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?

An Introduction to Seed Saving

Day 131 of 365

I love seeds. They are this perfect little combination of science and magic, and, of course, they are essential to our lives here on our little farmstead. They can also be expensive. One of the things I have learned to do as a part of our efforts to live self sufficiently is save seeds. There are some seeds I have not yet learned how to save. I have not managed to through the processes of saving tiny carrot seeds or spinach seeds, but some seeds are just so big and easy to save. It just makes good sense to save them. Saving seeds saves money and makes it so we are just a little more self sufficient.

In some states, saving some seeds is actually illegal, which is hard for me to fathom. Thankfully, in most states, it is still fine to save seeds. If you have never saved seeds, I highly recommend starting with the easy ones. So far, I stick to the easy ones and have had good success. I regularly save our green beans, dry beans, corn, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

When you save seeds, you do have to make sure you are not working with hybrid seeds. When you plant hybrid seeds, you can’t be sure what will grow. You really want to work with heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are time tested seeds that have been passed down for generations and are non GMO. I also like heirloom seeds because they have been time tested to be good seeds. We have had good fortune with heirloom seeds producing tasty, sturdy food.

Since fall is the time of year to save seeds, I thought I would share the tips I have learned over the years. I hope these tips will be helpful to you. And, if you are a more experienced seed saver and have saved other kinds of seeds, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

photo credit: Engin Akyurt, Unsplash

Green Beans 
To save green bean seeds for next year, just leave several beans on each of your plants to grow big at the end of the season—the more plants, the better the genetic diversity. When the beans are big and lumpy and start to yellow, they are easiest to save. Just shell them and put them in a cool dry place to dry. 

Dry Beans  
Dry beans are the easiest because you are going to get them into shape for saving and storing anyway. After you harvest your beans, make sure you have a cool, dry place for your beans to dry out. Also, make sure you give them enough space. Mold is the enemy here. Once the pods start to feel a little bit dry, you can shell the beans and then spread them out to continue drying. Don’t put them away until the beans are completely dried. As an alternative, instead of picking the beans and then drying, you can also just hang your plants to dry and go from there. 

Squash and Pumpkins 
When you cut open your squash and pumpkins in the fall, simply remove some of the seeds for saving. Wash them to remove strings and such and then let them dry on a towel for about a week. Once they are good and dry, they can be stored in a cool, dry place, just like other seeds. Just be aware, if you have planted multiple types of squash near each other, you may not get pure seeds. Squash seeds, if stored well, can last for several years. 

Tomatoes 
To save seeds from your favorite tomatoes, all you have to do is choose some tomatoes that are big and strong and squish them up. If you are looking for saving tomato seeds that will be good for several years, you should use the fermentation method. Add water and the squished tomatoes to a glass jar. The water helps the seeds separate from the tomato. Then, place the jar in a warm spot for a few days. You should see a layer of moldy stuff start to form on the top of the mixture. Once you see the mold at the top and seeds at the bottom, you can remove the icky mold and run your mixture through a strainer to keep your seeds. Be sure to clean your seeds well and let them dry on a towel for several days. Then, just store your seeds in a cool dry place like your other seeds.

If you are planning to use your tomato seeds the next year, all you have to is wipe the seeds from your favorite tomatoes onto paper towels. Let them dry for a couple of weeks. Then, you can just fold up the paper towel and store the seeds in the towel in a cool dry place.

Corn
Corn is also easy to save. You just have make sure you have heirloom corn seeds. So many corn seeds are hybrids. There is also the issue that hybrid corn is often sweeter and tastier, but heirloom corn seeds still make delicious corn. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to seed save. Just save several ears of corn from your harvest and hang the ears in a cool, dry place to dry. Once they are dried, you can just wiggle the seeds loose and save your seeds for next year. The one issue I had when I first started saving corn seeds is that I didn’t save my seeds from enough different plants, so I wasn’t getting good genetic diversity. Still, even my beginner attempt provided us with corn seeds for three years before we decided to start fresh with new seeds. But it’s best if you can save seeds from at least ten different ears of corn. I had been using three or four.

*A portion of this essay was originally published in Volume I of the Farmer-ish print annual.

Oh, Ruby

Day 125 of 365

Yesterday, Ron let me sleep late after a tough week of mom worry. I was worn, so he got up and did the morning chores by himself. When I got up later, he told me Ruby had moved herself from the garage to the coop. I was skeptical, but he said he was sure he saw Ruby in the coop and couldn’t find her in the garage. I was still skeptical.

