Snow Shoveling…with Friends

Day 253 of 365

The snow was real snow today, not ice-snow, and the sun was out making for a lovely day. It was a good day to shovel snow, especially when you have such good friends who hang out with you while you shovel.

This is little Arwen. She is, perhaps, my favorite chicken. She’s the last baby from Rooster and is the great grand baby of Poe. She reminds me a lot of Poe. She’s smart and chill and observant. She hung out with me the whole time I shoveled in the chicken area, and then, when I went to shovel the deck, I saw her roaming around the whole yard, just walking on top of the snow. Isn’t she beautiful? And do you remember her from this summer? She was the little chick who would sneak under the fence and steal watermelon from the big chickens this summer. I had never seen anything like it. Her boldness was surprising, and I wondered what she would be like as a grown up. Really, really smart. That’s what she’s like as a grown up.

This is Dvorak and the back side of Piatigorsky. My little crew I raised this summer mostly sticks together still. I think Dvorak was the first one out of the coop today. Being cooped up with Rooster all day long was stressful. Dvorak completely understands that Rooster is the boss.

Every time I shovel this path, many hens will follow me out there. That’s Arwen in the front, and Poe Jr. Jr. is behind her.

These are some of the trees in the chicken area. They look so beautiful to me in the snow. We have lots of oaks, some maples, and some birch. We also have a lot of pine and fir trees.

You can see we are starting to get a little pile of snow. After a winter of no winter, I don’t mind the snow. The chickens, on the other hand, are not fans.

This is little Arwen. After I finished shoveling, she just took off around the whole property all by herself. Here, she is exploring the garden, which looks so empty in the winter time.

This is on the other side of our property where the ducks live and the dogs work and play. Bairre can’t be trusted with the chickens yet, and he’s barely able to be trusted with the ducks. We have had setbacks in the last week. It’s a reminder that Great Pyrenees do have to be taught not to chase the little things. Boudica is rebelling and not helping, which is unfortunate because she’s the best teacher, but today, Ron told her, “If he gets into the ducks, I’m gonna be grumpy at you.” I am not even kidding. Bairre did not get into the ducks the whole rest of the day.

And here she is. I think she’s the most majestic being I have ever known. Isn’t she beautiful? I think I ask that all the time, but I just marvel at her.

And last but not least, here comes Bairre. He was just playing with his stuffed gnome in the snow, but I was making such a fuss over Boudica being so beautiful. This meant Bairre had to come assert his cuteness. He is definitely majestic too.

Egg Business

Day 239 of 365

Our teenage son is a very big boy. He’s about 6’4″ and is a foodie. He loves scrambled eggs and can eat four eggs in the blink of an eye. I told him one day that, when he grows up, he will have a hard time finding eggs as good as our eggs. “You’ll probably have to pay about $10 a dozen for similar eggs, but you should pay. They are worth it.”

Our eggs are very, very good. They are not registered as organic, but our chickens are fed organic food and scraps, and when I have to administer any kind of non-organic medicine, I withhold the eggs. Our chickens also get to free range in a small, fenced pasture and are treated as well as we can possibly treat them. We work hard to make sure each chicken is happy. If someone is unhappy, we try our best to figure out what to do to improve the situation. Sometimes, as in the case of Ruby, this means they get sleep in the garage all summer. Or, in the case of Juliet, this means they stop the car when I come home and get treats.

You can taste happiness. I didn’t fully understand this until I tasted the difference. Our eggs are so good because our chickens are fed high quality, organic food–and they are, overall, quite happy. I mean, they have some complaints at times, but they let me know about them. One time, a few years ago, we had to buy eggs during the winter, and I made the mistake of making scrambled eggs. I thought I was going to cry. The eggs were terrible and tasted like depression. I swear, I could taste the sadness.

In contrast, the other day, I made some scrambled eggs for breakfast for our son. Right now, scrambled eggs are a rare treat because we do not add light to our coop to give our chickens a rest during the winter. On a good day, we will get three our four eggs at the most. On a bad day, we will get just one egg. Anyway, it’s been a month or two since I have had scrambled eggs, which I also love, so I snuck a bite of the eggs. They were so good I thought I was going to cry.

