A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken

Let me be crystal clear: I didn’t NEED any more chickens.  Cluckingham Palace is currently home to 11 laying chickens, 1 lavender turkey hen, and, of course, Arthur of Camelot.  I currently collect more eggs than I can personally use, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that eggs cost more to raise than to buy.

I know all of these things, but I have a mild case of chicken math disorder…which is basically a psychological disorder, and every Spring I seem to manage to fill up a brooder.  There are some very reasonable arguments for doing so.  (Chickens lay fewer eggs as they age.  If you free-range, it is understood that you will lose an occasional hen to predators, etc.)  But, when you get right down to it,  I know that the real reason I keep buying chickens is that I like having chickens hanging around and that itty-bitty chicks are basically the cutest things ever in the history of all time; all of the other reasons are ancillary. Continue reading “A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken”

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Farm Fresh or Not: The Chickens Behind the Eggs

 

Let’s be honest.  You don’t need to follow this blog very long to realize that, on this sixty (plus or minus) animal, 100 acre ranch, the chickens basically rule the roost.

They free-range.

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They steal grain from the llamas and horses. They hijack hay feeders to use as nesting boxes.

Each one has her own little personality and habits. Continue reading “Farm Fresh or Not: The Chickens Behind the Eggs”

The Trouble with Turkeys

Do you guys remember my three little turkey peeps from last year?  The ones we rescued from the feed store when it became clear that they were quickly destined to be dinner?

We lost one little peep (my favorite) to his birth defect.  We lost another to a predator.

But one of the little peeps survived.

And he isn’t so little anymore.

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Arthur

Meet Arthur of Camelot. Continue reading “The Trouble with Turkeys”

That moment when you realize you’ve gone from “chicken lady” to “crazy chicken lady”

I never thought I’d spend so much time thinking about poultry…

When we agreed to buy the ranch, I begin mentally preparing for the chickens.  I bought books; I read blogs; I meticulously picked out the breeds I wanted.  I read articles about why chickens should only eat organic feed (for the record, even I don’t eat all organic feed…).  I read about all the ways predators can get to your flock.  I read about parasites and natural worming vs. chemical worming.  I started following Fresh Eggs Daily, Garden Betty, and DIY Diva, soaking up every last bit of chickeny knowledge they had to offer.  Continue reading “That moment when you realize you’ve gone from “chicken lady” to “crazy chicken lady””

The true cost of an egg

Out here on the ranch, we are at the peak of our egg season.  Most of my fully grown hens lay an egg a day during the summer, which equals 5 to 6 eggs per day.  In the fall, my little ones will start laying as well.

In the winter, they lay far fewer eggs.  We have chosen not to artificially light our coop, which means our girls take their natural “break,” molting and slowing down their egg production for the season.

Next summer, I will be swimming in eggs.  With a dozen chickens joining our flock this year, hopefully all hens, I will be getting well over a dozen eggs a day.

Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.
Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.

Many of you know that eggs are at a premium right now, with the avian flu taking out millions of commercial birds at a time.  Additionally, California is finally legislating more humane conditions for laying hens; if you ask me, that’s a step in the right direction, but it will also require an increase in egg prices.  (God willing, other states will follow suit.)

All of this is just to say that, for the first in any sort of recent history, commercial egg prices are starting to creep up close to organic prices.

Continue reading “The true cost of an egg”

Utter Nonsense

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I present to you, my husband.

Utter Nonsense

I left for Costa Rica, and my husband went on quests and turned himself into a Legolas (yum) /Gandalf (ummm….) hybrid for the week.  And by quests, I mean taking care of the farm and constructing things (like exceptionally apt signs), and by Legolas/Gandalf hybrid, I mean he did so while carrying a quiver and wearing a wizard’s hat.

(Interesting side note: He took this photo by himself using his skid steer as a tripod.)

This photo pretty much perfectly sums up my life.  Here on the ranch, we live at the intersection of adult responsibilities and utter nonsense.

Just yesterday, someone asked me when I possibly find time to “just relax.”  He was astounded that we both work outside jobs while renovating the house(s) and running the farm.  I sort of laughed because that question has a different answer depending on the day.

On the one hand, sometimes it gets to be a lot, and I really question why I’m not the sort of person who goes to the spa or travels extensively, instead of the sort of person whose horses eat all my spare money in the form of hay…

On the other hand, there is a sort of Zen that comes from cleaning stalls, or grooming horses, or walking my fields.  And very little gives me as much satisfaction as a good training session with one of my critters, or watching the flowers that I plant bloom, or making breakfast with eggs I collected from my own chicken coop the day before.