Sure enough, I found her hiding in a dog crate in the garage, still broody. I can’t believe she has gone broody yet again. This is the third time this summer. The first time, she raised babies. Then, a few weeks after her babies were let go, she went broody again. Thankfully, on her own, she just snapped out of it. I was so glad. That hen lays beautiful eggs. But she has laid eggs for just a few weeks this whole summer. She went broody again last week, and she’s been screaming and squawking at everyone in the garage ever since.

Ron is worn from her behavior. Broodiness does make a hen particularly difficult. They will try to fight you all the time about all the things, including you just walking by. Today, Ron told me we should close the doors on the dog crates, so Ruby can’t hide in there and be broody.

“But Juliet needs to lay her egg in the crate,” I explained.

“Well, can’t Juliet just find someplace else?” he asked grumpily.

“Oh, she’ll lay someplace else, and we’ll never find them.”

He wasn’t happy with this response, but I went outside and opened the dog crate door when Juliet started squawking to let me know she was ready–in her crate. Ron and I made the plan to close Juliet in the crate while she was laying, lock Ruby out, and when Juliet was done, grab the egg, let her out, but close the crate to keep Ruby from getting in there. We do need to break her from being broody.

This plan worked, except Ruby attacked Ron when he went to get Juliet’s egg. Good times!

Juliet lays a perfect khaki egg. When Ron saw it, he said, “Yeah, I can see why you don’t want to lose this egg.” I was satisfied that he understood the importance of the egg.

But poor Ruby. She’s so difficult. She sat for hours on top of the crate, which is covered in seed starter containers. It could not have been comfortable. Later, when my son and I got home from cello lessons, we found her perched on top of one of Ron’s homemade sawhorses, near a quilt we use when we take our bikes out in the pickup; she was just pretending like she was in a nest. I swear, I could tell she was pretending, trying to make the best of it.

I felt so badly for her, but truly, she already raised babies this year. We can’t have any more babies. She has to wait until next year. So I started singing to her.

Ruby is named after my grandmother who I don’t really remember, but apparently, she adored me before she died when I was about three years old. Her name is magnificent to me, and when Ruby, our chicken, was a baby, she was so beautiful and red, I figured Ruby was the perfect name. Truly, however, my favorite part of having a chicken named Ruby is singing to her “Ooh, Ruuuuby,” just like in the song. Of course, that song is actually quite terrible in its content–about violence and war and anger and betrayal–but that chorus is catchy, isn’t it? I love to sing it to Ruby. Most of the time, she talks back when I sing to her.

Ruby is VERY talkative. One time, she was getting ready to go to sleep in the garage when my son was outside beatboxing, in as much as a white kid from Maine can beatbox, when he said he was going to have a beatbox contest with Ruby. So he went over to her and did some beatboxing for her. I am not kidding you. She looked at him long and hard and then just let out all kinds of chicken noises like I have not heard. She was loud too!

My son said, “Ok, Ruby, you win.”

Today, when I got in her face and started to sing her song, she let me have it. She just squawked at me so loudly. It wasn’t that far off from her beatbox competition submission. She hurt my ears for sure. Maybe my singing hurts her ears. I wouldn’t doubt it. I love music but am a terrible singer.

Honestly, I am not sure how we are ever going to get her back into the coop, but soon, it will be winter, and then we have to figure something out.

Oh, Ruby!

Morning Chores, September 7

Day 120 of 365

This morning, I took pictures while Ron and I were out doing our morning chores. I enjoy morning chores most of the time, but I still get busy and forget to admire the beauty around here. These pictures remind me of how lovely it is and how fortunate I am. I hope you enjoy these pictures too.

This us butternut squash from the squash garden. Ron built a prettier fence for the squash garden this summer, and it sure made for the most beautiful picture this morning.
This is the back side of our chicken coop. It needs to be repainted. I have been saying this for two years.
Our sweet ducks!
I just loved this spider web.
Every morning, Ron has to feed all of the baby chickens because I can’t do it. The big chickens run all over me and just go eat the baby food. They mind Ron though. He just has a presence, I guess.
Or the chickens know me far too well.
This is a Gardener’s Sweetheart tomato plant. These tiny tomatoes are the best things ever on homemade pizza.
The one and only Lucy! She’s 8 years old and still going strong. I have a hypothesis about this: She was broody every summer for years. She raised three rounds of babies but was broody two more years after that off and on. I think all her breaks from laying have extended her life. For years, I read farmers say this was a myth, but I am starting to see some research and more farmers (interestingly, mostly female farmers) assert this. If this is indeed the case, my Marshmallow should live forever. She’s broody again! I’ll bet that hen lays about ten eggs per year.
This is our youngest little rooster from this year’s season of babies. There’s something about him I really like. He’s beautiful and a stinker, but there’s something about him.
One of my muppets! Isn’t she adorable?
And, last but not least, the beautiful Piatigorsky. She’s still so sweet I almost can’t believe it.

