I feel like one of my free-roaming chickens, peeking from between the brush, tentatively watching everyone else live their lives. The other chickens go about their day, picking bugs out of the grown, running down grasshoppers, yanking mosquitoes out of the air. All the while, I stay in the cool shade and contemplate what to spend my energy on.
This year, 2019, was supposed to be the year of expansion for the homestead. The idea was to add ducks, grow a couple turkeys, and possibly start building a pig pen. A family member’s health problems, car troubles, and the sudden shift in academics for our children had to take front and center. The ducks and turkeys will wait another season, and who knows about the pigs.
To satisfy our want to add anything at all to the homestead this year, plans have been hatched to rebuild the woodsheds (they need it) and to add a greenhouse built of old windows and pallets. The only funding that may be needed for that would be paving stones for the base. If the greenhouse scheme doesn’t seem to be working out, we’ll put energy into building coldframes instead. One small step can sometimes work out better than a big leap.
In an attempt to catch up on things, this weekend looks like it will be celebrated by working on our independence from oil by building our woodsheds. While I wait the sudden chaos and energy it’s going to take to rebuild the bins and begin the process of stacking four cord of winter warmth, I’m going to enjoy this shade and watch everyone else for a few days…..well, in conjunction to the normal day to day doings.
This year has been a bit of a chaotic one, but in a good way. We started off our growing season with the massive project of re-doing the fencing around both of the gardens. Originally it was a mess of pulp-wood posts and hodge-podged fencing that was constantly falling in due to snow load and getting pushes out of place by the groundhogs. Brand new cedar posts and welded wire fencing fixed that. We now have a fence secure enough that we can use it as a trellis and actually did use it as a make-shift clothesline while ours needed to be replaced.
The garden itself has preformed admirably thus far! We’re up to 7 quarts of snap beans in the freezer, a batch of salsa, sauce, and ketchup from our own tomatoes, enough zucchini for stir-fries and a few loaves of zucchini bread for the freezer, roughly 80lbs of potatoes from the 12lbs that went in, and more than enough fresh produce to have kept our bellies happy over the course of late-summer. I did purchase “ugly seconds” tomatoes from a local farm to make additional pasta sauce and salsa with. I also found a wicked deal on cucumbers (40 lbs for $25) to stock the shelves with pickles and relishes.
On top of what our own garden has been producing and the deals I’ve found via local farms, blueberry and strawberry picking season was also I huge success as this year we weren’t impeded by the hunt for a new vehicle in the midst of it all. Up next is apple picking season, which has just started, and then what I hope will be an annual trip for a trunk full of pumpkins.
Chicken wise, the basement chest freezer is half full of poultry. We have enough for at least one roasted chicken a month, and given that each bird provides a week’s worth of meals for the four of us, I’m more than happy with that!
In another month, however, we’ll have to make a decision as to which of the new six roosters to keep over winter as an assistant to Greenleaf, our head rooster. We have a couple young cocks we’re keeping an eye on, so we might end up with two. As long as the fox doesn’t snag any more birds, we’ll also have five new hens to add into the flock for the winter. We lost seven hens total this year – five to the fox, two to illness – which is higher than most years, but still fit within the 25% margin that we try to work with. (We always try to keep a flock 25% larger than we absolutely need so that when losses do occur, and they will, it’s not such a blow.)
Schemes and dreams are already in the works for next growing season as we’re currently ahead on firewood and has reserved energy from not having to stress about that. I’ll post more in the future about our goals for next spring, but right now I’ll say that we might be working out a farmstand here at the homestead to bring in a little extra and we might be adding a porcine or two for meat raising. While next year remains simmering on the backburner, the fall garden is slowly filling in, a new placement for the blueberry bushes and irrigation for said plants is in the works, and garlic cloves are waiting impatiently to be planted.
Homesteading is all about decisions. What to grow, who to eat, how to provide, why do something a certain way, and when do you call it a day.
