Expanding the Flock

We need more chickens. Of course, I always think we “need” more chickens. But this time we actually do need more chickens. And not just any chickens – meat chickens.

One of our goals for this year is to catch or raise as much of our meat as possible. So far, we haven’t done well. With moving both the house and the business, we’ve been busy. Very, very busy. But chick season is just around the corner.

Generally, when people buy meat chickens, they buy Cornish Rocks. They’re a cross between Dark Cornish chickens and Plymouth Rocks, a carefully selected hybridization. Over time, breeders have developed a bird that grows rapidly with a particular focus on breast meat. That seems like a good thing until you look deeper and discover that due to their rapid growth they’re also prone to fluid accumulation in body cavities and/or leg weakness. They can grow so quickly that their legs can’t keep up and before long they are literally unable to move. Hmm…this just doesn’t sound very delicious, nor particularly ethical.

So I’ve been looking for an alternative. Prompted by a more in depth post I read on the subject, I began looking through the dual purpose breeds, the chickens that are recommended for both meat and eggs. I wanted a large bird worth the effort of butchering. Last year, we butchered six roosters that were sent with our small order of Silkies essentially as heating packs. We needed to get rid of them because, umm…six extra roosters? No bueno. Imagine crowing literally every 20 seconds…starting at 4 AM. Not to mention the additional cost in feeding the constant noisemakers. They were Production Reds, I believe, and it was a LOT of work for not a lot of meat. (Mental note to self: build a chicken plucker.)

After examining the potential weight of the locally available breeds, I have settled on Buff Orpingtons.


These fine feathered things get to be about 10 lbs for males, 8lbs for females. Only a little behind the weight of Cornish Rocks, they are nearly double the size of some of the other dual purpose chickens. Buff Orpingtons grow at a slower rate than the Cornish Rocks, but that is absolutely fine for me. As I don’t have a freezer, suddenly having to store, say, thirty butchered chickens would be a big problem for me. Our meat chickens can just wander around, pecking and scratching, until we…have need of one. Our meat is going to be really fresh.

Another point that makes these chickens the ideal breed for us is that they not only great egg layers, but they are also the most broody of the standard breeds. Theoretically, these birds could be regularly reproducing, eliminating the need to buy more chickens every year. That sounds both economical and sustainable to me.

So, Buff Orpingtons. I’m excited. If it doesn’t work out the way I expect, that’s okay. I’m always happy to try out a new chicken breed. We can always use more layers. Plus, as far as meat goes, we are, after all, getting pigs next week…(insert squeal of excitement here)


Birthday Brutality

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. This little girl was something of an odd duck. She was the type of girl who secretly enjoyed sick days simply because it alotted her hours to spend silently pouring over the dictionary. The incessant grumbles and groans from her rock tumbler occasionally drove her family to madness, resulting in its banishment to the garage. She enjoyed playing dolls with her little sister, but mainly because it allowed her to construct furniture and houses from an extensive number of carpet samples that had mysteriously been brought into their home. More often than not, she could be found hiding under a table playing paper dolls, or in the garden forcing the snapdragons to have lengthy conversations. She was odd, yes, but as she was also blissfully oblivious to the fact, it didn’t matter.

One year, on her birthday, she had a special request. Her heart was set on a pinata. Her very sweet mother agreed and allowed her to pick one out at the store. Perusing the selection, she soon settled on her favorite – a yellow and green non-specific dinosaur…or an anatomically incorrect alligator. The important part was that it had sharp (crepe paper) teeth and she was sure it was smiling at her.

Upon arriving home, her mother, trying to give her something to look forward to, casually mentioned that they would have to get some candy to put inside the pinata. The girl couldn’t imagine how this could possibly get better. First the perfect pinata and now they were going to get candy inside? But wait, how would they get the candy out? she inquired. Her mother looked confused and explained that of course it would be done by breaking the pinata. Aghast, the girl exclaimed that she didn’t want to break her pinata. When her mother asked her what exactly she did want to do with it, she simply replied with wide, desperate eyes, “Keep it.”

And keep it she did. For more than five years, that pseudo-dinosaur shaped pinata sat on her shelf. And, every now and then, she would pause momentarily to smile back at it.