Gratefulness

Day 116 of 365

I didn’t know if I should title this blog “Gratefulness” or “Gratitude.” I decided to go with “gratefulness” because I feel like being grateful is a process, something I am working toward. When I am feeling grateful, I am a much happier human, so I try very hard, most of the time, to focus on my gratefulness. I can usually do this fairly well. I am grateful every single morning I wake up. I used to not feel that way. I dreaded my days too much. Some of my days still have some dread, but overall, I am happy for my life every morning.

Most of the time, when I take a picture, I am taking a picture of something I feel grateful for. I guess that’s kind of the point of photographs in a way, right? To preserve a moment you feel grateful for?

When I wake up, I do two things: First, I ask myself what has to be done that day and what time, in terms of appointments or meetings at work. My teaching work doesn’t require a lot of meetings, thank goodness, but I do have some every week. Plus, my son has a lot of music lessons most of the year, so I am always thinking about which lesson or orchestra rehearsal he needs to go to. He’s pretty serious. It seems that he wants to be a cellist in some way when he grows up. He said, one day, his dream is to be a principal in an orchestra. It surprised me that he had such a specific dream. So, for real, my husband and I are part-time drivers for our student cellist. There are soccer moms and hockey moms and dance moms–and there are cello moms.

But I digress. After I go through all the things I have to do that day, I just start focusing on the happy. And I have much to be happy for. Lately, I beat Ron to the morning chores because I’m getting up extra early because I am worried about my baby chickens. Ron says they will be fine. It’s true, they are all fine and really do pretty well integrating into the flock. So they are fine, but I still worry a bit.

When Ron comes out to start his part of the farm chores, I am so happy to see him. I don’t know if this will sound sappy or not, but, most of the time, I am so darn happy to see my husband’s face in the morning. He’s a good human and good life partner for me. I still get mad at him because we are both very stubborn in our own ways (I am generally very laid back, but if I think something is really right, I won’t budge without a lot of good evidence.) When I see his face, I tell him how glad I am to see him in the morning. I like being around him.

I am also thankful for the chickens and ducks. I love doing morning chores most of the time, especially in good weather. It’s lovely here in Maine right now. September in Maine is a dream to me. When I was a kid, I watched some movie set in New England in the Autumn, and I was like, “oh, I need to live where they have that season.” I am from Texas. There’s not a real Autumn in Texas. So I am generally very thankful to live in New England. I like most of the weather. I mean, yeah, in March, I’m not loving Maine But in September, I am most in love with Maine.

I am so thankful to see our dog, Boudica. She sleeps next to my side of the bed, so she’s right there when I wake up every single day. After losing Gus, I have tried to remember to be extra thankful I get to spend some of my life with our Great Pyrenees, Boudica. She’s still a bad roommate sometimes and wears me out barking about squirrels. We live in the Maine woods. There are so many squirrels, and Boudica wants them nowhere near us. I try to be patient though and remember she also keeps the bears away from the chickens and ducks, and I am very grateful for that.

And, of course, I am grateful to see my son in the morning. I have an adult daughter as well. I know how much you miss them when they leave, so I try to treasure every minute of time my son is still at home. I also know how important my teaching time is with my youngest now. I get to learn from my experiences with my first child and do better. There is a 12 year gap between them. The youngest was a very big surprise. We are older parents, my husband more than me, but still, when our son was in school before we started homeschooling him, I would look around at the other moms and think, “Oh my gosh! I am old.” I was in my 40s, and the other moms were in their 20s. Anyway, I am thankful to have time to teach him.

I still try to teach my older child, my daughter, but she’s stubborn, like me, and in the age range where she is not listening my teaching very much, I think. But I am hopeful she will come back around. She’s a sweet, kind, beautiful human, and I know she has to find her independence. I just wish I could teach her all the things I know now–to save her the pain. But I realize that, sometimes, humans have to learn lessons in their own ways, through the own experiences. And I am very thankful for her too, though I don’t see her every day. But when I run through my list of things to do each morning, if a visit with my daughter is on my list, I am especially thankful for that day.

So these are core things I am thankful for every morning. I make this point to remember to be grateful, and I have practiced it so much now that I am pretty good at it. I am a grateful human, and I am happier for it. Because it makes me happier (I tend to be too much of a worrier), I work toward gratefulness. That’s a process, right?

