My baby chick is still alive!

I wrote yesterday about hatching an egg, so there was no way I couldn’t write tonight with at least a quick update. It’s been a busy day with both work and chickens, but I had to let you know that my baby chick is still alive! I am surprised, though I had a little hope when I saw the strength of that baby trying to help me hatch her. Still, the odds aren’t great, but I am a little bit hopeful.

This is the strong, pretty baby. She runs circles around everyone else and is just the perfect little gray chick. She’s pretty black on her back, though you can’t tell very well in this photo.

The thing that makes me hopeful is that my baby chick keeps improving. She’s still behind the strongest chick, but I think it might be a little ahead–at least even–with Hector’s other egg that hatched perfectly fine. She’s so cute too. So yellow. Okay, so I have to be sure to not get too attached through, right?

Oh, and I have to tell you something that is going to sound mean, but I mean it in the dearest way. The second Hector baby chick is the ugliest little chick I think I’ve seen. I mean, she’s still cute, but I thought something was wrong with her at first. Then, I realized she just has coloration that makes it kind of look like she has an oddly wide mouth. Kind of like a baby bird, I think.

I think. I only saw her for a few seconds. She hatched last and is running a little behind. She won’t leave Ruby’s feathers very much. I’ll try really hard to get pictures tomorrow.

Poor Ruby, she’s a saint. I watched her for a long time today, and those baby chicks crawl all over her, under her feathers. I can see little waves in Ruby’s feathers as they crawl around on her.

Just a day on this farm…

Day 13 of 21

Today was so full, but it was a good kind of full: I went for a walk with a dear friend; I washed about 80 eggs (I still have a little more to go); I taped and painted the doors on our house (this has been on my list for 4 years–4 years!); and I candled Ruby’s eggs for the last time. From now on, I leave them alone–unless Ruby steals more eggs.

When I candled her eggs, I went ahead and checked the new eggs from Juliet as well. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Juliet had been laying eggs in Ruby’s crate, and Ruby was just like, “I’ll take that.” She was supposed to be on 3 eggs. She had 7! I was very curious to see if any of Juliet’s eggs were fertile. Not a single one of them was. I don’t think Juliet lets either of the roosters mate with her very often, maybe never. Isn’t that interesting?

Oh, in other interesting news, I noticed that Bianca and Rooster hang out together a lot. This makes me wonder about Bianca’s egg that is developing. I wonder if Rooster might be the daddy. It would be cool if he was. I’ll try to write in a few days about what I know about the genetics in each of the three eggs we have developing under Ruby. Thankfully, they all seem to be developing well. Hopefully, we will get all 3 babies. Surely, we will get 2 babies. Cross your fingers for us–both me and Ruby.

The day has been long. I was out in the garden picking lettuce for dinner (our first night of salads for dinner!) while Ron and our son were moving really, really big rocks from a garden expansion to make room for more corn. And it was getting dark–it gets dark pretty late now.

We are getting so close to the Solstice. This will be the first Summer Solstice in 4 years that I will be able to celebrate and instead of working on the Solstice release of the journal. Of course, writing these words makes me a little sad. I loved those issues. I realize I want the Farmer-ish journal to live so much. I just don’t have the capacity anymore. Maybe one day, I can figure it out and get some help.

For now, I am really, really, really looking forward to a magical Solstice.

Rhubarb, Climate, and Fertility

Day 9 of 21

I can’t believe Ruby is already on day 9. I had better get to the feed store and get some chick starter feed for her babies. They will be here before we know it. Of course, we only have three eggs developing, so I hope we have babies soon. Ruby is definitely devoted, so we should have at least a couple of babies hatch.

Ruby is doing well, though getting thinner. I did figure out that I can get her to eat cut-up grapes, which helps with her hydration. She’s so cute sitting in her dog crate, so focused. I’m excited for her to have babies.

I also cut up rhubarb for the first time today and made muffins. It’s so great to have rhubarb again. It’s been slower this year than in years past. I think because it’s been cooler. Everything is growing more slowly than in the past five years or so for sure, but I am very thankful for the cooler weather.

Last year, at the end of that miserable summer with all that heat and no rain, I told Ron it would sure be nice if we could get a break from all of this climate change and have just a summer every now and then that was more normal. I am hoping the universe said, “wish granted.” I mean, I hope so.