I am going to be so glad when the hens come online again. We’re getting close. The light is coming back.

We have wait lists for our eggs. I have a base of very kind and loyal customers, and then I have some customers who can only get a few dozen during peak season when we are overrun. Still, they are so excited about getting them. I was teasing Ron one day that I am going to be like The Lost Kitchen of eggs and will have to have a postcard lottery to see who gets some of our eggs. I wish we could have a little bigger farm and raise a few more chickens for eggs. I love teaching, but the conditions have gotten pretty rough over the years. I would love to teach a little less and chicken farm a little more.

But there is not really in profit in it, I think. Still, I am wondering if we were able to scale up if we could figure out how to make it profitable. It helps that our chickens get to eat bugs and grubs and worms in the summer and fall, but organic feed is still very expensive–and getting more expensive all the time. And you really can’t charge too much more than the grocery store because, otherwise, people will just buy eggs from the grocery store. Of course, right now, grocery store eggs are outrageous because of the avian flu this last year. When our eggs come available again, $5 a dozen for organic eggs is going to seem like a deal for sure. However, the high costs of eggs should not be permanent. Hopefully, we won’t have an avian flu outbreak again. If we do, then all bets are off for all of us anyway.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to finally start keeping records of eggs sales and compare it with feed costs. I figure I have to also consider how many eggs we eat and imagine those costing $5 a dozen as well because, if I had another chicken coop, all of their eggs could be sold.

There’s the labor, but I am not going to worry about that because the chicken work is one of the joys of my life. Ron worries about me cleaning the coop all of the time, but I try to tell him that I generally love it–well, maybe not in the summer, but you don’t have to clean your coop much in the summer anyway. I love to clean the coop because I love to make it cozy and nice. I don’t decorate our coop like a lot of people do because the chickens somehow manage to poop on everything. But clean and cozy seems important. Today, I cleaned it for the second time this week, and because our local grocery store was out of peppermint oil to deter rats and mice, I ended up sprinkling the entire coop with cloves. That’s another story for another night though. I guess this is just a long way of saying my labor for those chickens is good for me.

The real struggle we would have in trying to have a little egg farm is that we let our chickens rest all winter. Obviously, no eggs means no sales. You can add light to your coop, but after having a few hens, including my Poe, die from ovarian cancer, I am determined to let our chickens rest in the winter.

Anyway, I have a little notebook, and in just about a month, we should be back in egg business. I’m going to keep track of it all and see where we are at the end of the year. Ron used to dismiss me when I would ask about expanding our egg business, but I can see he has some curiosity about it. It will be interesting to see how the numbers add up. We could be losing our shirts, but I don’t think so. Either way, it will be good to know.

The last post of 2022…life on the farm

Day 236 of 365

Today, on this last day of the year, I can’t believe I am 236 days into this project. It was so hard at first to write every day, but now it just seems like the natural thing to do–and it helps me so much. Writing our farm stories helps me remember gratefulness. I am honored to live with the animals we keep, and I am grateful for the little plot of land we borrow from the Earth.

I wanted to write something wise and magnificent, something about the magic of life on the farm and the wisdom I have gained from humbling myself in the face of that magic. Instead, I have a story about rats.

Do you remember this fall when I wrote about the cutest rat in the world who had moved into our chicken coop? Do you remember how I said we were going to pay for our decisions later? Later is now.

We are doing everything within our power to keep every speck of food clean and picked up, but these rats are smart. They have learned to live amongst the chickens. Traps do not work. The rats have made friends with the chickens. This is new. They used to stay away from chickens–and us.

Tonight, I had an encounter with an adorable rat. If it is not the rat I saw making doe eyes at me this summer, it is at least a relative. I went to get the food and water and close up the chicken coop tonight, right before sunset, and I saw it–scurrying in its unnerving way.

