Springtime In Her Spirit

 We’ve only been home for 4 days, and there are still suitcases and Rubbermaid containers exploding throughout the house, (it’s mostly MY stuff) but my little gardener, and lover of all things spring, has found the time and resources to start her seeds for the season, and label them with a very cute flair, I must say.

 This was accomplished mainly by mentioning, way back in Texas, her desire to plant a garden this year.  (We skipped last year.)  Then, it was brought up on the drive home a few times.  And then, on Sunday, while out taking Kory to baseball practice in the afternoon, asking to go and buy seeds.  The girl is tenacious about such desires of her heart.  (She still hasn’t gotten the puppy that gets mentioned at least every day, and miraculously appears as a line item on all of my grocery lists, though.)  She talked her daddy into helping her plant them immediately, and he even rigged up a lighting system in our basement for her. (That’s love!)

 Well, after the seeds were planted, she began to talk about getting chickens.  I mean, it’s really not spring around here anymore unless baby chicks are involved.  So, Kory found the still packed printer, located all necessary cords, hooked it all up for us, and we printed out the order form from the local farm supple website.  After researching ALL of the listed varieties, she chose 8 that we’ve never really had before ~ 2 of each variety.  Graciously, she allowed me to choose the final two.  (We decided 10 was a good number for this year.) I have to say that the cuteness of the baby chicks (pics of chicks and adult stage were shown), their cold hardiness, and egg production were our priorities ~ in that order.

Later, this was heard in my kitchen:

“Ok, so I will help take care of them while they’re chicks, and you guys can take over when they are all grown up.”

I’m pretty sure the same thing goes for weeding the soon-to-be-adult plants in the future garden.

There will most likely be some negotiations going on around here regarding these springtime chores, but her giddy, eager, spring spirit is pretty hard to resist.  It was all cartwheels, handstands, and back bend-walkovers in the sunny yard today ~ delighting in all that is to come!

Backyard Murder Mystery

Sadly, this has often been the scene in our backyard in recent months ~ feathers in a frenzied path, and one or two less chickens in the coop.  We’ve had fourteen hens for over a year now, but now we’re down to………….THREE.
While it appears that we are terrible chicken parents, the truth is that we (Robert) have worked very hard to protect them ~ always investigating where the breech in the chicken wire may be, and then reinforcing it with staples, boards, nails, etc.  Seems we are dealing with a very vicious predator here, or at least a VERY hungry one.  Just take a look at the most recent opening our feisty fox fiend found….
Can you see where he dug under the framed fencing of the coop yard?  I can’t believe a fox can crawl through that small opening, go into the small door to the coop, grab a chicken, and then drag it out into the yard to gobble it up!  Wow.  We did confirm that it is indeed a fox, because we ran into our two-doors-up neighbor on Sunday while out for an evening walk.  She was setting her recycle bins out on the curb for Monday morning pick-up and said “Did that fox get some of your chickens?”
“That fox got A LOT of our chickens,” we answered.  Then she proceeded to tell us that they’d heard the squawking skirmishes through their open windows at night (not the first time they’ve mentioned their open windows and our chickens), and that one night the fox ended up on their porch while in pursuit of a chicken that was “roosting” in a flimsy nearby tree in efforts to get away from Mr. Fox.  We are always oblivious to all outside noises, because of the fans we have running at night, which have recently multiplied in number due to the summer season’s arrival.  (Robert’s usual love of white noise + no air conditioning = we would not hear a freight train if it came down Rt. 9.)
I’ve thought about leaving a fan on their front porch with a love note from our chickens, but instead I’ve often found myself clapping or throwing rocks from the back door to get the feathered ladies to stop their daybreak clucking for the sake of the two-doors-up neighbors.  The very next door neighbor happens to love the chickens ~ even when they come grazing in her backyard.
Good thing our town just passed a backyard chicken ordinance allowing even folks who live in the downtown area to have up to 14 chickens, otherwise these last three may have been gobbled up by the Krum fam.
 In other backyard news:  Kayla and her Daddy went to Home Depot to buy a few flowers for a small planter by our front door. There were a couple of flowers left over, so she decided to decorate Buddy’s grave , which is in the backyard and near the chicken coop. 
She surrounded it with some of his old toys.  So sweet.
Hoping to hang on to our last three hens until next spring, when we’ll probably start over again with a new batch of baby chicks ~ everyone’s favorite part of owning chickens!