I mean, really, does life get any better than watching a chicken ride a llama???

Joker and Marilyn
When the coop door blew shut during the day, Miss Marilyn took stock of her options and decided that Joker would make a pleasant roost.
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Joker opened the feed room door to alert Jeremiah that a chicken was roosting on his butt. He required assistance to remove her.

(The llama was less amused than we were…He was very polite to her, but Jeremiah said it was clear he preferred his butt to be chickenless.)

These days, things are greening up, and we are starting to shift focus to a whole new sort of work.  Fences need mending.  Our farm road is in need of repair.  The gardens need weeding.  Shearing is just around the corner for the llamas and alpacas.  New chicks are on order to come in a few weeks.  (Sadly, I’ve lost a few chickens to predators this week…but that’s a different post.)  Horses will be starting back under saddle soon.  And hopefully the ponies will start work towards their eventual jobs as therapy animals this year.  There is so much to do, and we seldom check anything off our to-dos without adding more.  But this place and this work is my “relax.”

Come to think of it though, I wouldn’t say no to a nice massage to wind down from “relaxing”…

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With rumors of Spring…

They tell me spring is on its way.  They say it will start on March 20th.  I’m not sure I believe them.

Jeremiah took off around 5:30 this morning for another shoeing conference.  He will be gone for about a week.  Then I’ll be leaving the morning of the day he gets back for a vacation in Costa Rica with my sister.  Thankfully, one of us will be at the ranch the whole time, so we won’t need to call on too much help, but taken together, these next two weeks will probably account for the most time we’ve spent apart since we first started dating in 2010.

Until I leave, things will be cold.  Really cold.  (Like, -7 degrees tonight.)  Right now, outside looks like this.

The woods are lovely dark and deep
The woods are lovely dark and deep

The woods remind me of a Robert Frost poem as I make my nightly trudge out to the barn, but I have hopes that we will at least be above freezing temperatures by the time I get home.  In the meantime, Spring whispers sweet nothings, small promises that give me just a little hope that its closer than we think.

For example, my chickens have started laying a bit more.  A few days ago, Jeremiah collected 5 eggs, up from the 2, 1, or 0 we have been collecting each day this winter.  Of course, all of the eggs were frozen solid.  But hey, it’s a start, right?

Also, we have a bit more daylight each day.  The sun won’t set until 5:40 today.  I am in love with each extra second of daylight.

Spring cannot get here soon enough for my liking.  Everything we do out here on the ranch takes more time and costs more money in the winter, and I’m kind of over it.  Stalls get dirtier.  Chores have to be done in the dark.  We use more electricity for lights and water heaters. We have to feed more hay and more grain.  Not to mention keeping the house heated.

I’m looking forward to warmer weather.  To daylight into late evening.  I’m looking forward to riding my horses again.  And I’m looking forward to being able to go out to the barn without adding layers and layers of bulky clothes.

I think maybe the critters are looking forward to Spring too.

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Has Spring sprung in your neck of the woods, or are you still shivering with me and all the critters out here at Eagle Ridge?

I miss sleep…and other updates from around the farm.

Ever have so much on your plate that even sleep seems to get bumped out of the way?  Not on purpose, mind you, just as an effect of your brain’s constant motion.  For me, sleep has been tenuous for about 2 weeks,.

Maybe it’s the stress of everything–the move, living away from the ranch, buying Jeremiah’s new shoeing trailer (hopefully next week), renovations, caring for all the animals, work…believe it or not the list continues–but sleep has not been my friend of late.

Yesterday, I came home from morning chores and crashed for nearly two hours.  Naps are one of those things that seem like they should help…but then actual sleep time comes around and you’re like, “Eh, I’m good.  I took a nap.”  Then you’re tired the next day, and come midafternoon you probably really feel like taking a nap again.  (Don’t do it.  It’s a trap.)

Usually my solution to temperamental sleep is to make myself busier, but I’m not sure that’s possible at the moment.

For those of you interested in updates, the new floor was put into the master bedroom about a week and a half ago.  That is a huge sigh of relief for me, as it indicates that one room is basically done.  (Hint: If you’re renovating the entire house, like we are, you need at least one room that doesn’t remind you of all the work yet to be done.)