I screamed. A few chickens responded, but they seemed to indicate I was overreacting. So I went to the front door of the house and told Ron the rat was in the coop–and it was just looking at me. Ron said, “oh, yeah?” and went on about his day, seemingly indicating I was overreacting.

So I went back out the coop, determined to at least be scary to the rat, so it wouldn’t try to get food while I was gathering everything up.

I stomped. The rat did not move.

I banged the wall it was near. The rat just wiggled its nose (the cutest little nose ever, I might add) and looked at me.

“You are cute, but you can’t stay!” I told it. They have eaten several holes in the coop that Ron has had to repair. It didn’t budge.

So I got brave. I went over right in front of it and kicked the wall above its head. The pink nose was still there. I saw some eyes.

At this point, I was very worried about how bold this rat is. I turned around because I heard something behind me. It was just Arwen. She was sleeping on the floor tonight, which she hasn’t done in forever.

“You should get up off the floor, Arwen. We have rats right now.”

Then, from behind me, the rat ran right across the middle of coop, right past Arwen. Arwen was unfazed, as if to say, “Oh, that’s just Jerry.”

Two things are going to have to happen. I think we are going to have to get a new, special feeder for the chickens, and as soon as it’s spring time, Ron and I are going to have to re-work some of the coop. For now, I am both worried about the rats and completely impressed with their brilliance. They stash food during the day and have adapted to living like chickens.

I guess speaking of humbling myself.

***

Happy New Year to all of who follow this blog. Thank you for being on this journey with me. I hope you have a wonderful new year full of love and wonder and good farm food!

photo credit: Tim Zankert, Unsplash

And these are my swans…

Day 234 of 365

I spent this morning’s tea making streamers out of yarn and fabric to run across some areas in our chicken yard. They have lots of places to duck and cover, but a Cooper’s hawk is crafty. Hopefully, the streamers will deter in those areas. Next, I will hang old CDs, but I don’t know how Ron is going to feel about this. He thinks they look terrible, but they seem to work, which means I don’t think he’ll complain too much. In fact, he said it was kind of cool to see the return of “Crystal’s prayer flags.”

I noticed he checked on the chickens a lot today too. Thankfully, we did not see the hawk, but it will likely be back.

It was so cute when I went out to hang the streamers. The chickens just watched and watched. They are all so out of sorts after the attack yesterday. They had all been in the coop, refusing to come out all morning, but when they saw me standing out there for a long time, a few came out to visit.

It was great to spend so much of my day with them. They are interesting animals, and it’s fascinating to me to watch how each of them handles the stress of yesterday so differently. Rooster is the most worried, of course, and then there are some who are more bold and will take tiny trips out of the coop, even when most everyone else is still in hiding. It turns out that one such chicken is one of the new Salmon Faverolles. I saw her running around in the open, all alone, one of the time I went out to check on everyone this morning. I told her she was taking a really big risk, so I stayed outside extra long that trip, just to see what she was doing. She started hanging out inside the raspberry canes, which should provide some good hawk protection, so I tried not to worry about her too much.

I’ll be watching the chickens closely and frequently for the next few weeks, so I’ll have great stories, I am sure. Every time I would come in today from a chicken check, I would have a story to tell Ron.

If he gets tired of my stories, he doesn’t let on. I am thankful.

Also, the chicken catalog came in the mail today! I haven’t ordered from this hatchery in years, as we either hatch our own or a try to get from a local breeder, but I am searching for some heritage Rhode Island Reds. Sadly, there were none in the catalog, but there were so many other wonderful pictures and descriptions of chickens. Plus, there is a chicken supply shopping section–and they started having short articles about chickens! Every year, when the chicken catalog comes, I browse through it dreamily, as I always learn about new and interesting breeds.

This year I noticed for the first time you can buy swans! I told Ron, “Oh my gosh! You can buys swans from the hatchery catalog!”

Ron asked, “Why would anyone want a swan?”

“I want a swan, like in the dream version of myself.”

He had no response.

