Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thankful for Andy

Andy is a very special chicken for quite a few reasons, not all of which are a credit to his character. Just saying.

As a wee chickie, Andy suffered some sort of childhood illness….which will remain nameless because we never figured out what it was. The long and short of it was our smallest chick had pulled out most of  his underside feathers, refused to sit down or eat, and cried constantly.

Andy – 1 week

Andy cried loudly. Andy cried all the time. Andy cried in his sleep. We could hear Andy crying from our bedroom. We could hear Andy crying over the TV. Andy liked to watch TV and that seemed to help sometimes.

In my attempt to “save” Andy on one particularly awful night, I very nearly killed him. After much reading (on the oh so reliable internet) I had narrowed down Andy’s illness to a few things – and promptly decided on a treatment involving a bath and Vaseline.

The bath wasn’t so bad, but the Vaseline was a huge mistake. So at 3 am in the middle of a lightening storm, my husband woke up to me sobbing next to the bed with a trembling and crying chick, because I KNEW deep in my heart, that I had just consigned Andy to an early and painful death.

It was all my fault.

Stephen dutifully got up and gave Andy another bath, toweled his little raw body down with a flannel square cut from his own pajamas, gave Andy back to me, and went right back to sleep.

Doc Martin

With the storm and my medical experiments behind us, Andy and I settled down on the couch with a heating pad and sugar water. We both watched a few episodes of Doc Martin, one of Andy’s favorite shows, and we resolved that I was, obviously, no doctor and that we should go on  to bed.

I set up Andy’s heating pad and flannel on a chair next to our bed. He seemed pretty content, but still very weak. I closed my eyes fully believing that he’d be gone by morning.

As the sun rose the next day, we found Andy happily attempting to “fly” from the chair into our bed – he was lonely. Thankful doesn’t begin to describe it!

Last week before Andy’s bath

Today, Andy is our largest chicken. He is kindhearted and still a little dopey. He can’t run in a straight line, occasionally makes poor decisions, and still needs the occasional bath…..don’t worry, Vaseline is no longer part of his life.

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Old House vs. Storm

Recently, I’ve been watching Storm Chasers, the show where lunatics try to intercept tornadoes and live to speak about it. After a tornado dissipates, the storm chasers often ride through the aftermath and survey damage. Depending on the strength of the tornado, damage ranges from a few downed limbs to completely flattened towns.

Of course, if our old farmhouse were, Lord forbid, in the path of a tornado, it wouldn’t stand a chance. During thunderstorms, Natalie says it’s both a comfort and concern to know our house is 118 years old. It’s weathered worse storms than this, she’ll say, but then again it was a bit younger when it did.

The house is your typical old farmhouse, built by a cotton farmer, Natalie’s great-great grandfather, out of old hand-hewn timber. In the inner layers of the plaster, we can still see animal hair, the predominate binding agent used in plaster in the 1800s. Apparently, the animal hair was effective, as our house still stands over 100 years later. Still, sometimes in the midst of a severe  thunderstorm, the fact that our house is held together by hand-hewn timbers and animal hair is a little disconcerting. Hopefully, a big, bad tornado, will never huff and puff and blow our house built of sticks in.

The backsides of our walls still have animal hair in the plaster

Interestingly, the original boards and timbers have stood the test of time better than the brick chimneys. About 10 years ago, Natalie’s Poppaw cut down the two main chimneys down and closed them up. Unfortunately, the mortar was crumbling and the chimneys were unstable.

The chimneys and fireplaces are now out of commission

If ever caught in the path of a bad storm, we only have the lone closet for protection from windows. It’s amazing to think that this one closet, about the size of a phone booth, once accommodated a family of nine. In the past, what clothes folks had were apparently kept in wardrobes and trunks. In any event, when a strong thunderstorm rolls through, Natalie goes into emergency mode, and we crouch down in the closet with couch cushions over us.

So far, so good. Although the house sometimes sounds like it’s getting ready to blast off in thunderstorms, we’re all, house included, still firmly on the ground.

Earlobes and Love are Precious Things

Since dispatching Twister, we are attempting round two of integrating the new girls, Pearla and Josephine, into the original flock. To say the first attempt was a disaster is a major understatement. Integration Round 1 ended with the so-called “earlobe incident.”