And I’ve been thinking all day about the poor fertility with our hatching eggs. It’s a bit of a surprise to me because I see Rooster and Dvorak being pretty busy out there. But I looked closely today to try to see if I could discern a little more about what is going on.

This is what I learned: Rooster is polite and old. Dvorak is fairly polite, which is fantastic for a young rooster. He’s really a great rooster overall and won’t bother the ladies too much if they tell him know. Every now and then, he gets determined, but overall, he doesn’t harass the hens. I am so grateful for him.

I also learned a bit more about the Salmon Faverolles. They are very quirky chickens. They are sweet but also aloof, like very unusually so for a chicken. In fact, I have never seen an aloof chicken (at least not to this level, as chickens are usually fairly high strung), but all four of the Faverolles are this way. I need to write more about them, as I have some stories. But the main thing I learned from candling these eggs and studying the flock today is that the Faverolles are not allowing Rooster or Dvorak to mate with them. That’s very interesting. It’s not usual at all.

The Sweetest Video

Day 6 of 21

One more day until I can candle Ruby’s eggs! She is doing well. She had a lot of scrambled eggs today, so that was great for her. I accidentally sat a carton of eggs I had just packed up down on a low table and ran to help my kiddo who had a bloody nose. When I got back, Bairre had taken the carton of eggs off the table, dumped them, and was eating what he could. I managed to scoop up almost everything that was left and save those eggs for the chickens.

I don’t know if I will candle Ruby’s eggs tomorrow or Monday–maybe Monday. When I do, I will be sure to make a video.

And, speaking of videos, I accidentally took the sweetest little video ever. Ron was getting soil ready for planting potatoes, and the ducks were helping. In particular, our duck, Anna Sophia, was helping. She’s the duck who lived in our house for several months and fell in love with the cello. She’s been hanging out with us extra this spring, and it has been a joy.

I went outside to video her, and I am convinced I accidentally captured a tiny moment of the magic of this place on video. I hope this makes you smile.

The pear trees made it!

Day 4 of 21

This morning, while I was doing morning chores, I was so happy when Ron called to me to tell me the pear trees looked fine. I was a bit worried because it was so cold last night. I have seen it snow on the greens and our garden in early May, but I have never seen it get that cold so late in the spring when the pear trees were in full bloom. Thankfully, they made it.

I have no words for how much I love those pear tress. I wish to have more than two trees, but I’ll definitely not bring that up to Ron right now. In the last two weeks, in between many cello performances for our kiddo, Ron managed to plant peach trees, blueberries (We got 9 new bushes!), and grapes. We also have a deal that if he will build one more raised bed, I’ll fill it Hugelkultur style and plant more strawberries. I always plant our strawberries, and even though I worry, they seem to thrive. I am excited to get more. You know how I feel about strawberries.

I told Ron, when we are old and have to sell our homestead, I mean, assuming no kiddo wants it, I want to interview who buys our house. I need to make sure they understand this place has magic. Sadly, I don’t think our children will want to live a homesteading lifestyle, but I could be wrong. Maybe they will change their minds. People do. When I was younger, I thought I wanted to live in a big city. And I still love the culture and arts you can get a in a big city, but I am a farm girl in my heart because it allows me to live close to animals–and I have always loved animals so deeply. I love this life and could never go back to a city to live–only visit.

Anyway, Ruby is on Day 4 of her little journey. This afternoon, I had to drag her out of her crate to get her to drink a little and walk around some. I am sure she doesn’t need me mothering her when she’s trying to be a mama, but I have seen hens get into some poor health if they don’t take little breaks while being broody. Mostly, they just take little breaks on their own. Most of our hens take a break every day on their own. But Ruby won’t get up. She does everything big, doesn’t she? So I got her up and checked on the eggs quickly. Thankfully, she walked around a little and played around in the pine needles. It has to be good for her to get out and scratch around.

The eggs seem great. None are broken, and Ruby was back on them within half an hour. I’ll get to candle on Day 7 or 8.

A Cold May Night in Maine

Day 3 of 21

It’s been cold here today. It sleeted or snowed or something for a little bit earlier. I had to wear a coat and hat on our walk with the dogs today. Thankfully, we just have our cold-hardy vegetables in the ground, but I’m worried about my flower pots. Maybe I should bring them in. I had better.

It was a lovely day overall though. I am in love with Maine in the late spring.