Happy Hens

Our lows can still be in the 10’s and 20’s overnight, but we’ve also had highs in the 40’s and lots of rain lately.  In fact, the carpet in our basement is pulled up in one corner, and there is a fan and a dehumidifier running to try and dry things out down there  It wasn’t anything too severe like some of our friends have had; nothing that a Shop Vac couldn’t handle easily.
Our chickens are especially happy about this minor warm-up we’ve had.  As soon as there was a patch of grass near their coop, we began opening their door in case they were interested in venturing out.  I don’t know if you can tell, but their coop yard collapsed because of the amount of snow we’ve had, rendering them literally “cooped up” since mid-January.  The first day we opened the door they were so excited that one of them sprinted with flapping wings and landed in the middle of our yard.  At that time there was still a lot of snow and only about a 2×3 patch of brown grass near their coop.  We giggled as we watched her try and figure out where she was and what all that white stuff around her was, and then eventually join back with the others in the small grass patch.  These gals provide quite a bit of entertainment, I must say!
Now that there are a few more patches of grass available, and even some cleared “trails” to more grass, they venture as far as the grass will take them.  This morning as I approached the coop after my early run with a friend, they could hear me coming and started clucking like crazy ~ they couldn’t wait to be let out.
Looks like our rain will stop for a while this weekend, there will be sunshine, and the temps will be in the mid to upper 40’s.  This will surely make for some happy humans, as well.  We are itching to be let out, too!

Goodbye Winter!?! (Hello Easter, Baseball, and Iced Coffee)

I use a question mark, because if you set your hopes on spring too early around here, you are SURE to be disappointed. (If I see any more bluebonnet photos on Facebook, I may die of jealousy!) I try to lower my expectations to at least mid-May, and even then shorts and sandals may be out of the question. Swimming is simply not done until the end of June – and even then it is cold and will remain so all summer. And though, for us, this had been a mild winter (even been up to 80 degrees lately – note shorts & sandals being worn in following photos!), it seems like just a few short weeks ago this was the scene in our backyard: a heavy snow that had collapsed the chicken yard, so all the feathered ladies were roosting in fright! Oh, they are so funny to watch, and I loved going out to get this photo and trying to capture their alarm over this new situation they found themselves in.
Well, the coop got fixed and now they are free to venture outside again. I think they must be enjoying the change of season as much as I am, because they are laying LOTS of eggs right now. Even the “old” ladies that we got 2 springs ago seem to have begun production again after being on strike all winter. (Only the newbies were laying in the cold months.) And I will spare you another egg photo, but let me assure you, they are as beautiful as ever in their shades of brown, beige, and blue! We could have hidden them for the Easter egg hunt, but I didn’t think the kids would want to forgo the annual egg-dyeing ritual.
And then we had SUCH a wonderful Easter. It is definitely becoming one of my favorite weeks of the year. The church was open all week for folks to come by and contribute to an art collage project depicting the Crucifixion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ. Friends Michelle and Cindy were the major contributors to this, but the kids and I spent Thursday afternoon working on parts of it, and others joined in over the Easter weekend. Friday was our annual “Crosswalk.” For as long as we’ve been here to plant the church, we’ve done this on Good Friday afternoon. This large wooden cross is carried by one or a few through our downtown area. It may seem very “in your face,” as Robert puts it, but it is the only time our church ever engages in this type of overt act. Good Friday seems an appropriate time to do that sort of a thing. As you can imagine, the responses are quite varied. Some will make the sign of the cross and look on with reverence. Some yell, curse, and use hateful gestures. We stop at several places and read the story of the Crucifixion from the gospels. Back at the church building, there was a time of reflection on this small act of identifying with what Christ went through on our behalf that day. It is always such a beautiful and meaningful time.