One bright, shiny day….with all of the chickens (old and new) in the coop….two roosters became hypnotized by the astounding wiles of one new Josephine. With her exotic plumage and lovely, Cleveland County Fair “ID tag”…..well….it was simply a combination that spelled disaster. At the end of the scuffle that ensued, poor Josephine was left with the majority of her earlobe torn off and two VERY guilty roosters still glaring death at one another.

the tantalizing Josephine

My solution to this problem was to simply remove Josephine and Pearla from the flock, allow a little healing time from the trauma, and just try again later. We are now in that “trying again” phase.

Lovely Penfold

Round two has resulted in a few hen scuffles…..mainly involving my sweet, little Penfold….and boy can that little girl FIGHT! She ninja drop kicks like a rooster – growling and all! I think she’s  been taking “wax on, wax off” lessons from Mini on the sly.

Pen holds nothing back, determined she will NOT be at the bottom of the totem pole this time. Her Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moves have Pearla utterly terrified — now, all Pen has to do is glance in Pearla’s direction and off Pearla runs.

All in all, it has been easier the second time around. There has been no blood involved…. and we can all be thankful for that.

Chickens and Horses

For years, Natalie’s Poppaw has kept horses, and occasionally he’ll rotate them into the chicken pasture. Chickens are entertaining creatures in their own right, but add horses to the mix and you’re guaranteed humorous antics.

Natalie’s Poppaw can tell the story of a stray hen that “took up” in the barn and made a habit of riding around on horseback, Napoleon style. Apparently, it was a win-win situation: the hen pecked free meals off the horse, and the horse got his back scratched and relief from flies.

Our chickens and the horses

So far, our chickens and the horses get on well together, too. The usually overprotective roosters don’t appear the least bit threatened by their much larger companions, even though the horses sometimes nudge the chickens around the pasture with their noses, as if dribbling soccer balls. Sometimes the chickens walk back and forth beneath the horses, or stand behind them and pull their tails. All in all, the chickens and horses seem to be good pals.

Perhaps the funniest episode between the chickens and horses occurred when Goldseeker got into the coop. At the time, it wasn’t funny at all, but looking back on it, Natalie and I laugh. Instead of wings and wattles, Goldseeker has hooves, a mane, and a very good sense of smell. One day, this sense of smell led him to the chicken coop.

The coop is rectangular, 6 feet wide by 10 feet long. A hen house is on one end of the coop and a door, 2 feet wide by six feet tall, is on the opposite end of the run. We often  leave the door open so chickens can go in and out to get food and water when free-ranging in the pasture–never dreaming that any of the horses could actually FIT through the door itself. Evidently, Goldseeker smelling the chicken feed just squeezed right in and made  himself at home.

Natalie and I had a horrible time getting him out of the coop. Since his rump was blocking the door, I had to squeeze between Goldseeker’s backside and the door frame to get into the run. Thankfully, he didn’t kick me. Once in there, I had little idea what to do. First, I tried turning him around, but he wasn’t cooperating and there wasn’t enough room anyway. Then, I tried removing the feeder. Goldseeker was batting the hanging feeder around like a piñata to spill the feed, which he then licked up off the ground. Natalie brought some hay to the coop to lure him out, but Goldseeker was determined to lick up every single pellet.

So, for what seemed like ages, three chickens, myself included, were trapped in a coop with a horse oblivious to anything but chicken feed. After he had eaten his fill, Goldseeker simply put himself in reverse and moonwalked out of the chicken coop.

In the end, I don’t know who was more thankful to get out of that coop–the chickens or myself! I know for a fact it wasn’t Goldseeker.

Gold and the chickens in the pasture

A Hard Day’s Night

Over the years, our kitchen has produced great fried chicken, or so we’ve been told. We weren’t around to taste it, but our Poppow was. His job was to cull a poor-laying hen or extra rooster from the flock then deliver it to his mother. She scalded the chicken, plucked it, cleaned it, and cooked it. By all accounts, the fried chicken left a lasting impression on the memories and taste buds of those who ate it. Though this great taste was probably attributed to the cook’s skill, we shouldn’t neglect the chicken. According to American Livestock Breed Conservancy, many heritage breeds of chickens, like those formerly common around barnyards, are more flavorful, though slower-growing, than the broilers found in modern poultry houses.

This past weekend, Natalie and I processed our first chicken, testing this theory with one of our New Hampshire Reds (NHR), a popular heritage breed developed for both meat and egg production. Unfortunately, New Hampshire Red roosters have a reputation for aggression. Ours was no exception; we couldn’t turn our back on him without being attacked. Our other two roosters, a golden comet and a white Langshan, are peaceful enough toward us, yet protective of the hens, so they were spared for breeding. Alas, our NHR wasn’t.