“Like, if I ever won the lottery, I would have swans, and they would have their own little pond and fancy house. And when people would come to visit I would say, ‘And these are my swans…'”

I am sure Ron is thankful I don’t actually play the lottery because, if I ever found myself suddenly rich, I would have a giant animal sanctuary, and instead of working at my jobs, I would take care of animals all day.

I can’t remember his response to my swan idea, but he knows I know how much work a swan would be, so he mostly laughed. Still, he seems suspicious that I might one day fully embrace my inner Hagrid.

Just a winter day on the farm…

Day 232 of 365

Today, we slept in a little, but everyone was fine. The ducks were still good. The chickens hadn’t starved. Everyone was safe and warm. And we slept nearly an hour late. We won’t make a habit of it, but it was so lovely. I have been tired.

Today, Rooster seemed better. He wasn’t standing in sick chicken position at all today. He was out and about. I heard him crow. I brought him in tonight for more medicine. I realized that I am also giving him homemade bread every time he comes in, so I am honestly not sure if the medicine helped him or if it was the homemade bread. Ron mills some of the wheat for that bread from very healthy organic wheat. And then he certainly puts love in that bread when he bakes it. He considers it an art form. I do as well.

I have seen that bread seemingly heal a dying duck, so I have to wonder at least a little about that bread. Maybe, just in case, I should keep bringing Rooster in at night, even after his medicine in finished, and he could just have a little homemade bread. Maybe that will give him strength.

Today, Mary Jane also came outside for treats. We were very, very fortunate in that last storm. He had some trees come down, but none on wires or fencing. We didn’t even lose power. And, to make things even more wonderful, the rain melted the snow, which means the chickens are happy running around in their pasture. The weather was fairly warm today at about 30 degrees, and Mary Jane came out for a little bit. I was so happy to see her.

Today, we got five eggs! On Christmas Eve, we got just one. And then two on Christmas. And then three yesterday. Those six are in this picture. Aren’t they beautiful? It was extra lovely to get five eggs today.

It seems like the light comes back so quickly here in Maine after the Solstice. Maybe the chickens think so too.

Rooster Is Sick

Day 218 of 365

In the last week or so, for morning chores, Ron has been doing the chickens while I do the ducks. Then, he’s been putting the chickens up at night as well, as he’s checking for rats. We had a big hole in the coop last week that he had to repair. I still deliver treats to the chickens and collect eggs, but I haven’t been seeing them as much as usual. Tonight, while Ron was burning tree branches (there is a lot of burning that has to happen in the woods of Maine, but that’s another story), I decided to go ahead and put the chickens to bed. I couldn’t believe what I heard. It sounded almost like a bear growling!

It was my sweet Rooster, rattling from a respiratory infection! In 2019, our entire flock came down with an epic respiratory infection. And I mean epic. I was a nurse for months. Everyone lived, but Rooster has always had struggles with relapses, especially when it gets cold. I should have known to check on him more when it got so cold this week, but I didn’t. And our boy sounded terrible.

Rooster doesn’t like to be touched, so I generally try to respect this. Plus, I have to admit that I am a little afraid of his spurs. We do not trim them unless they get too long for him to get around because his spurs are his weapons should he have to fight a predator. Also, he’s really big, so much bigger than the hens, so that makes me a little nervous too. But when I heard him rattling so terrible, I went over and scooped him up.

He didn’t protest very much. I told him what I was going to do, and, thankfully, he seemed to understand and settled down. I brought him into the guest bathroom, which is also our animal care center, and I got out the good stuff–the antibiotics for respiratory illnesses. I try to never use antibiotics. I know they are VERY much overused in general, but he sounded really, really terrible. I didn’t want to waste any time getting him better. Hopefully, it will work quickly.

He was a very good patient. I put the medicine in the syringe and leaned down in his face. I tapped the syringe on his beak and told him I needed to put this in his beak. He opened a little; I squirted it in; he swallowed. I don’t know how smart this bird is, but I wish a scientist could study him. He has to be way up there in the range. It was like he understood exactly what I was going to do and was very helpful. I will wonder forever how much language that boy understands.