When I first moved to Maine, my officemate at the university told me, when I was complaining about Maine winters, to “just wait” that the springs and summers were so beautiful that it would make the long winters worth it. I told him I thought that was just because the winters were so terrible that, by comparison, everybody thinks the springs and summers are awesome.

And then May came, and I understood.

There are apple blossoms literally everywhere, in the trees, floating across country roads, on the cars in town. The greens are so vibrant. We have so many magnificent trees here in Maine that it feels a little wild, like Maine still keeps some of its wildness and just will not be tamed by humans.

It’s beautiful here.

On our walk today, I took pictures of some of the apple and pear blossoms, and when I got home, I got this picture of Rooster under one of our pear trees that is maybe my favorite picture of him. Isn’t he so regal? He has a regal personality, and the coolest thing is that, after all of these years, he trusts me. He is like me and trusts almost no one. I rarely “show my soul.” Rooster is the same.

He also worries like me. Today, Ron was trying to cut down an infested branch in our neighbor’s tree. He was up way too high on the ladder, and I was holding it but was very scared. It was not a wise thing to be doing, and Rooster was letting Ron know. He kept clucking at him the way he does when he’s trying to tell the flock to behave better, to be safer.

I told Ron that Rooster is my people. Ron laughed and agreed. I am so glad Rooster is still here. He’s so old, but he seems determined to hang in there. I am grateful to have him.

Ruby is doing well at Day 3 of her journey. Every day, I feed her some breakfast scraps because she’s so devoted to her eggs that she won’t get up to eat and drink much. I’ll have to write more about that tomorrow, but I made her eat a little, though was not able to get her to drink. I’ll try again in the morning. I did pull her out of her crate to get her to walk around a little because I haven’t seen her off the eggs for two days. She squawked about it and went right back to her eggs, but at least she moved around a little.

PS I just have to add one more sweet Rooster story. If he hears you sneeze, he makes this worried sound and checks on you. Every_single_time.

Ruby Gets Her Way

Day 1 of 21

I took this picture of Ruby today. Her head is down low; her tail is up high; and she’s growling at me. She is a fierce little broody mama. I took this picture right after Juliet had been in there and laid and egg on top of Ruby. It rolled off and landed there. I had to grab it before Ruby added it to her stash because Juliet’s genes are going to need to stop with Juliet. I love her to pieces, but she has a high maintenance personality for sure.

Well, we gave in. Today, I put eggs under Ruby. I have tried and tried and tried and tried to break her from her broodiness. There are some tougher-love things you can do to break them, but we just decided that, knowing Ruby, she might out-stubborn us to death. I mean, sitting broody is very hard on hens. You do need to break them from it if you can if they can’t hatch babies, but I had one hen, Beethoven, who would go right back broody every time I would break her, even right after we let her hatch some babies, and she would be stubborn about letting go when we did break her. She died at a fairly young age (she was only 4), and I could see her health was negatively impacted by being broody so much. Plus, you know how stubborn Ruby is. She is not only the boss of me, but she is also the boss of Ron. Ron is very hard to boss.

So that’s a long justification for Ruby getting her way.

We do not have room for more chickens, really, but I feel like it would be a miracle times 10 if Mary Jane is still alive by the end of this summer. I know I keep thinking she is going to pass away soon and she never does, but that meat bird will be 6 years old next month. How is that possible? Anyway, Poe Jr. Jr. is also not doing to great, which is heartbreaking to me, but I can’t figure out what is going on–and I am pretty good at diagnosing health problems in chickens. It’s something genetic. She didn’t molt, which was very strange, and her skin looks a little different than the other hens. It’s a worry, and I’ll keep trying to figure out what is going on. I have examined her twice, which was not easy because she is the most skittish chicken we have.

Anyway, I am going to try to write every day or most every day since Ruby is a little bit blog famous, and she’s getting some eggs again. I put just 6 eggs under her, and it’s likely only 4 might be fertile. Then, you are looking at just 2 girls most likely. I feel like we could squeeze in 2 hens, even if everyone makes it through the summer.

I was very careful in the eggs I chose to put under her. I started out with a Juliet egg, and then was like, “no, we probably don’t want to carry on Juliet’s Uber-intelligent, bossy, difficult mix of genes. I will also never hatch an egg from Ruby. I chose 2 Maran eggs because they are beautiful, and both Hector and Faure are very chill birds. I chose an egg from Cora for the beautiful green color and 2 eggs from the Salmon Faverolle crew because I am convinced that Dvorak’s beautiful gray color mixed with the creamy Faverolle color will make a beautiful chicken. We will see! And then one beautifully speckled egg, even though I am not sure who is laying it but someone healthy for sure.