Enough time passed that the girl outgrew the pinata and had decided to give it away (still unbroken) upon moving to a new house. In fact, so much time had passed that she was now a mother herself. She had her own little girl whose birthday was just days away. It had been so many years since she had given even the slightest thought to her almost-alligator friend. But when her oldest daughter gleefully asked for a pinata while shopping for party decorations, the memories flooded back.

“You really want a pinata for your birthday?” she asked her sweet, almost 5-year-old.
“Yes!” squealed the little mop of bouncing, golden locks.
“Now, you know pinatas get broken…” she cautioned her tender-hearted daughter, certain that her little girl would be equally as appalled by the thought as she once was.
“Yes!! We’ll smash it and get all of the candy!!”
“Oh.” She remained stunned for a moment, then smiled and replied, “Okay.”

Her daughter picked the classic colorful donkey pinata, and soon they were off to find the candy.


When, a few days later, it was finally time for the sacrifical beating of the poor four legged beast, she was still concerned that her pink, flowery little princess would have a change of heart. After checking several times with her birthday girl before giving the okay, she let the dainty two year old take the first swings. Tap, tap, tap.


Barely a crease in the paper. Phew, her daughter still looked happy about the ordeal.

“Okay, honey. Your turn!”

Her daughter took the stick and let out a low maniacal laugh. Thwack! Thwack, thwack!! She was surprised by the force from such tiny arms, but still no noteable damage.


Her older sons were now desperate for a turn. As they were boys and thus genetically accustomed to smashing things, she felt they may inflict unspeakable violence upon the pinata, potentially breaking her daughter’s heart to tiny pieces. So they were given a turn provided that they were blindfolded. Each of the boys, despite their disadvantage, got in a good hit. But the donkey made of cardboard and paper proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

As all of the eligible children had now been given a swing at the pinata, she was certain her daughter would now opt for a more humane removal of the donkey’s internal treats. After all, the poor thing’s only crime was containing sweet deliciousness. Instead, the situation took an astonishing turn. Her sweet, kitten-voiced daughter (who would admittedly hurt flies…many, many flies) assessed the current damage to the pinata, then methodically began beating it with directness and accuracy of a mob goon. Between the blows, she would hear, now in a lower, raspier voice, things like, “We’ve got to butcher this donkey,” or, “There’s still meat in there.”


At this point, she began to wonder if by  a “princess birthday party” her daughter had meant less Snow White and Cinderella and more Xena, Princess Warrior. Somehow, The Lord of the Flies was unfolding in her very living room. Her daughter continued the calculated butchering while the other three hooligans giggled uncontrollably and occasionally longed to be part of the massacre.

Caleb loves that she's dropping down to her knees here.

Even after the “meat” had been removed, her daughter gave the brutalized paper animal a few more carefully placed hits, just for good measure, then breathlessly authorized the tail removal, beheading and quartering of the carcass to be carried out by her elder brothers.

Umm...Maya, you got all the candy out. Maya? M-m-m-maya?!?

When the orders had been carried out, all four of the ruffians sat down to feast on their victory.

She was baffled. How could all of these crazed yahoos be her children? At five years old, she would have been an emotional wreck from witnessing such unnecessary human-on-pinata brutality. As she recounted the gory details of the event to her husband, a smirked spread across his face until he could no longer contain the delighted laughter within. Oh, that’s right. The kids take after their Daddy.

Meanwhile, In the Greenhouse…


Hello, pak choy. And argula, radishes, lettuce, and broccoli. And fire ants?!? Ack. I guess if you create summer, you can’t pick and choose which parts of summer you get.
If you don’t have fire ants where you live, count your blessings. If you do have them, you know what I’m talking about. They are horrendous. I can tell which season we’re in simply by counting how many bites I have around my ankles. (None right now, so we’re currently in winter.)
There’s a reason fire ants are taking over North America. They’re nearly impossible to kill. I have tried everything get rid of the little…pests. Cornmeal, diatomaceous earth, hot water, drowning, orange oil, cinnamon, fire ant specific insecticide…You know what’s, hands down, the most effective? Gasoline. But as gratifying as that may be, it’s not exactly going to pass for an organic gardening practice.