Anyway, I took the opportunity to just check him everywhere. Thankfully, he has no mites, but he has a little wound on his comb, so I treated that and gave his feet and legs a good rub with moisturizer and rubbed some Vet RX (kind of like Vicks Vapor Rub for chickens) around his little nostrils. I also just treasured the opportunity to touch his feathers and admire the beauty of this animal. I never get to see him up so close. He’s magnificent. His tail feathers are shiny green/black, and I was reminded of how roosters really are just beautiful creatures.

We wrapped it up with some treats, which he ate from my hand. He never gets a chance to do this when I feed treats to the whole flock because some of the hens are just too bossy and take it right away from him. It was really cool getting to hang out with him some, and I wished he could just stay inside until he got better. But can you imagine a puppy and rooster in the house?

I went to check on him just a few minutes ago, and he sounds a little better already. I hope he gets better soon, but I am looking forward to spending the next several days giving him medicine and treats every night. It will be great to spend some one-on-one time with such a magnificent creature.

Rostropovich

Day 187 of 365

Tonight was tough. I had to say goodbye to Rostropovich. I am going to miss him very much. I cried all the way to the house where we delivered him. I hope he’s going to be okay. Their last rooster was killed by a predator. I hope, hope, hope he’s going to be okay.

We really wanted to keep him, but we do not have a large enough flock for three roosters. We have Rooster, and I have to keep Dvorak, as he was always such a mama’s boy. I just wanted to keep Rostropovich as well. But he was starting to bother the girls who were low in the pecking order, and just a few were getting all of his attention. He wasn’t too rough, but there just aren’t enough hens to go around. So Ruby and a few of the younger girls were being bothered by him. I learned a long time ago that, when a rooster starts picking on a favorite or two, you have to make a change. He will wear her down, and it will impact her health big time. I decided a few years ago that I would be way more proactive and never let that happen again. Plus, it was Ruby. Ruby is the special.

On top of this Rostropovich really loved to sing! He would get on top of the rocks and just crow and crow and crow and crow. Then he would get Rooster going. Then Dvorak would join in. We live in out in the country but do have neighbors fairly close. Last weekend, Ron said, “You have one week to find a home for that rooster.” I understood.

He’s so absolutely beautiful, and he’s a very, very good rooster. In the photo, he’s the rooster on the right. Just look at that tail. Both of these birds are magnificent. I knew I would be able to find a home for him, and I did within a few hours of posting his picture and telling his story. The lady wrote me though and said she had to be honest because she could tell I loved him. She told me their last one had been taken by a predator. This is so common. It would be impossible for me to find a rooster a home if I held everyone to my standards for chicken safety. I mean, we have Great Pyrenees. They help more than I can say. So I told the lady that I would just be thankful for him to have his own flock and have a chance. She also seemed to really love chickens.

Still, I cried and cried taking him over there tonight.

When I scooped him up to kidnap him, he didn’t even fuss. So I snuggled him and told him to be brave, to be tough, to be smart. I hope he understood. I tried to think about what I was saying so deeply, hoping he might read something from me about what was about to happen. Most of my chickens don’t study me very much though. I study all of them, but only a few have deeply studied me right back. One was Poe.

Anyway, we drove him over and played Tom Petty for him for the drive. Birds always like music, I have found. I sure hope he makes it. The good news/bad news is that it’s not that far from here, and they free range their chickens. This means I can drive by and try to see him. You know I am going to be doing that.

I should add a small side story at the end of this one. Ron and I drove Rostropovich over to his new home, but our teen wanted to stay home. We wouldn’t be gone long anyway, but we told him he would have to watch Bairre, who has been a little terror all day long. Boudica was very frustrated with her new little brother today and has been staying away, refusing to play with him. But when we got home from delivering the rooster, I found our teen on his computer playing video games with Boudica fenced into the front of the house via a baby gate, stuck babysitting Bairre. I swear, when she saw me, it was like “thank goodness your home.” I told her I was so sorry.

I grumped at our son for making Boudica do his work, and he said he only sort of felt badly because Boudica is a better babysitter. Teenagers.

