The Ruby Gift

Day 193 of 365

Ruby has charmed Ron. She’s so difficult and somehow so completely charming. While she is no longer allowed to live in the garage since it is very cold outside and we have to shut the garage doors, she still roams around our property as she pleases when we are home. Today, Ron was outside building a winter “camp” for the chickens, and Ruby was hanging out with him all day. When I went outside to say hi, I saw that Ron had moved the dog crate out of the garage and into the driveway because “Ruby wanted to lay and egg and didn’t want to do it in the coop,” he said.

I took a peek, and there she was, completely satisfied with herself that she was back in her crate. She did lay an egg, which was great because we only got three eggs today.

But the best story was one Ron told me tonight. He said Ruby was on her gate tonight as usual. This is where she goes since she is reluctant to go into the coop, but she needs to sleep in the coop for safety and warmth.

She won’t do this for me. I have to scoop her up, which she complains about very loudly. But, for Ron, he just holds out his arm in front of her when she’s on the gate, and she will jump onto his arm. He carries her to the coop, and she hops off his arm.

Tonight, Ron said Ruby was hesitant. He said it was pretty dark, and Ruby was acting like she couldn’t see very well. So Ron held his arm out a little more to be better in her line of sight. And then he slowly moved his arm toward her.

He said that Ruby very slowly held out one foot and kind of reached for his arm. Then, she carefully brought over her other foot and adjusted her little feed to get a good grip. She wrapped her feet around his arm, which is such a cool feeling. He said he took her to the coop door, and she hopped off. He told her, “Good job, Ruby.”

When he was telling me this story, he said, “You were right about chickens. They are special, some even more so.”

This is true. They are all special, but some are extra. And when you meet those extra special chickens, the ones who just don’t do well with the flock, who connect more with you than their people, I feel you have to do your best to accommodate them. It’s not always easy, but, in return, you get to know a truly unique, interesting, beautiful being. It’s so worth it. And, after all, I know how it feels. I connect better with other species than I do my own people.

“Ruby’s a gift,” Ron said to me. “Like Poe was. Only Ruby has a very different personality, but she’s a gift like Poe was a gift.”

And this made me have tears.

Grateful for Chickens

Day 191 of 365

Last night, I had a bad dream. I dreamt that I had to give my up chickens. In my dream, we moved to an apartment, and I had to give my chickens to someone. I was in a panic. I knew my chickens would be stressed and scared, and I didn’t think anyone else could take care of them as well because they wouldn’t know their individual needs. I mean, who else is going to know what Ruby wants? Anyway, the dream was full of terrible anxiety. The last thing I remember was waking up the first morning in our apartment and hearing a rooster crowing. When I went to see why I heard a rooster, I saw that there was a house next door, and the people had a handful of chickens. When I saw the rooster, I started to cry from a broken heart because I missed my chickens. And then I woke up.

I am telling you I have never felt so happy to see my chickens in the morning, and I generally really like seeing them every single day. I felt badly for them though because it was a snow day. The first snow day is always hard on our chickens, especially the new people. I was so happy to see them, even though they were grumpy about the weather. I took them treats twice, and when I went to get the eggs, I thanked those chickens so much–and they only laid two eggs today. But that’s okay. I gave everyone who would allow it a pet. Jane is a mean chicken and pecks me every time. I still try though. And Mary Jane just lets me pet and pet her. She knows me well, and I love that.

Also, little Arwen, who has been Ruby’s sidekick since her mama Juliet ditched her at four weeks old, still can’t stay in the coop with the rest of the flock. Well, she can but chooses not to, so I assume she really just can’t.

We had to close the garage door because it’s getting too cold, so she had nowhere to hang out today. I figured she would stay in the coop with Ruby since it was bad weather, but nope. She got out somehow and hung out under Ron’s pick up all day. I took her food and water, and brought her extra treats a few times. She’s very young and a very interesting chicken. I’ll be interested in seeing how she behaves as she gets older.

Anyway, when I went outside to check on her the second time. I saw that I could see what she was up to all morning by following her tracks in the snow. She made some interesting decisions about where to go, I thought. She did come finish her treats while I was gone, but she also checked out the flower bed, the flower pot, and made various circles around the Subarau. She also had a little helper, some wild bird, eating some treats she must have left.

I love that I get to live so closely these animals. I must love them even more than I fully understand. My dream was terrible, but I woke up grateful for our chickens. I treasure getting to work with these fascinating animals.