As much as I would love to say that these decisions are easy, many of them are not, especially when it comes to the animals on the homestead. In the picture above is our White Lady, Alice by name. She is a Leghorn/Aracuana mix who is sneaking up on five years old. Alice has had a rough life. She was stolen by neighbourhood hooligans and brought back by their sisters. She has been eggbound previously. She lost her sister to a coyote attack.
Unfortunately, age and life seem to be sneaking up on her. She has stopped laying entirely. At first we thought maybe Alice was eggbound, as that’s been an issue for her before. When a hen is eggbound everything slows to a stop – eating, defecating, and laying. The egg does what the name of the issue says: it binds everything up. If not caught, it is fatal. Some hens can have repetitious issues with eggbinding and then the homesteader needs to make the decision to cull or not. Alice is not eggbound. We’ve checked that and it’s not the culprit to her illness.
Neither does it seems to be respiratory nor diet.
No lash eggs have been found in the coop, either.
So….what to do? Without a clean cut diagnosis, there are only two options. We can either cull poor Alice or hospice her to the end. We’ve never had to cull a chicken from our flock as nature and predators normally do it for us, and I’ll be honest and say I hope that ends up being the case here. For the meanwhile, we’ll hospice Alice. She’ll continue to roam and room with her flock as we keep an extra sharp eye on her.
Last night, when Hubster went to count chickens, he only counted 23. I went out to do a double count – standard practice when one is missing – and sure enough, Wafflette was no where to be found. We did a precursory look, but had to tend to another chicken’s injured toe.
While we were bummed that one of the hens might have become fox fodder, we knew there was a chance that she might have headed out somewhere to brood up. For the time being, I wrote her in the ledger as deceased.
This afternoon, I stepped out to collect eggs. Waking towards the barn, I saw a junked tote that I had set aside to bring to recycling. It had been flipped upside down.
“Might as well snag it to load up singe stuff from the basement for a dump troll this weekend.”
Imagine my surprise when I listed the thing up to find none other than Wafflette and two eggs! She looked up at me, stretched a wing, and then walked off for a drink like nothing had happened.
I’m starting to think she rather enjoyed her night of solitude.
Yesterday I was standing at the back door with Little Miss bugging the chickens and practicing different chicken calls. All of a sudden I finally got reaction with the “air raid” call.
Or so I thought.
Right in front of my eyes, our little chicken theif walks around the corner of the house.
“A–! What are you doing?!” He looks at me and keeps following the chickens. I think he was in momentary shock. “Get out of here!” The paralysis dissipated and off he went like a shot – or a six year old trudging through knee deep heavy snow.
I went to the front door, on my way calling for Little Mister to snag my phone. I snagged some shots of A– and his little brother making their departure.
“I told you we shouldn’t have tried to steal another chicken!” says the little brother who then promptly loses his boot in the snow.
After they made their return adventure home, Hubster came home for lunch. I finally had the chance to get outside and discovered Beardie, one of our Easter Eggers, was missing. I wasn’t 100% that they had taken her, as there were no tell tale signs and she was a struggler even with us handling her, but I didn’t know if the younger brother’s comment about “another bird” was referring to the last time they’re stole one or today. Hubster and I discussed the issue and decided a course of action.
I called our local state police barracks and explained the situation, how he’s stolen a bird before, how I spoke to the mother myself last time and was pressed upon that it wouldn’t happen again, and the young age of the kids. The officer I later talked to was just as concerned about making sure the kids got the message now and not later. “Let’s nip this in the bud.”
The little bugger tried lying to the officer, saying they didn’t come down at all. She took a walk behind the house and saw their tracks, took a couple photos to show them, and they quickly admitted that they came down, but claimed they only wanted to pet the chickens. I don’t buy it, and I don’t think the officer did either. She did say, however, that the mom was livid and the two boys were bawling their eyes out. Here’s hoping they learned a lesson. If not, I’m going to just watch and see if Greenleaf and MacGyver do their job.
As for Beardie, she showed up about an hour after the boys came by. They spooked her enough that she had hidden out in the brush somewhere.