The only, only limited success I’ve had with fire ant removal is taking the infested plant away from the others and watering it like a madwoman. It doesn’t kill them, but it does encourage them to relocate. So far, that seems to be working well enough in the radish starts. But fire ants are relentless and we have a few months before our last chance of frost. In other words, the battle is won, but the war rages on!

If you happen to have any fire ant tips, I’d love to hear them!


It may not look like much from the outside. I can only imagine what they neighbors are saying to themselves. “What are those crazy, redneck neighbors of ours up to now?” It’s not THE greenhouse, because everything is getting relocated elsewhere on the property before long. But my incredible husband and my very sweet sons worked hard and it’s finished.

Welcome to my new happy place.


Oh my goodness, this greenhouse makes me a little weak in the knees every time I enter it. It is my winter gardening mecca, the hallowed destination to which I must make at least one daily pilgrammage. Nothing but peace and the sweet smell of dirt in here.

When I proposed the idea of building a greenhouse, Caleb, my ever-encouraging, ridiculously capable husband, asked me what I had in mind. Fast, free, and functional was my response. Immediately, I could see the wheels in his beautiful head turning.

In the past year, he had made a deal with a nearby plant manufacturing railway cars. They needed somewhere to unload all of their shipping “waste”. Before long, all of their crates and pallets were being dropped at his shop. Truck after truck, they delivered the free lumber, crates made of 2x4s and 2x8s, pallets of all sizes, wood with huge, industrial bolts through it. It’s awesome. We plan on building out a lot of the interior of our house with it.

For the greenhouse, Caleb grabbed three of longer pallets and leaned them up again the storage container we’ve been using as a garage/feed shed.


In about 20 minutes, he and the boys had the frame secured together. It took another 30 minutes or so to wrap it in 6 mil plastic (not taking into account the 24 hour delay between the two steps).


Caleb opted to just use a couple of 2x4s nailed to the pallets underneath instead of, say, stapling the plastic down (which was my idea…because I recently got a new Dewalt staple gun…and it’s so much fun). This created fewer holes and thus fewer potential places at which to tear.


At the beginning of the project, we intended to put chicken wire around the base to keep out the (obvious) chickens and the (less obvious) dog. When it was time to finished off the bottom, we stepped back and realized that dirt would be faster, cheaper, easier and possibly more effective. So Caleb got into his skid-steer loader (which takes absolutely no convincing), and piled dirt all along the bottom of the plastic. He suggested that I could smooth it out to make it look more presentable, but I’ve been too preoccupied playing with dirt inside the greenhouse. Plus, I figure the chickens will spread it out before long.

And now, all that’s left is to plant and revel in all things that grow.

I LOVE that they love being in here almost as much as I do.

My ever-willing garden helpers assisted me in starting beets, carrots, onions, argula, lettuce, salad mix, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, basil, dill, radishes, pak choy, turnips, broccoli, cilantro, cumin, and my favorite, cape gooseberries.


Today, we plant rhubarb seeds.

Aren't they interesting?

Oh, do you want to see how I store my seeds? I use an old army surplus ammunition can that my husband gave me.


It’s water tight and so easy to organize. Admittedly, it’s not very full right now, but that’s just because I haven’t received my seed order yet. (Insert maniacal laughter here.)

Ignore my sloppy handwriting.

The only finishing touch that remains to be done in the greenhouse is the installatio of a piece of vinyl guttering for growing strawberries. (My only explanation for that one is Pinterest.)

All in all, I am over the moon. My citrus trees finally have somewhere warm to snuggle up during this cold, and I have a place to put on Jack Johnson and play in the dirt. Life is good.

Faulty Magic

You would think that hatchings would have lost their magic for me by now. I mean, we only have a hatch day at least every other month or so. But they haven’t. Every time an incubation period is coming to an end, I can’t help but get excited. It’s like Christmas, only you never know on exactly which day it will fall. And of course, like the best laid holidays plans, hatchings have the same potential to go awry.

As I mentioned previously, we had two Silkie hens go broody around Christmas when the weather was warm and eggs were forgotten about.


Cold came in the following week, and as I suspected, the black hen, Mama, decided it was too cold to hatch. However, the eggs were still often being sat on as other hens would lay in the nest. Occasionally, I would find Mama in her nest. I have no idea what those girls were thinking. At any rate, I continued to remove the new eggs from all the nest daily during feeding time.

