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Posts Tagged ‘raising chickens’

The Purpose

Life is funny. When I wrote a few weeks ago about my failing, elderly and befuddled chicken, I wasn’t prepared for a revival. When she wasn’t in her corner of the coop, she would wander about the yard looking confused, and each evening, I would have to either point her in the right direction or carry her to her roost. I thought she was near the end, and who wouldn’t? Chickens are not known for their long lives, and after seven years, I figured her days were numbered. Until the babies came. Not her babies, of course, as she is in her henopause years, but eleven fluffy-bottomed baby chicks purchased from the farm store (my favorite place to shop) and raised for the first few weeks under a heat lamp in the laundry room.  I love baby chick time, but HE dislikes the peeping poopy little creatures and for some crazy reason, thinks poultry should be raised out in the coop and not in the house.  I must admit, though, that despite changing their bedding twice a day, they do start to smell after a couple of weeks.  At that point, I moved the babies into cages out in the coop, with a heat lamp on a timer hanging above, since springtime in Minnesota cannot ever be trusted.  The cages are merely to wean the babies into coop life and to keep the others away from their food and water.  Old Mama Hen started to perk up and snoop around the cages once they arrived. By the time the chicks were ready to be let loose, she was not even close to being confused.  She fusses and clucks and gathers those babies under her wings at night. She shoos the others away from their food and water. She is showing them how to scratch in the dirt for bugs and any other delicious morsels they might find.  She has adopted a family, and a rather large one at that. Every afternoon, when I open the door to the outside world,  all the chickens go outside to frolic and forage in the grass. ALMOST all the chickens, that is. Old Mama Hen and one of her helpers stay behind to watch the babies, who are growing fast. Despite the door being open, not one of the well-behaved youngsters ventures out to the grass. I guess Mama’s instincts will decide when the time is right. It just goes to show that we all need a purpose in life to make it worth living. After my own sweet mama turned 88, and with her vision and health deteriorating, she told me she was weary and ready to go. Although I wasn’t ready for her to leave, it was not something in my control. I told her that if she was ready, it was OK with me, but I gave her a gentle reminder that she would have her first great-grandchild born in the spring.  “Oh,” she said, “I guess I’ll stick around for that!”  Call it purpose, determination, or just plain old-fashioned gumption, we’re mighty glad that she did.  I think that Old Mama Hen is planning to stick around for a while, too. She has work to do.

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Some people have the impression that chickens are dumb. I disagree. Not only are they smart, they know exactly what they are doing. They know that someone carrying a bucket means they will be given food or water. They know when an eagle soars overhead they need to take cover. They know when the sun starts going down and a tired old Farm Woman is ready for her bath, it is time to go into the coop for the night. At least most of them know that. The naughty girls like to stay out past their bedtime. At first it was just one, then two, and now THREE girls have gone bad. I don’t know if the problem is caused by peer pressure or if it is that sweet-talking rooster from the neighboring farm and all of his cockadoodledooing. The chickens need to be safely cooped up because around here, there are plenty of nighttime predators such as foxes, wolves, and coyotes. Last night I made plans to go out with friends. I showered. I fluffed my hair. I hunted for, found, and dusted off my eye shadow. Heck, I even changed my earrings! The chickens were outside for the entire afternoon for some free ranging. Thirty minutes before my ride arrived, I whistled for them, carrying a bucket of leftover popcorn, and they all followed me like I was the Pied Piper or something. Popcorn is their favorite. One by one, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, they jumped up on the single step and into the coop. All except one, that is. She looked me straight in the eye, turned, and ran off into the woods. The woodticks-are-everywhere woods. The fox-wolf-coyote woods. Yes, those woods. Two of her cohorts followed. I cajoled them out of the woods and they ran around and around the coop. I was not far behind, and was using all the forms of bribery I knew. I shook the bucket of popcorn. I called out “Here, chicky chicky”. I whistled. The other chickens all came out of the coop, thinking I had more goodies. I shooed them back in. My ride was due in 15 minutes, my face was beet-red, and I was dripping sweat from all the running around and calling those chickens everything but a son of a rooster. If it weren’t 85 degrees outside with 100% humidity, I would have seriously considered cancelling my night out and making a nice pot of chicken and dumplings. If I could catch a chicken, that is. Instead, I locked the coop and opened the door to the shed, hoping they would find their way inside before dark. I brushed a couple of crawly things off my shirt and checked for ticks. I had just enough time to wash my face with a cool washcloth. Ready or not, my ride was at the door. Later that night, I tiptoed through the dewy grass with my flashlight and checked the shed, finding two of the naughty girls sound asleep inside. Figuring the third one was either roosting up in a tree somewhere or a coyote’s midnight snack, I’m ashamed to admit that I felt only a tiny bit sad about the latter. I repented early the next morning, and went outside to look for her. There she was, eating worms for breakfast and not looking the least bit guilty. As I opened the door to let her into the coop, she looked me straight in the eye, turned, and ran off into the woods.

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Last week, I was given the gift of three one-week-old Black Australorp baby chicks. They are supposed to be girls, but we all know that around here, things don’t always work out the way they were supposed to.  The babies had been snug in their little cage under a heat lamp for nearly a week, and were surprisingly tame when I reached in to feed them, give them water, and of course, pet them, because baby chicks are just so darn cute!  I have been keeping the babies on my breezeway, because it is the next warmest thing to the living room, and for some reason, HE frowns upon keeping barnyard creatures in the house.  The breezeway is kind of a catch-all/storage/laundry room/kick your boots off type of room, and for all the aforementioned reasons, is always a mess. There are shoes and boots and coats and hats and potatoes and onions and a vacuum cleaner, and now…..a large cage on a card table and a bag of chick food.  Please don’t laugh, this really is my life. Anyhow, I was in the midst of mopping floors and doing laundry and on my 27th time passing that cage I noticed that it held only one chick. I stopped in my tracks and immediately picked up Barney the Chihuahua, who had started sniffing around, and locked him in the kitchen. Slowly and carefully, I inched around, looking inside boots and boxes, carefully sorting through the laundry pile, finding no baby chicks. Fearing they had hidden behind the washing machine, I carefully picked up a sack of potatoes to move out of the way when I found one, who had managed to hide herself among the spuds. As soon as I picked her up and she started cheeping, the other escapee started making noise from across the room and it was easy to find her. Whew. Another disaster diverted. I couldn’t figure out how they had slipped out, but since the cage was wrapped in towels, I tucked the towels around it more carefully, securing them with clothespins and continued going about my business. When you are a Farm Woman, having a day off from your job does not mean you have a day off from work.  When I passed that cage for the 40th time, I noticed once again that the two babies had escaped.  What the heck?  On my hands  again, I began to search, and found them both under a bench, huddled next to the heat register.  I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting out pieces of cardboard to line the cage, hopefully keeping them from escaping.  That afternoon, I had an escapee from the big coop hiding in the shed, making me crawl around in the still foot-deep snow trying to get her out.  I think that all chickens great and small must have a case of spring fever and are feeling the need to escape somewhere or anywhere.   Who can blame them?  I feel exactly the same way.  Last year at this time was warm and I was considering an early planting of lettuce, beets and radishes, and the chickens were free-ranging in the yard.  This year, there is more than a foot of snow still covering the garden, and the somewhat gloomy forecast is for more snow this week. Minnesota springs cannot be trusted, and neither can chickens.

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