A Ruby Update

Day 177 of 365

I am working on a longer post for later in the week, so I thought I would just tell a short Ruby story tonight and give a little update on the chicken that has become the most prominent little personality on our homestead. As you may remember, she was moved to the coop for sleeping at night last month, but she continues to fly over the fence (well, sometimes, I just open the gate for her) in the morning.

She spends her days hanging out in the front yard and in the driveway and front woods area. She never goes too far. She moves with the UPS driver comes down the driveway. She, like Juliet, seems to know how to handle herself very well away from the flock, so we let her roam. It’s a risk though. She’s safer in with the flock, but she just can’t take it in there. So we let her have some freedom at the risk of some security. I love her very much. She’s a difficult chicken, is very vocal, and she’s wicked smart. I have found in my life that some of the most difficult people I know are the smartest people I know. Ruby is no exception.

At night, when it’s time to go to bed, Ruby usually perches on the gate by the coop. She has done this her whole life, even before she moved to the garage this summer. It’s like she can’t take the stress of going to be. Roosting at night is more than a bit rowdy. There is a lot of fussing. Sometimes, the fussing is so bad that I got outside and grump at people. They will behave until I am about five feet from the coop, and then they are right back at the fussing.

Anyway, when we are away from home on the nights our son has orchestra, I worry extra about Ruby. I am terrified an owl is going to get her. So far, she’s always there when we get home.

Tonight, I had a run some errands, and it gets dark so early that it was dark when I got home. I didn’t see Ruby on the gate and started to worry immediately. She’s always on the gate. I looked in the garage and didn’t see her there either. I started to panic a little bit and ran inside to get the flashlight to check in the coop. I scanned the roosts and the nest boxes and still didn’t see her. So I called to her, “Ruby! Ruby!”

And then I heard some chicken talk from behind a group of young chickens from this year’s hatch. There, behind the muppets, sat Ruby. When I saw her and said her name again, she talked back to me again. I later found out that Ron had encouraged her to go into the coop early, so she went to bed early for him. She won’t do that for me. She is a much better-behaved chicken for Ron. It’s okay though.

I love that she knows her name. Ruby is such a difficult chicken, and I don’t know what I would do without her.

Rooster, the Best Rooster

Day 170 of 365

When we decided to get a rooster for our flock, we did not take the decision lightly. There are pros and cons to roosters, but in our efforts to be self-sustaining, we decided we wanted to try a rooster. We special ordered a Rhode Island Red rooster. I hand raised him and followed every bit of instruction I could find about raising a good rooster. I found out later that most of this information on the internet about raising a good rooster was incorrect, and our little Rhode Island Red rooster turned out to be pretty much a monster when it came to the hens. He was great with me, but he terrorized the hens. I kept reading that this was “normal.” I asked questions in forums, and people said it was “normal” rooster behavior. I had my doubts, but I was fairly new to chickens and doubted myself. 

Then, in a batch of baby chicks we ordered online, we got a free “surprise” chicken. A couple of months into raising that group of chicks, I heard a crow. What would we do with two roosters? But, since our Rhode Island Red was a holy terror, I wondered if this new little guy might be better. 

I moved the little guy into the garage where my favorite chicken in the world, Poe, often hung out, and I asked her to raise him. She did a great job. She pecked him on the head so much that I questioned her methods, but she helped raise a good boy. I have also learned that genetics help A LOT, but being raised by a strong female also helps the boys be a little better behaved. 

We named him “Rooster” by default, I suppose, and Rooster loved Poe. He stayed with Poe until he was big enough to move into the coop. He was always shy around us, but when we moved him into the main flock, we saw fairly quickly that he was great with the hens. He danced to woo them and seemed to be far less aggressive than our Rhode Island Red rooster.

Then, there was one day the neighbor called to say a fox was in her garden, which was right next to our chicken area. I thanked her and ran outside to try to save my chickens, only to find that Rooster was at the gate to the run, calling to all of the girls. He had every one of those hens lined up (they were literally in a line) and headed to the coop to safety. When the last one was headed to the coop, he followed them in. He had organized a plan, and everyone was just fine!