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The old, leaking window in the living room was removed and replaced.  It was super weird to see the giant hole in the house while the contractors worked.  The good news?  Turns out, while the leaking did rot out the floor, and some of the sub-floor, the studs were in perfect shape.  (Meaning we did not have to cut a giant hole in the living room down to the basement.)  The bad news?  According to the contractor, we definitely need to replace the roof ASAP.  That is now on the top of the list of Spring projects.  Luckily, our contractor is awesome and the price is pretty reasonable.

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No window!
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New Window!

We’re also hoping to wrap up the dining room soon.  Two days ago, I worked on pulling up the floor with a claw hammer.  The floor that’s currently installed was popping up in a lot of places, some tiles were water damaged, and there wasn’t any flooring in the center of the room (where an area rug used to go).  We will be putting in bamboo, the same floor we put in the bedroom.  I got about halfway through before I had an ADD moment and started another project.  Jeremiah finished before I came back to it.

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And, on the ranch:

Remember how I wasn’t going to have any roosters but then ended up with one?  Make that two.

Once "Henny Penny," now "Frack."
Once “Henny Penny,” now “Frack.”

Turns out my pullet, “Henny Penny,” wasn’t so Henny.  His name is now “Frack” to match the other rooster “Frick.”  Frick is pretty cool; Frack is kind of a jerk.  All I’m saying is he better shape up; Jeremiah has nearly ended him at least once…

Also, awesome news, I’m riding Cinco!  I’ve been having a trainer come and work with us once a week for a about a month now, and I’m fairly thrilled.  (Of course, yesterday he was pretty much a turd, but we won’t talk about yesterday.)  Now, after all these years of wishing I could keep my horse at home, I’m considering boarding him over the winter at the trainer’s.  Somewhat ironic, I know, but I really would like to be able to keep working with him over the winter, and without an improved riding area at my place, it won’t happen unless I move him.

Cinco!
Cinco!

We’ve done a lot of work together this summer; I would hate to have to start over in the Spring…

Finally, just because it’s cool…

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Albino Clover!  Isn’t it pretty?  I saw it on the way to the horse barn yesterday and had to take a photo…
By the way, my next post will be by a guest blogger.  I will be taking over her blog for a day as well.  Stay tuned.

A week at the ranch.

It’s been an eventful week at the ranch. Despite not living there, we’ve been busy!

For example, I pulled in yesterday morning and found this.  He started with power washing and proceeded to paint by the end of the day.

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Not sure if you can really tell, but by evening most of the front of the house was done.

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Fall has officially made it’s way to Central Illinois.  The weather yesterday was perfect: sunny, no hotter than 70 with a beautiful breeze.  We’re doubling down on outdoor efforts.  Lady Fall is enticing and beautiful, but she’s followed quickly by Old Man Winter, and, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, he’s going to be a doozy.  It won’t be terribly long before we get weathered out of the outdoor work, and neither of us want a half painted house all winter.

We also bought the most perfect dining room table last week.  Jeremiah and I found it in an antique store a few towns away. (In addition to all of his other wonderful qualities, Jeremiah actually enjoys going to antique stores on occasion.  I’m a very lucky girl…)  It’s a farmhouse table, new construction, but made out of 100+ year old barn wood.  I’m a little bit smitten with it.

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Jeremiah and his little brother bringing it in. Apparently it’s absurdly heavy.
The table, moved into our dining room.
The table, moved into our dining room. (The middle piece of wood you see is actually a table runner made of a 200+ year old barnwood beam.)

One of our friendly neighborhood hummers got caught in our mudroom while it was opened up to dry.  Jeremiah eventually got it to go outside.  The little bird was not overly grateful.  (If you’re not familiar with hummers, they are very cheeky little things.  We love them anyway.)

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This one may gross some of you out, but I think it’s funny.

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The chickens have been thoroughly enjoying their free range time, and a few of them discovered the manure pit.  I know the phrase is usually “happier than a pig in poop,” but as I understand it, pigs actually prefer to be clean.  The chickens, however?  They think it’s pretty great.

Also, see below for the inherent hazard of letting your chickens free range:

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They are pretty darn thrilled with their discovery of the hay stall.  It has excellent dust for dust baths, AND there’s a nifty, secluded corner to build a nest.  Now I have to check for eggs there every time I let them out.  But c’mon, how cute is the little nest with the colored eggs?

And finally, we took out Vinny’s stiches yesterday.  I expected a total freak out, as Jeremiah wanted to try it without sedation first, but we were pleasantly surprised when Vin stood like a champ.  He’s come so far since he came home with us!  This horse used to run away like a maniac anytime we came in the pasture, and now, this.

