs.  However, I have friends and family that have taken a liking to farm fresh eggs that are raised in the fresh country air – pecking and scratching their days away eating grass, seeds, and bugs – being chickens.   This is where the Chicken Math comes in.

You see, we lost three chickens.  We have a waiting list of folks who want farm fresh eggs.  I have a husband who was having a weak moment – well, a weak week to be exact.   We decided to put in an order for 15 chicks which will be delivered next week.  Thrilling.  We picked five different breeds that we haven’t had before and began planning a coop renovation.  Along came an opportunity to purchase 2-3 month old Black Copper Marans from a local farm.  Well, as a chicken fanatic, I have always dreamed of having Marans – they lay chocolate-colored eggs.  Done.  We added six beautiful pullets (young female chickens) to our nursery run.  Then an opportunity came to barter for two Buff Polish chicks, two Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, and one Buff Orpington (one of my all time favorites).  Done.  Are you following the math yet?  Let me help you visually:

18-3=15        15+6+5=26       26+15=41      Oh, and we have one rooster plus one tiny chick that one of our hens hatched.   41+2=43

That, my friends is Chicken Math.  When you lose some, you gain more.   And my husband has been trying to figure out how this happened.

Tranquility

Tranquility, by definition, is the quality of being tranquil; calmness; peacefulness; quiet; serenity.  It is a quality that is sorely missing in today’s society of instant gratification, fast-paced living, and endless consumerism.  It is a quality I find every day on our little slice of heaven on earth.

Tranquility for me comes in many different forms.  There are times that calmness settles over me at a job that must be done – such as holding my old, dying hen while she breathes her last breath.  There is sadness, of course.  There is also a knowledge that she had a wonderful life on our farm.  She was loved and cared for.  She held a special place in my heart as one of my very first chickens – a chicken that always would stand behind me and peck at my boots, jeans, or shirt until I acknowledged her by reaching behind me to pet her.  That same mantle of calmness wraps itself around me hours later when making the decision to euthanize two other old and not-so-healthy hens.  A decision not taken lightly by any means – but a decision to sidestep a slow deterioration to death.  A swift end to birds entrusted to my care and protection.  Birds that had an amazing life and gave years of joy to our family.

Tranquility also comes in the form of quiet days lived without the constant noise and bustle of towns and cities.  It is choosing to say no to endless activity outside of our farm.   It is choosing to leave the radio and television off in order to communicate with each other as a family – to listen to the sounds of the farm and nature instead of the incessant noise of modern entertainment – and I use that term loosely.

Tranquility at is best is the peacefulness and serenity I find in the fields surrounding our house.  It is the gentle grunts of momma pigs as they call the babies to the milk bar for dinner.  It is the peeping and chirping of mother hens calling to the chicks to follow.  It is the sound of momma cow chewing her cud as her calf eagerly suckles his dinner.  It is the sound of crickets, bees, and all manner of insects busy among the flowers and grasses of our fields.  It is the peepers that sing their evening song as the cooling breeze floats through the open windows of our home.  It is the distant song of the birds in the woods bordering our fields that echo around me as I soak in the peace of nature.

If I could wish one thing for you, it would be that you take the time to stop, look, and listen to the beauty that surrounds you.  Pursue tranquility in this bustling, noisy world – and when you find it, don’t let go of it.  Return often to drink in the peacefulness that washes over your soul at the smallest delights that are all around us.

Rain on a Tin Roof

The skies were heavy this morning when I awoke from a good night’s sleep.  I knew the forecast was for showers and thunderstorms, but I took a bit of time for tea and a bagel.  Alas, by the time I had finished, the rain was beginning to fall.

As I made my way to the barn to fill up grain buckets, the sound of the rain pinging on the barn roof greeted me and the thunder rolled in the distance.  There is something quite nostalgic and comforting about the sound of rain on a tin roof.  It evokes images of simpler times from the past.

Rain on a tin roof brings forth images of cows and horses contentedly munching hay and grain in roomy stalls.  It evokes the smells of dusty haylofts filled with freshly cut hay where children would play, cats would pounce on unsuspecting mice, and chickens would hide clutches of eggs to set and hatch.  It recaptures a time when the family worked together, played together, and stayed together.

Our barn is a work in progress – it houses animals and hay in the winter, equipment in the spring, summer, and fall.  Our barn will be ever evolving as our farm grows and changes – but it is my hope that our barn will evoke fond memories for our daughter someday when we are gone.

The sodden landscape is now obscured by thick fog and the thunder continues to echo around the farm.  The rain is heavier now, creating a loud cacophony on the barn roof.  The animals are all tucked in, dry and comfortable in their shelters and I have another blog post ruminating in the back of mind.

You see, my father-in-law has taught me that a barn is a living thing….