I knew we had lucked into the best rooster, but it wasn’t until the Rhode Island Red rooster nearly killed our sweet girl, Broody Hen, that he went to the pot and Rooster became the full-time head of the flock. 

Over the years, he has still never been comfortable with me touching him. He’s very proud, and we learned a few years in that he’s an organizer and a thinker—but not a fighter. 

The first time we had a hawk attack, I ran out to find it killing one of our hens, Lucy II. It was devastating. I scooped Lucy II up and looked around to try to find Rooster. I found him. He had called for as many girls as he could and was holding them in the shrubs, but I guess the attack surprised him. He stared for nearly an hour at the place where the attack had happened. I could see the devastation on his face. 

When he finally got all of the girls to the coop later, he would not let them out again for nearly two weeks. I didn’t know how obvious a chicken’s sadness could be until I saw Rooster. He was depressed for the longest time. I could see he thought he had failed his flock, and it had broken his little heart—and his spirit. I worried for a bit that he might not snap out of his depression, but he finally did.

He is still not a fighter, but he’s very, very good at alerting us to danger. And I am now smart enough to know what his calls mean and when I need to come running in a hurry. Just last summer, he screamed like I had not heard in years, so I dropped everything and ran just in time to see two hens fighting off a hawk. Rooster seemed so relieved that everyone was okay.

I have two particularly powerful stories to tell about Rooster that will help you get a sense of who he is. Because he’s so proud and doesn’t like my touch, I would never give him health inspections like I did the girls. I figured if the girls were overall healthy and mite free, Rooster was as well. But one summer, I saw him being really tired and droopy. I had been really busy rehabilitating a duck I had inherited and didn’t notice Rooster until he was in pretty rough shape. I realized I was going to have to make him uncomfortable and give him a full health check. He was getting older, and I thought we may lose him. 

I went to the coop that night with a flashlight, and I didn’t have to inspect very much before I saw the problem. My sweet Rooster had mites!

I was a little nervous about doing this because he’s a big boy, a Welsummer, and his spurs are big too, but I scooped him up and took him to the guest bathroom for a bath and mite treatment. On top of the humiliation of a bath, because I couldn’t stand the thought of those mite eggs being stuck in his feathers, I spent more than an hour picking out eggs of poor Roster’s feathers while he stood on the towel after his bath. He just stood there and let me do my work—forever. 

When I had gotten as much as I thought I was going to be able to get for that night, I told Rooster I was so sorry, that I would make sure he never had mites again. And I am not kidding even just a little bit, this happened:

I was in the floor with him. We were both a wet mess. He turned around to look at me and then came up to me and leaned his body into mine. There, in the bathroom floor, he leaned his head on my shoulder and held it there the longest time. I gently put my arm around him and realized this was one of those profound moments of my life. My sweet but stand-offish Rooster was giving me a hug. 

If I wasn’t in love with him before, I surely was after that. When I told my neighbor about it, she said I might need to be careful about telling people that story, that people might think I was crazy. Here I am now, with full confidence, telling you this story. I have seen so much more since then, and I can, without hesitation, say that chickens can give you a hug in a special moment. The bonds we share are real, and they are highly intelligent animals, some especially so.

That was the sweetest story about my Rooster, but I have an amazing story too.

A couple of summers ago, I had just moved some young chickens out with the main flock. They were still little, so I had to try to feed them their special baby food every chance I got. I was out in the chicken yard one morning, feeding the babies, when Rooster came up, ran them off, and started eating their baby food. In his old age, Rooster has definitely become a foodie. 

I shamed him and told him, “These are your babies, Rooster. Shame on you for stealing their baby food.” 

He backed away, obviously ashamed of himself, and then I felt terrible for shaming him. I could see I had hurt his feelings. I did not mention this story to my husband, Ron.

Later that afternoon, Ron came into the house and said, “I have to tell you a story about Rooster that you aren’t going to believe.” 