The next day was set aside for egg-dyeing with friends. I hard boiled 90 eggs so that my three and their three good friends would have PLENTY to create with. I use to do less, but no one was ever satisfied with dyeing only 4 or 5. (Even Robert likes to have his personal stash to work with!) As a child, I used to wake up to an Easter basket and lots of already hidden eggs in the backyard. As a pastor’s family, we have never quite been able to pull this off – having to leave early for church, etc. So, we have always waited until the afternoon when all church services and activities are over, the pastor and his wife have made their three o’clock pot of coffee, and the kids can not wait ONE MORE minute. (And some years, there has been snow on the ground, or it’s been 20 degrees and windy, and then parental motivation is really down!)

Monday brought with it LOTS of baseball. Kory has already been practicing with the high school team, and this week began practicing with his old Babe Ruth League team. (Yes, that makes for 2 teams that he is now on.) (Oh – and homeschoolers can still play public school sports here.) Robert just thought he had retired from his illustrious Little League Coaching Career, (last in the league, 2 years in a row) but then the call came from the Babe Ruth coach requesting his assistance. So, now Kory is returning, Dad is coaching, and Cooper, who had decided to opt for tennis this time around, is now playing – all on the same team. Say a little prayer for the A’s – both coaches and players could use a little ego boost.
Last night was Kory’s first high school game. He got to start at second base, and in the first inning made a great double play! He also had some good hits and more outs at second. This kid never ceases to amaze us. He is now about 5’6 and weighs over 150 lbs, teaches himself (for the most part) Algebra 2, runs the powerpoint at church, and on his week off from school this week was found reading Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose in his spare time.
(Loves war history – especially WW2.)
Last night’s game went in to extra innings, and then we ended up losing by 2. The opposing team had a player with only one arm. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that he was their best player – hitting the ball like crazy and then making heroic, diving outs in center field. When people caught on to the fact that he was using only one arm, it was quite an inspiration.

I’ve always enjoyed being at a baseball game. I know it has so much to do with the time of year. The sun was out, the sandals were on, my cheeks got pink, and iced coffee and chocolate were involved.

Happy Spring!

The Socialization of Chickens (and children, it turns out)

I’ve received many inquiries through the years on how I planned to give my children proper “socialization” since they are being educated at home (as if public school is THE ideal place to teach children proper social skills, as if same age segregation is real life “socialization”, as if…..umm…this subject seems to require its own post at a later date!), but I never considered the socialization of my feathered flock until recently. Turns out chicken socialization can be a bit tricky!
Our first 10 chickens came last spring and started laying eggs about 5 months later. Imagine: the mothering and producing qualities/responsibilities of an adult in only 5 months! And big proud mamas is just what they became, having the “rule of the roost” for the next 8 months! (Now, they are not technically mothers, because we have no rooster, but I’m pretty sure they are unaware of this, as they proudly sit atop each day’s clutch of eggs.)

Well, as you may know, we decided to purchase 8 more chicks this spring, and after keeping them inside and warm for the required amount of time, they needed to join the grownup ladies out in the coop. I had read a bit about “pecking order,” and now began to consider the realities of this as we planned to mix the flocks together. It can get ugly.

I called my friend Aimee (resident backyard farm consultant and pro) and she described what she had done with hers in previous years: put the little ones inside their own cage INSIDE the coop of the big ones for a few days – a cage in a cage. This way they can observe each other but not have actual contact, hopefully preventing some future aggression, as well as facilitating harmony among the girls in the long run.

So, we executed that plan, and left them there for about three days. Robert kept saying that it was just like when the new freshmen enter high school – they all flock together for protection while all of the seasoned upperclassmen look on and laugh and their obviously unenlightened state. (I happened to escape this emotionally grueling situation to some degree, since I had been chosen to be a freshman cheerleader, and THAT title carried with it some degree of clout – with some folks – which bought a type of fame, as well as some freedom from this usual initiation process. Sad but true, and just another reason public school is not my first choice for the socialization of my children. And for those who worry that homeschooling removes “salt and light” from the local school and community, my thoughts have just been that Jesus called the children to come to Him, while it was the adult male disciples that He sent out into the world. It’s nothing but a battle out there – lots of pecking and being pecked, and in my opinion, not the best place for our impressionable and immature children to be sent to share their faith – nor something expected of them scripturally. So much for a future post on the subject…and I apologize for any toe-stepping-on. I happen to know many wonderful kids and families who make the public school thing work just fine, but surely you knew we had opinions/convictions on this subject!)