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He stood and chomped down grain the whole time.  God love him.

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All done!  He’ll probably always have a scar, but this one ended up way better than it might have.  It healed up very well.  Thank God for great vets and good horses.

Over the next few days, we’re hoping to move back in.  (We’re both losing patience with the constant driving back and forth.)  The house is vented with airmovers exchanging air in the basement 10 times per house.  The vents were cleaned earlier this week…  Hopefully, that will be enough to make the place livable again.  Fingers crossed.  If not, the movers are hopefully coming at the end of the month to clear out the basement, and then we will be free and clear to get the mothballs and the mold professionally mitigated.

No…I’m not going to eat them. (On keeping chickens that aren’t going to end up on your table.)

I didn’t go with Jeremiah to the farm this morning.  Partly, that’s because as he readily points out, I don’t do mornings.  (That’s not entirely true, I just don’t do mornings as early or as well as he does.)  Also, we were expecting Mr. Raccoon to be trapped in the live trap we set, and, while I know exactly what has to be done and why, I didn’t really want to be there to see it.

I suppose I’m something of a “bleeding heart.”  The other day, I found three baby mice and their mama in a feed bin…and I carried the bin across the property and out to the woods to let them go.  Last fall, when a baby raccoon was living in the horse barn (and regularly messing with Jeremiah’s stuff), I disallowed shooting it.  It was, after all, only a baby.   (Now I’m vaguely concerned that my kindness directly translated to the later killing of my chickens, but luckily, I can never actually know.)

Recently, a friend was incredulous upon learning that I have no plans to eat my chickens.

“So, you’re not going to raise and slaughter your own meat!?!?”

He seemed almost annoyed by this…

…I’m still not sure why.

Don’t get me wrong, I have IMMENSE respect for ranchers who humanely raise livestock, fighting against the factory farming trend that is almost exclusive these days.  Such people should be applauded and supported!  However, I am not one of them.  (If you’re interested in reading updates from such ranchers, check out a girl and her chickens or Full Circle Farm.  I really enjoy reading both of their blogs.)

Why am I not one of them?  For one thing, adding meat animals to my current menagerie would take up even more time.  Time, for me, is at a premium.  Also, they would take up space, also at a premium.  The farm is not my job, it’s my home.  I really don’t want to change that.

Additionally, if it’s not clear already, I get attached to my animals.  I’m not sure why I’d want to take on MORE WORK to raise slaughter animals when I know for a fact that it isn’t something I’d enjoy.

Finally, while we’re by no means vegetarians, we really don’t eat much meat.  To accommodate the meat-eating that we do, I have no problem paying a premium for local or independently certified humane meat.  I buy my beef from family, and I’m still trying to work through the beef quarter I bought last fall!

All of this said, I’m still not sure why it’s a problem or, even worse, why people are annoyed that my chickens might actually die of old age…

Just to clear things up, I thought I’d write a post about why I have chickens, even though I don’t plan to eat them.

Some of my chickens have names.  This one, for example, is Lucy.
Some of my chickens have names. This one, for example, is Lucy.

I thought about writing this as a list, but as I tried to start, I found that the reasons are fairly holistic.

I began to consider keeping chickens when I realized that we were, for sure, buying Eagle Ridge.  Part of the reason I do not eat very much meat, and part of the reason I am so intentional about the meat I do buy, is that I know way, way too much about factory farming.  It’s horrifying when you look into where most of our meat comes from.  And this knowledge comes with implications; for me, I had to rethink what I eat.  (For example, I do not eat pork products.  I gave that up when I realized what hog confinements really were.  I also don’t eat veal due to the usual conditions they’re raised in.)

And, I realized, laying hens are not immune to the implications of factory farming.  Not enough space, unhealthy conditions, and drastically shortened lives are the rule, not the exception.

I knew I didn’t want to raise my own meat, but I knew I could handle raising my own laying hens.

I now know EXACTLY where my eggs come from, and that’s rather lovely.

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Unexpected bonuses?

Chickens are freaking hilarious!  I love watching their antics, and I have found that I generally enjoy keeping them.  (Plus, compared to my other critters, they are remarkably low maintenance in the day-to-day.)

–AND–

They thoroughly enjoy the leftovers that would otherwise go to waste.  (Less wasted food!  Yeah!)

Can anyone explain why it is people would take issue with all of this?