Ron said that he was out in the chicken yard, and he saw Rooster near the babies. “I saw the most remarkable thing,” he said. “Rooster picked up a pellet of food in his beak and then leaned over and fed it to a baby chicken!” 

I could NOT believe this. I then told Ron my story from earlier in the day, and we realized we, indeed, had a very intelligent and very special rooster on our hands. 

In his very old age now, he’s far too grumpy. He used to give all the food to the hens. Now, he takes the food for himself. He doesn’t mate much, but he still tries some. This summer, when we tried to raise some chicks from our own eggs, we had about a 25 percent fertilization rate and an even smaller success rate. 

We need a new rooster, but the new rooster has to get along with Rooster and know his place because, no matter what, our Rooster is going to be cared for to the best of my abilities until the day he passes. And when that day comes, I will mourn him with all of my heart. 

Rooster is one of the greats. 

The Cutest Rat in the World

Day 148 of 365

A few days ago, Ron saw a rat run into the chicken coop right through the front door screen. I was devastated. We haven’t seen a rat in the coop for nearly a year. We have been religious about bringing in every bit of food every single night all year. Just a few weeks ago, when I was giving my talk on chickens and sustainable living, I was asked about rats. I told them we hadn’t seen any this year, that we had been diligent, and I knocked on wood. It didn’t work.

Ron hates trapping the rats. We never use poison because of course not. But they have eaten holes in the coop and done some pretty major damage, so we have used traps, the snappy-death kind. We hate all of this. I have great admiration for rats. They are wicked smart, I know, but they are too resilient, too clever, and can thrive too well on a farm very quickly. When we see rats, we know there are so many more we are not seeing. And, until yesterday, Ron was always willing to “take care” of the rats.

Yesterday, things changed.

You will not believe this, but the rat in this picture is nowhere near as cute as the little rat who lives under our coop. This is just the closest I could find. But note the chewing on the wood in the picture. Sigh. photo credit: Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash

Ron said he was putting on his boots in the garage, and he felt someone watching him. He said he had a sense it was a rat. He turned around and from the little porch from the coop, there it was–a little rat, just staring at him. Ron said he and the rat made eye contact and the rat sat there and looked at him “for a long time.” As Ron was telling me this story, my heart sank. I knew where this was going, and I knew there was going to be trouble for it.

“I can’t kill that rat,” Ron said. “We have to let it stay.”

Obviously, this was a worry to me, but things got worse. Last night, Ron told our son the story, but our son asked questions and got a little more information.

“We stared at each other a long time, and the rat asked me if it was okay to stay,” Ron told him.

“What did you say back?” our son asked.

“”I gave it permission.” Ron said.

As I listened to this story, my head dropped into my chest. What are we going to do with rats who have permission to live under the coop? What destruction is going to ensue? What kind of hypocrite am I that I don’t want the rats here but won’t deal with them myself and expect Ron to have to do it. He loves all creatures too. He doesn’t like hurting animals.

As I went to sleep last night, I was fretting about rats.

This morning, I came home from a grocery pick up, and when I got out of the car to grab the bags of groceries, I swear, I felt a stare. I looked over, and there, next to the little porch of the coop, sat the most beautiful rat I have ever seen in my life. It’s eyes are big and doe-like. I am pretty sure it has long eye lashes. Its ears are perfect. It has the cutest face I have ever seen. And that little rat just sat and stared at me. I couldn’t help myself, after a bit, I said hello to it. It didn’t budge. It just kept staring at me. It meekly scooted back under the coop when I finally went back to my task with the groceries.

I deeply understood Ron’s decision to let the rat stay.

When I came inside the house, I told Ron and our son the story of my encounter with the rat. Ron seemed pleased I understood his perspective now. Our son asked if we were being hypnotized by this rat. He was joking, but I am wondering.

At any rate, we now have the most adorable rat I have ever seen living under the coop. I have no idea how many friends and family members this little rat is fronting for, but I assure you, we are going to pay for this decision later. I have no doubt about this. But, my goodness, what choice do we have?