So we’ll see what we get. I love barnyard mixing and exploring genetics. I hope to share some cool information during the process. Last year, Ruby was hatching pure-bred eggs. This year, she’s hatching eggs I chose, hoping for certain genetic traits in a world of possibilities because they are mixes. It’s going to be fun to see what we get.

My son has been taking an online biology class for homeschool. He asked me about the genetics when I breed chickens, so giving into Ruby is going to lead to an added benefit of a wonderful learning opportunity.

What Being a Chicken Mama Taught Me About Motherhood

This weekend is Mother’s Day. I think this year, more than ever, I am thinking deeply about motherhood. I am constantly assessing my failures as a mother and trying to figure out ways to do better. I have learned over the years that coming from trauma like I did impacts the way you mother your children–and not usually in a good way.

But I keep learning. I feel an enormous amount of guilt that I am a much better mama for my youngest child than I was for my oldest child. I was 21 when my oldest was born, and the only things I knew for sure were that I wouldn’t hit or spank, as I had been as a child, and that I would treasure her. It turns out that being a mother is far more complicated than that, though those two things are truly really good starts.

When you have one adult child who has been at least moderately forthcoming about where you went wrong (and the wildest thing to me is that it’s in ways I didn’t expect and don’t even remember sometimes), it helps you grow and learn as a mother.

However, I have also learned a lot from mothers in the animal world.

Before we got chickens, I had learned a bit about how elephants mother. I remember watching a nature documentary about a herd of elephants. A young mother had her baby fall into a muddy hole, and the baby couldn’t get out. The baby struggled. The young mother struggled to help her baby but couldn’t get it figured out. The narrator explained that the grandmother was there, looking on but trying not to interfere. She wanted her daughter to be independent and handle this difficult situation with her baby on her own.

But, after a little while, it was like the grandmother had had enough watching that baby struggle and charged over there, got the baby out of the hole, and the mother and baby were reunited. Thanks to wiser, older mom, who was trying very hard to not interfere but ended up having to.

The narrator explained that elephants are very nurturing mothers, but once their children are grown, they are more “hands off” so to speak. This seemed wise to me, but at the time, I had a baby and a teenager and didn’t yet have to practice the “hands off” part.

Later, we got chickens, and I had a chance to study motherhood in nature very close up.

When we have a hen go broody, if we want them to raise chicks, we separate them and put them in a dog crate in the garage. This ensures safety and privacy for the mama and her chicks, though I think our flock is chill enough that we could probably let a mama hatch eggs in the coop. Still, this plan also gives me a chance for deep study.

Over the years, I have watched about 15 chicken mamas in action. There are some commonalities among all of them: They are extremely nurturing and loving. Contact is constant, and when there is space between mama and baby, there is vocal contact.

Chicken mothers also teach with every moment and breath they have. It’s constant. Everything is teaching or nurturing or both. This is how we eat. This is how we drink. This is how we scratch. This is when we hide. This is the safe place to go. This is not the safe place to go. This human can be trusted. These other humans are strangers. I have even had the awesome experience of seeing a chicken mother hide her babies under leaves when a hawk was present. For real, those babies stayed there for at least a half an hour. I couldn’t believe it.

They are also infinitely patient. One night, I watched as our hen, Pumpkin, who was one of the best chicken mothers I have ever seen, sat patiently as her little boy climbed way up high on junk in our garage while everyone else was in bed under mama. He just kept climbing. I heard Pumpkin call for him several times, but he didn’t listen. Of course, you know what happened. He got up so high and then started crying–and crying and crying and crying.

Pumpkin got up, out of the dog crate, and tried to talk him down. Thankfully, Pumpkin had a human assistant, which is an important reminder that it does take a village to raise children. It’s just too hard to raise children without some kind of support system.

When that little boy was back safe and sound with his mama, he sang the sweetest songs to her. “I’ll never leave you again, mama,” he seemed to say. Of course, he did because that’s what they do.

Watching the way chicken mamas raised their babies helped me deeply understand the importance of my role as mother/teacher. It’s a mad world out there, and I can see that there is much to teach, probably more than I can even imagine, though I do try. So I try to teach about everything, and this requires being honest with my kids. I was not honest enough with my oldest when she was young, and I think that was a mistake. I think teaching requires some honesty, though honesty can be really, really hard. I surely don’t have all of the answers either.