I practice it throughout the day. I am thankful for cello lessons and practices. I am grateful for the delicious food from the garden. I am thankful, every day, for the eggs. I thank our hens for the eggs, every single day. I am grateful for delicious tomatoes from the fall harvest. I am grateful for jam put up for the winter. I am grateful if I have time to read something for fun that day. I read a lot for work, and I mostly enjoy it. Still, it’s so much better when I get to read whatever I want. For a time, I was a writing center director managing very large grants. I never had time to read when I was in that job. When I quit to homeschool my son, I made a point to get some reading time back, and I couldn’t believe how happy it made me to read something besides work materials.

In the last couple of weeks, however, I have been going through a tough spot. I’ve been very worried about a situation I could do little to control. I was so worried that I forgot some to be grateful and just focused on the negative. Thankfully, today, with the help of Ron (he’s pretty good at self examination too), I was able to get back around to feeling grateful.

And, tonight, as Ron and I made dinner together, I remembered to be grateful. And when our son loved the dinner, I was happy. And I get to go for a walk with a friend tomorrow and hear wonderful stories she tells. I love people who tell me stories, especially stories I really like. When Ron and I first started dating, I just made him tell me his stories over and over. He’s had a very interesting life, I think. And I finished Volume II of the annual, which feels amazing because I have been working on that every spare moment for months. So I have much to be grateful for–family, food, and the ability to grow and learn.

Sometimes, I fall down, but I keep trying. I have some privilege that I didn’t grow up with, and I try to remember that; overall, I am such a fortunate person through anyone’s lens. I try not to take that granted.

I believe in the act and process of gratefulness.

Deep Clean

Day 92 of 365

When you find out that some of your flock have poultry lice, you Google to find out what you did wrong. The old timers will say, if you keep chickens long enough, you’re going to get a case of lice or mites, but you Google anyway. Of course, the internet shames you, says your are not taking good care of your chickens. You consider that it’s only your very old hens with the lice and that it has been a terrible summer for them because of the heat, but what if the internet is right and you are terrible chicken mom?

Of course, you are doing all of the things the internet says to do to prevent lice, but you realize that you are going to have to deep clean the coop and treat it. It is necessary when your chickens have lice, and a deep clean is always a good idea anyway.

You start about 5:00 to make sure everyone has finished laying eggs because you are going to have to treat the nest boxes. You think this whole process will take about an hour and half. You are so wrong.

About two hours in, you start questioning your life decisions.

You may ask yourself “How did I get here?”

You may ask yourself, “Why do I have so many chickens”/”

You may ask yourself, “How did chicken poop get there?”

After more than three hours and you are finally finished cleaning the coop, complete with a good vacuuming and treatment, and it’s time for straw. You put in the fresh straw and then open the coop door to let the chickens in.

And then there’s a chicken party because nothing’s more fun than a coop full of fresh straw, and then you realize this is why you do this. You love chickens, and seeing them have joyful lives, knowing they are pretty lucky chickens, makes it all worth it. And maybe, just maybe, you are not a terrible chicken mom after all.

Ruby’s Back in the Coop

Day 59 of 365

When I started this journey, Ruby started her journey with me. Right as I started this blog, Ruby got her eggs. For the last nearly 60 days, I have observed Ruby’s journey. I loved watching her be a great mom. The last few days, I have been watching her have a really hard time coming out of motherhood. Her hormones have made her a wreck. I can empathize.

Tonight, as we were wrapping up dinner, I heard a baby chick screaming in the garage. They scream big for even the smallest things, but, of course, you have to go check on all of it. I found Ruby in the crate, and as her babies tried to join her, she was giving them a good, hard peck on the head.

There were seven baby chicks in hysterics running around the garage.

I reached in and pulled Ruby out of the crate. Immediately, a few babies piled in. I held Ruby a long time trying to decide what to do with her. I talked to her and gave her lots of pets. She even let me hug her. I decided to walk her to the coop and see how she did. Everyone else was on the roosts for the night.

I sat her down, and she ate some food and walked around looking a little lost. But then…she hesitantly hopped on the roost and looked up, longing for a higher roost but so hesitant. Ruby never fit in with the flock very well even before becoming a mama. I worry about her trying to find her place in the pecking order again.

She seemed like she was going to settle herself with the bottom roost, but there was plenty of room on the second highest roost. I reached down and scooped her up. She fussed about it a little bit.

As I held her, I talked to Mary Jane, who would be above Ruby (Mary Jane is a meat bird we pardoned and just so happens to be one of the smartest chickens I have ever met), and told her to NOT peck Ruby on the head. I touched her feet and told her to be sweet. Then, I told Betty, who would be next to Ruby, to be nice to Ruby.