The first chick hatched in Marshmallow’s nest on Thursday. As it had yet to absorb all of the yolk, it was clearly early and not strong enough to survive. It died before I found it.

The second chick hatched Friday. It was healthy and seemed to be doing well, snuggled up under Marshmallow.

Quick inspection/snuggle while Marshmallow gets a snack.

Third chick? Hatched and died during the night. From what I observed, Marshmallow rejected it and it froze. Nice work, Marshmallow.
The following day, I found another egg pipped and saw a little beak poking through, cheeping away.

I see you under there, little hatching egg.

Three hours later, that fuzzy little black thing seemed to be settling in just fine under its mama.
Come nightfall, I closed up the coop as usual and checked to make sure the two living chicks weren’t lost somewhere inside. All was well.

But wouldn’t you know, this morning, I found the black chick dead. It seemed to have been wandering around, looking for someone to keep it warm. It appears Marshmallow rejected it as well. The peculiar thing is that all of the chicks which died were black from head to toe. If I had to guess, I would say that Marshmallow refused to take care of them because she thought they weren’t hers since they didn’t share a resemblance.

Dammit, Jim, I'm a chicken, not a geneticist!

How useful it would be if my hen could understand genetics. As we have a black roosters, it comes as no surprise that we’d get black baby chicks.

Quickly putting aside the disappointment of losing another chick, I searched for the last little one. Marshmallow was up, eating, and the chick was wandering around, bewildered. Hmm…it’s not abnormal for a chick to get lost, but Marshmallow didn’t seem to be responding to its cries. I had seen this before. Marshmallow is excellent about sitting, but leaves something to be desired when it comes to raising her babies.
The chick was making the, “Cheep, cheep, cheep, CHEEP!”, the crescendoing cry that basically means, “Help! I’m cold and alone!” I carefully picked it up and tried to warm it. No good. My hands were like ice. Just then, Marshmallow finished her frantic scurry for sustenance and settled back onto her nest. Ah. It made sense. Her body was still in sitting mode.

Hens are programmed to get off their eggs after approximately 36 hours from the first hatch, assuming she has live chicks to care for. Marshmallow doesn’t seem to have been programmed properly. As a result, one of the other mothers usually end up taking care of her chicks. Or I do.

After failing to convince Marshmallow to care for the last chick, I brought it in the house to warm up by the heater. Maya and Mary were more than happy to sing to it. Before long, its cheeping turned into trilling, which turned into silence. It was finally resting comfortably, a good sign. Clearly, it had not been left alone long enough to suffer terribly.

I have cared for abandoned chicks countless times, but a mother hen is always preferable. Not only do the chicks learn better survival instincts, but the beneficial gut flora inherited from a real chicken mother promotes stronger, healthier chicks. Mama was sitting again today. As I have very little hope that her eggs will hatch, I put the chick under her. Her bizarre cross between cooing and purring quickly informed me that she happily accepted the transplant. Success.

Mama is my very reliable, very maternal hen.

Within the hour, Mama was up showing the chick how to search for food. And wouldn’t you know, Marshmallow got jealous and decided that maybe she would go take care of her baby after all.

Teaching the new baby chickeny things. What should we call her?

So Mama went to sit on Marshmallow’s eggs instead.

For the love, ladies, you are ridiculous. Oh well. All’s well that ends well…enough.

Grandiose Requests

Maya and Mary, my 5 and 3 year olds, do practically everything together. At any point throughout the day, they can be found hosting tea parties in princess dresses or dressing wounds on their baby dolls after terrible coyote attacks. (Coyotes have become the unspeakable evil to them.) But today, they had something else in mind. With their sweetest faces and their biggest puppy dog eyes, they came to me with a request – they wanted a bubble bath.

Immediately, it struck me how (sad, awkward, hilarious? I’m not sure which) it was that their big favor involved personal hygiene. Of course, they get wiped down daily with soap and water. But without a constant source of running water, their little heart yearned to be submerged in warm bubbles. My guess is that their mermaid tails were drying out. At any rate, it seemed like a valid request and who can say no to their sweet, little kitten voices? So I set out to grant it.