Twister

Even though this rooster had been terrorizing us, killing him wasn’t pleasant. I’ve gained a new respect for farmers who raise their animals humanely, yet process them for food when the time comes. Killing an animal you’ve raised, whose coop door you’ve opened every morning and closed every night, to whom you’ve brought food and water daily, isn’t easy. But as hard as we knew it would be, we felt we should do it rather than some stranger from the sale barn.

We decided night would be the best time. Although it was drizzling, windy, and cold, we wanted it over with. We removed the sleeping chicken from the coop and proceeded as quickly as possible. We used a killing cone, in this case just an orange traffic cone turned upside down, in which the chicken was placed with his head sticking out the small end. The cone kept the chicken still and prevented him from flapping. I cut the jugular vein on the side of his neck. In about a minute, though it that seemed like ages, his eyes closed for good.

Thinking back about that night, I still feel a little repulsed. Although I believe it was the best thing to do for our flock, killing the chicken was an unpleasant experience.

Nevertheless, my wife and I went ahead and plucked and cleaned him. In our minds, to eat him was to honor him. This part took a while, but eventually we ended up with a roasting bird of 4.3 lbs. The next day, Natalie roasted him whole in the oven. Since the bird was about 6 months old, compared to 6 weeks old for modern broilers, his texture was slightly stringy, but his taste was superb. Natalie soaked the bird in a saltwater brine for about two hours, then  buttered and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Then, into the oven, it went.

Two hours later, we were eating chicken, a free-range chicken, a chicken we had raised from a day-old chick. Of course, we tried not to think about this. We ate him, thankful to be rid of a mean rooster, yet thankful for him, as well. People who say chickens are, well, just chickens have never interacted much with them. Yes, they’re livestock, but they’re smart animals, whose personalities, for lack of better of word, become apparent as you raise them. Some, unfortunately, turn out meaner than others.

Meet the Flockers

About a year ago, Stephen and I got the bug in our brains that we would probably like raising chickens. All I know is that somewhere along the road I went from “I’m not doing anything with them except handling the eggs” to “if anything happens to my Penfold I’m going to be furious!”

One thing that both Stephen and I have learned about chickens is that each one brings its own unique and colorful personality to the table (a figurative table, not the dinner table). We still marvel at all the different little habits, buddy systems, and intelligence floating around our flock.

Mini is our head rooster–his personality is definitely a cross  between an angry Mr. Myagi and a grumpy Mr. Wilson. Mini hates mornings, nonsense, and loud noises. Despite his grumbles with life, he does a great job making sure his ladies are well fed, safe, and happy.

Flannery – Black Australorp

Flannery, Mini’s lady of choice, is our head hen. She is the epitome of daintiness and calmness, but she gets into her fair share of trouble when hanging out with Penfold.

Andy – White Langshan

Andy is our special little buddy. He and Mini are best friends and can almost always be found together. Andy has never progressed beyond the maturity of a 16-year-old boy–Girls, Girls, Food, Girls, Food, Food, Sleep, Girls – if you catch my drift. He’s our morning crower and afternoon stoner….at the end of the day, he’s a great rooster.

Penfold – American Gamefowl

Penfold is my special little devil. Despite being the smallest of our bunch, she  brings a whole new meaning to the term “hell on wheels.” She loves snuggling, and we spend quite a bit of time together……when she’s not playing in the woods, flogging the new girls, or leading the others in a quest to do something they really shouldn’t.

Charlie is our quiet girl. She’s dependable, consistent, and easy going–but she’s certainly not boring! Charlie possesses the unique ability to remain completely hidden in plain site–it’s like her father was chicken Houdini.

Josephine (Black Star), Pearla (Plymouth Rock)

Pearla and Josephine are the newest additions to our flock. They are quite a unique pair. Jo is extremely smart, enjoys exploring almost as much as Penfold, and hates Andy. Pearla is an innocent baby–wildly curious about everything, she spends most of her time in a little dream-like Pearla cloud. Pearls and Jo are very attached and dependent on one another and hate being separated. They give Mini and Andy a run for their money in the Best Friends department.

For us, the chickens are great, and we look forward to the hilarity and drama of each new chicken day. Our tribe has good days and bad, but at the end of it all, they are a family…..and it’s sort of like having Sister Wives meets The Young and the Restless playing out in your backyard everyday….you have no idea how much fun it is.