I sat Ruby on the roost, put my hands on her feet, and leaned my head onto her back. I thanked her for her hard work being a mama.

No one pecked her on the head.

A Day Without Mama

Day 58 of 365

I seem to always forget how tough it is for baby chicks when their mamas are done. It’s a difficult process to watch (the mama pecks them to make them go away, and the babies are terribly confused by this), and I do everything in my power to make the transition easy. I spent all day dealing with the baby chicks. I think, considering, it wasn’t a terrible day for the babies, but it was still a hard day they had to spend mostly without their mama.

This morning, I could tell Ruby was done, so I spent a good part of the morning try to herd baby chicks into the fenced area without their mama. I’m going to tell you right now that herding baby chicks is not that much different than herding cats. I had to get my son to help, but we managed to get all seven babies into the fenced area. Ruby observed from a distance.

This is Dvorak. He’s a little Lavender Orpingtons rooster, and he’s the sweetest chicken I think I have ever met. I hope he stays sweet.

I had the idea, to help the babies have something else to focus on, that I would put my brood of five baby chicks in the fenced area with Ruby’s. I figured having new people to meet would help take their minds off of life without a mama. It seemed to help.

Of course, with all of this going on, I was in and out of the house all day checking on everyone, and every time I went outside to check, poor Ruby was doing something strange and different. It’s the hormones. The hormone shifts can be tough on mamas.

The first time I went out the door, Ruby was trying to come into the house. I picked her up (and it was very unusual for her to let me) and talked and talked to her. I put her in the coop, and she walked up the food and started eating grown-up food for the first time in a couple of months. It must have felt so strange.

The second time I went out to check on everyone, Ruby had flown over the fence and was in Kate’s crate. The third time, she was in Juliet’s crate. The fourth and fifth time, she was still in Juliet’s crate, and when I went over to her, she ducked and hid in the straw. Ron reported seeing this same behavior. We both expressed concern.

Later in the day, I sat outside on a tree stump with all of the babies in the fenced area. My babies were thrilled with the new situation. Ruby’s babies were adjusting. One Ruby’s, one of the girls, cautiously approached me. But she didn’t get too close. My babies, on the other hand, were all over me. I have never had a group of chickens be so snuggly. It’s the best! I sat for the longest time with one of the girls and the little rooster, Dvorak, in my lap.

As I sat there with the baby chicks, I watched Ruby. She was sitting for the longest time, just watching the ducks. I have never seen a chicken do this. She just sat and stared. I imagined she wished she could just be a duck, like maybe it was simpler. For real, today, I think it would have been.

At the end of the day, Ruby got into her own crate and let her babies in to sleep on her. This is common. I have found that when the mamas are switching off from being a mama, they will still let the babies sleep with them at night, but usually only for a few more days.

The babies are having to get used to life without a mama. Now, it’s my job to try to become their mama. Sometimes, when they have been raised by the real thing, it takes me a year or two to win them over. It’s okay though, as I enjoy the process of getting to know them.

On Being Rich

Day 50 of 365

Today feels like a milestone. I have been writing in this blog every single day for 50 days. Most days, I do not have time to write nearly as much as I would like. I have stories about sneaky chickens, special wild birds, and howling chipmunks, but I realize that summer is a tough time to be writing in a blog. There are baby chickens everywhere, and I somehow had two additional classes I wasn’t anticipating teaching land in my lap a few weeks ago. But, despite these obstacles, I have written something every day, and that counts, right?

Today was farm share day again. It’s normally on Thursdays, but the strawberries were so ripe that we decided we had better do an early farm share day this week. Plus, the sugar pod peas were ready, and we learned a long time ago that, when it’s hot, you have to move quickly on the sugar pod peas.

Today’s farm share included fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. Aren’t they beautiful?

I am marveling at our strawberries. It’s their second year of berries, and I can’t believe how generous these plants are being. It’s the chicken poop compost. Ron read years ago that it is the best fertilizer. I absolutely believe it.

I keep talking about how “rich” we are. We’re so rich we eat fresh strawberries for breakfast. We’re so rich, I made strawberry jam and still had berries left in the blow. We’re so rich, I have made smoothies with fresh strawberries with dinner three nights in a row!

I find it interesting that I measure wealth in strawberries. I also measure wealth in eggs. In December, I am poor, but by late February, I am so rich again! Right now, I am extra rich because we have strawberries AND eggs.

And the raspberries are coming, and the Oxheart carrots are getting bigger, and I am pretty sure the corn will surely be knee-high by the Fourth of July. I am feeling extra grateful of late. Things seem extra good. Even Kate’s baby is starting to thrive.

I am superstitious, so I am knocking on wood as I write these words.