The first step involved my new favorite thigh workout. It’s called The Generator Haul. Every time I do it, I swear I hear a super spunky aerobics instructor in my head…

Alright, everybody! Let’s get started! I want everyone to find a large generator on wheels.


Got it! Great! Now, starting beside your house, where you last used it to indugently dry a load of clothes, grab that handle and drag it 200 feet to the well. Remember, intensity of workout can be changed by the amount if fuel in the tank. You can either pull the generator with your arms behind you, or walk backwards, depending on the muscles you’re targeting. Pull! Pull! Keep going! You’re almost there!

You did it! Next, hook up the well and pull that generator pull string! This will really work those shoulder muscles! Great job! Take a breather while you check in with the ducks, but keep those feet moving!

What's going on, guys?

Now, here you have two options. You can either fill up the well storage tank, shut the generator off, and haul the generator back to keep those thigh muscles burning.
OR, to work on your upper body, you can leave it running, and head back to the house to fill as many large tubs as you can find with water and carry them inside to warm up. Me, I’m going to go with the second option. Ready? One tub! Two tubs! Three tubs! Let’s fill those dish pans, too! Come on! You can do it!

More water! MORE! Mwahahahaha!!

Great job! Okay, a quick jog back to the well to turn everything off. Ready for that last 200 ft. haul back to the house?

I think it’s painfully clear that I have watched too many exercise DVDs in my life.

Honestly, I really am so deeply grateful for the generator, the access to fresh, clean water, and the extra exercise thoughout the day.

With all that done, the girls were a whole lot closer to their bubble bath dream. Except that the water was ice cold. Thus we got out a big pot and started boiling some of the water on the propane grill burner.

This burner saves the day on a regular basis. It makes it possible to wash dishes and make soup inside an hour. It also saves me from terrible brain freeze while washing my hair.

It took a while, but we made it. The girls finally had their wish. My little fish were in the water.

And as if their sweet giggles weren’t reward enough, the kids gleefully cleaned and put away the mountain of dishes that were piling up on me AND I was able to wash my hair.

Exercise, sweet-smelling children, a clean kitchen, and washed hair! I think this counts as a victory.


It’s hard to know what to say about this past week. I don’t think I’ve fully digested it all yet. Lots of gray areas and loose ends.

All three of our young ducks have disappeared, presumably becoming something’s dinner. Despite scouring the pond bank for clues, we are no closer to solving that mystery and eradicating the predator(s). All I can deduct is that the culprit is nocturnal, which basically only rules out chicken hawks.

The weather has been really cold, at least cold for us.

They get so excited about ice, which is hilarious to this Canadian.

While working in the sub-freezing temperatures isn’t particularly pleasant, the cold has certainly made food storage easier. I haven’t bought ice for the coolers in almost a week. The kids are thoroughly enjoying the fact that they are sleeping in a mountain of blankets and pillows in the living room near the propane heater.

The last piece needed to install our wood burning stove has finally, finally come in, all the way from Illinois. I am still baffled that stores here sell the wood stoves, but not the parts to install them. I can barely wait to have the stove going. Besides heating and cooking, it should help with the constant excess moisture in the house. Every time I put my head on a damp pillow, I’d swear I’m back in England.

We lost our first goat, who just happened to be my favorite goat, Honey. Of course, she was my favorite because she was unhealthy from birth, and thus she spent a lot of time in my care. Harder than losing her was watching her sister, Spots, very obviously mourning for her…in a goat sort of way.

Poor Spots...

I have seen all kinds of chicken death, but chickens really couldn’t care less if one of their own dies. They get over it in about a minute. So seeing an animal actually grieve over the loss of a family member has been both educational and gut-wrenching.

Speaking of chickens, the baby chicks are due to hatch around this weekend. One chick, for whatever reason, hatched days early and died not long after. It hadn’t even fully absorbed the yolk sack. Titus, distressed, asserted that, “…we are losing animals left and right!” It certainly does the feel that way.

But the gloom and hardships of winter will pass, and the refreshed beauty of spring is not far off. Already, we have extensive planting lists compiled. There are seed orders being made and soil amendments underway. Oh, and did I mention the temporary greenhouse under construction? No? Well, more on that soon…