Anyway, I did go out and open the chick’s cage a few times to see what would happen, and it was ugly indeed! The grown mamas were pretty cruel and pecked the little ones on the head and back trying to establish their authority immediately. So, back into the cage I would put them for another day of “observation without integration.”

After a few more days, though, the littles were getting too crowded in their interior cage, and just had to be let out to fend for themselves, come what may. They received a fair amount of torture to be sure, but there have thankfully been no fatalities. And today, weeks after the initial integration, everyone remains healthy. The little ones are still running and squawking for their lives at times, but they are catching up in height and breadth to their upperclassmen counterparts. Soon, we (and hopefully they) won’t be able to tell who came first. Size will seemingly be the great equalizer.

And doesn’t it seem to be a great equalizer in our lives and relationships as well? Our years, plus the training/modeling we hopefully received from our families, plus the maturity and transformation we have received in the grace of Christ, enable us to truly socialize with all sorts of people. And not simply socialize, but love, and sacrifice ourselves- even like Jesus did. Young children are not yet capable of this, and it is not required of them – and same age peer groups don’t usually encourage it. (Actually, there are a lot of grownups not yet capable of this either – myself included at times!)

And chickens…..well, let me just tell you that I have yet to see any sacrificial love going on in the hen house!

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13

New Chix Pix and Trix

Monday was chicken-pick-up-day at the farm supply store in town. (Tuesday was ducks, Wednesday was turkeys, and Thursday was Bantams.) We pre-ordered 6 more chicks to add to our flock of 8. This way, in the fall, we would be getting about a dozen eggs a day. Sounds like a lot, but the truth is that between eating them for breakfast, using them for baking and making chicken salads and such, we use almost that many! Any extras have already been spoken for by eager friends and church family who are willing to pay for them!
Well……we ordered 6 – 3 Rhode Island Reds, and 3 Aracaunas, but we came home with 8! While we were standing in line waiting our turn in the “chicken distribution room” (really just upstairs offices at the farm supply store) I was lamenting the fact that we had not ordered any Buff Orpingtons. This breed is a beautiful honey-colored chicken, and we have a friend who has a couple of them – one named “Cider” which goes so well with its color and New England home!
When we got into the room and were given our 6, the store clerk asked us if we would like any “extra.” They always order extra, but also want to be sure and get rid of the extras. I think they may have had trouble with this in the past, so this year they asked each customer on the spot whether or not they’s like a few more. In a weak moment I asked if there were any Buff Orpington “extras,” and she said there happened to be three. I looked at Kory who was holding up three fingers, but decided to just ask for two. Most people know that I do not love animals, but this was indeed a cruel trick! They are so cute and so tiny, that you just think “What trouble could two more be!” and you pay the $4 that 2 more chickens cost and go home with a box full of of chirping cuteness!
So, I think we’ll definitely have at least our dozen eggs per day once October rolls around!

Chicken Coop Remodel

Remember this?
Well, over the course of only about 4 or 5 months, it became this!
It was all snow and ice over the winter, so we’ve been waiting for spring to figure out how to solve the problem. Here are the things we needed to consider:

1. Where to put the coop so that the chickens wouldn’t be walking in 3 inches of mud constantly.
2. How to let the chickens range freely, but stay out of neighbor’s yards. (One neighbor loves the chickens and offers to feed them her scraps – and the other neighbor doesn’t like the chickens coming over to eat her raspberries and bird seed!)
3. How to make a secure roosting spot for nighttime – keeping them safe from predators.
4. How to include cozy laying boxes for the eggs.
5. How to keep them and their food dry at all times.