But one of the most important lessons I learned was learning how to let go. After a mama hen has worked and worked to teach everything she can, when her babies grow up, she’s done. It’s such a hard job for her. She’s so exhausted, her comb is a little shriveled, and he has lost many of her feathers. The whole motherhood thing is so hard on her body that she molts. It’s time for her to take care of herself some, to heal from all of that work. It’s time for her to let her babies go, let them be grown ups.

It’s really hard. The mamas feel torn about it. The babies will sometimes cry for her, and when they cry, it sometimes confuses the mama hen. She’ll go back and forth between trying to cut the strings and caring for her babies just a little bit longer, but in a few days, she lets go.

As a human mom, I don’t think you ever let go, but I have learned to let go more. Last year, my grown daughter told me she needed some space from me. I had been trying to help her through a difficult situation, but I am sure I was really being bossy. It’s hard when you have the wisdom of age, when you have some answers, but your kiddos are not in a place where they want to hear them.

Even though it stung, like a lot, when my daughter told me I needed to step back, I remembered my mama hens, and I remembered that it’s okay to let them grow up.

I also remembered that there will come a time when I am finished losing my feathers, when both of my children are grown, when I have done my best to teach them everything I can. I will be sad. I will be so sad when my babies are all grown up.

But maybe I will also get my feathers back.

Morning Chores: May 5, 2023

Day 362 of 365

Today, I have pictures to share from our morning chores. It takes us about an hour to get everything done most mornings, but it does take a little extra now due to the Anna Maria situation. She’s still sleeping in the house at night, and we still don’t know what to do about the situation.

This morning was a perfect Maine morning, just perfect. It was warmer than it has been with beautiful sunshine and a little cool and crisp underneath. Maine can be so perfect sometimes. Today, it was perfect in every single way. And I have wonderful photos from our morning chores this morning. You can see that Ron’s garden is already doing so well. The cooler spring has been very helpful to organic garden, and you can see a picture of Rooster. That boy is still going. And Mary Jane. She is the meat bird who is nearly 6 years old. Can you believe that? There’s a photo of the rhubarb, strawberries, the pear tree budding, and, of course, Bairre and Boudica. Oh, and there’s a great picture of Ruby being broody in her crate, only she lets Juliet in to lay an egg, and then Ruby hops on the egg. I took the egg from Ruby and told her we really couldn’t have babies this year. I tried to reminder that being a mom is very, very, very hard work. She didn’t listen.

I hope these make you smile.

Planting in the Dark

Day 356 of 365

Today was a big day, and I have been going strong since 6:00 AM. Since my health issues, I am not nearly as good at the long days as I used to be. It was a wonderful day though, lots of work, but so rewarding. I guess that’s so often the case, right?

My son performed at a community cello recital in the early afternoon. He did so well, so well. He’s kind of like a miracle to me with that cello, but maybe it’s because I know the back story. This was his very first time to play a big piece from memory–no music–in front of an audience. This made him more nervous than usual, and it started yesterday. He was nervous and teenage grumpy and there was no fixing it. I have been parenting my butt off since yesterday afternoon. Ron has too. Of course, it all worked out very well, and I was so proud of how he found his strength.

Ron also had to plant an epic amount of seedlings today because big rain is coming tomorrow and those seedlings are beyond ready to get into the soil. It’s been cooler here this spring than it has been in the last several years, so Ron has been waiting and waiting for a window. Today was the day.

When we got home, it was on. Ron would add the compost and dig the holes. I would line up the plants, and then we would just plant and plant as fast as we could. I was worried we were going to be planting until midnight, but we moved quickly. We ate dinner at 9:00 PM, but we finished the planting!

It was so much fun to be out there working with Ron too. In the last few years, I have fallen into working too much and have not been able to help plant very much in the spring. I do far too much consulting work because I can’t say no, but I am learning to say no and finding out that it’s pretty nice.

I loved getting my hands in the dirt and planting those beautiful seedlings Ron grew. Ron played classical music on his laptop, mostly cello, while we planted, which made for the best time. Eventually, it got dark, the music stopped, and we were still going. We were out there planting by flashlight, under the moon and stars, and it made me think about cultures that use the moon cycles as a guide for planting, which made me think that I need to research this topic more.

photo credit: Andy Holmes, Unsplash