Coming up with one solution to all of these requirements wasn’t all that easy. We were inspired by Joel Salatin’s “Eggmobile,” but had to do something on a smaller scale, since we don’t have hundreds of chickens, a tractor, or large areas of pasture. So….after discussing all of these things, I went away to a homeschool conference for 2 days and came home to THIS!
Robert had come up with a great solution! He built a smaller coop but complete with laying boxes, and a roost – old monkey bars from our dilapidated swing set! It has a door that latches, so they can be locked up securely for the night. (They “come home to roost” every evening at dusk naturally, so we just have to latch the door each night and open it in the morning.) It is heavy, but not too heavy to be moved, and it has a fenced yard so that the chickens can eat the grass, worms, and bugs they were meant to eat! (We give them feed as well.) We can leave the coop in the same spot for a week or more, and simply rotate the fence so that they don’t destroy the yard with their scratching and pecking. And then when all the yard surrounding the coop has been grazed, we move the coop to a new location and start the process again!So far it has worked wonderfully! It took them a couple of days to figure out the new routine. At first a few of them were “flying the coop” to return to the old coop to lay their eggs, but now they seem to feel at home in the new space.

This is only a summer situation, though. We will have to build something permanent (and out of the mud) for the winter when there is no grass to graze since it is covered with snow. They need a dry and roomier coop for those months. Roomier also, since we’re getting 6 more on Monday that will bring our total to 14!

I am enjoying our chickens so much. They are so much fun to watch and assign personalities to! They are such a funny bunch of ladies, and they produce the yummiest eggs ever!

Feathered Ladies Update

There has been some semblance of spring here, and the chickens have been so happy to get out of their snowy, muddy coop and out into the yard for some scratching, worm eating, and dirt/leaf baths. We have 8 chickens now (after the 2 tragic deaths) and are getting 6-8 eggs a day. I still have to buy eggs at the grocery store occasionally, so we decided to order 6 more chicks. They will arrive on May 11 and we can hardly wait!
This is the basket we use to collect the eggs each day and the assortment of colors of the eggs from the different types of chickens. The Aracaunas lay the greenish-blue eggs, and the one named “Zipper” lays the very bright blue eggs – they look like they’ve already been dyed for Easter! So beautiful….. so we ordered 3 more Aracaunas and 3 Rhode Island Reds.
And here’s what they look like for breakfast!
I came across the cutest book this week at Barnes and Noble called Tillie Lays an Egg. I was so tempted to buy it, but resisted, and then found that our library has it! (I didn’t think they would since it is a new book.) It’s features some very adorable hens who all have wonderful names. “Tillie” doesn’t like to wait her turn for a nesting box in which to lay her egg, so she lays them in very creative places all over the yard and house. It’s fun to search each page for the new place she’s laid her egg. The book also features MANY antique “chicken motif” home accessories which are also exciting to discover page by page. The author of the book lives here in Massachusetts and has a live feed of her hen house and yard via her website! You have to check it out here...www.hencam.com.…chickens are highly entertaining!

And since we’ve no place to go…..

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it Snow!Actually, we have a lot of places to go, but we’ve been slowed down quite a bit by two major snowstorms over the weekend!
Robert did get to try out the snowplow that we inherited when the Evans family moved to Oregon. It worked great and was a nice reprieve from the usual shoveling.

The chickens haven’t known quite what to do with all of the white stuff, and have remained literally “cooped up.” Today, I spent time shoveling the snow out of their yard and spreading fresh hay in the coop. This one (named Chocolate Bar) has ventured out of the coop once or twice to check things out. We are still getting eggs – around 5 or 6 a day. What else do they have to do when it’s 25 degrees outside? Tomorrow is supposed to bring temps below zero, so hopefully their coop is now even cozier. (Robert calls it the Chicken Hilton.)

So Egg – citing!

Just had to report that we are FINALLY getting 3-5 eggs per day! Not the 6-8 we hope to get in the spring, but still a good supply, and I am no longer worried that my chickens are sick or disabled, or on strike or something! I never have to go to the coop to gather them since the kids fight over who gets to collect eggs each day. I am certain that this excitement will wear off some day though, and I will get my turn. The off colored egg is actually a bluish green color and came from one of the two Aracaunas we have. They are called the “Easter Egg” chicken because they lay eggs in shades of blue and green. They look and taste egg-xactly the same on the inside – Delicious!