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. 

A Perfect Ride

Day 153 of 365

Today, we managed a bike ride in the city forest. In the past month, our schedules have been so busy that we barely have time for bike rides, but we keep managing to sneak to the forest every chance we get. I still love riding my bike. I am getting better at it, too. I don’t feel so scared I’m going to crash and die all of the time. I am definitely the weakest link in our little trio, but Ron and our son stop every time there is a turn and wait for me, so I won’t take a wrong turn. Ron, forever the motivator, tells me what a good job I am doing. Our son, so completely a teenager, sometimes seems annoyed with my slowness–but only sometimes.

Today, he seemed tired, so while Ron did an extra lap around the forest, our son stayed with me until Ron came back around to us. While Ron was making the extra lap, my son went slowly the whole time, so I could keep up. We stopped for a while and talked about the trees. We saw a magnificent rabbit. We met a little porcupine. We had a great time, and because we were traveling more slowly than usual, I stopped quite a few times to take pictures.

It was the best bike ride of my life, and I am thankful for these pictures. I hope my son will remember this day, somewhere down deep–the bike ride with his mama in the beautiful city forest with the fantastic foliage and the little rabbit and porcupine. He’ll remember that, right?

It was just this perfect afternoon being with my family and the trees. One time, we stopped in a clearing for a break, and looked up to see like 50 beautiful birds flying high, right over our heads.

“I wonder that kind of birds they are,” Ron asked.

“I think they are crows, but they are so quiet. I’m not sure.” I responded.

And, then, as soon as I finished that sentence, as if just to let me know, we heard the “caw, caw, caw.”

I love crows more than I can say.

The pines were so tall I couldn’t get their tip tops in the picture, but aren’t they magnificent?
I am not sure, but I think the trees are extra beautiful this year. Usually, there is this kind of sequencing to the colors I notice, but this year, it’s like the trees coordinated. Some of them look like they are just on fire. Oh, how I love Maine.
This is one of the back trails we often take. This is where we met the bunny and the porcupine.
More of the trail–with magnificent color. Of course, the pictures cannot do it justice. Everyone says that because it’s true.
I think I could have gotten a closer picture of the bunny, as we were being very still and quiet, but some people came up behind us fairly loudly. The bunny hopped into the trees, but this is still a pretty good picture. The bunny was so incredibly beautiful.
I wish you could see his little face better in this picture. I could see his little face so well. I loved seeing this beautiful animal because our son, who is usually such a grumpy teen, was talking so sweetly to the little porcupine. That kiddo rebels agains my hippie ways, but I can see he has some hippie in there down deep.
And this is now my favorite picture ever.
And, when we got home, we had a pear-cranberry crisp I had made while the guys were doing homeschool math today. That was a little bit of perfection too, and I will definitely share the recipe tomorrow.

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?

Apples: Part III

Day 147 of 365

“Foraged Apples, Sweet and Sour” by KierinSight, Unsplash

Just as I was starting to understand that I wanted to change my life, to live more connectedly to nature, to get close to my food, I met a colleague who worked in the grants office at the university where I was teaching, and she understood me as others had not yet been able to. I treasured her. One day, I arrived for a meeting, and she had a gift for me—a bag of organic apples from a farm near where she lived in New York state. I held those apples with such love and admiration, and my gratefulness to this person ran so deep. I am a person who is deeply grateful for gifts. It seems so wonderful that someone thinks of me to give me anything. But organic apples! What gift in the world could I have loved more? 

Apples and I keep having these “run-ins” of sorts, so I have to write just a little bit more. Plus, there’s something about a trilogy, I think. I have been thinking about why I love apples so much all week. I realize, after a week of pondering apples, they represent hope to me. 

Apples are special, not in their sweetness and beauty, but in their sweetness, beauty, and durability. After all, strawberries are so sweet and beautiful, as are raspberries, and so many other beautiful fruits from the harvests here in Maine. But apples. Apples can last. You don’t even have to freeze a good storage apple like a Granny Smith or a Liberty. Even the ever-so-sweet Honeycrisp stores well. You just wrap them in newspapers and put them in a basket in the basement, and those apples will feed you for months. How generous of them to be so sweet and so sturdy.

The events of my life so far have shown me that sturdiness is important. I have this feeling it’s going to be even more important as life goes on. 

Climate change is already making our lives harder, and it feels like things are really just getting started. Still, there is some acceptance I notice in myself that I didn’t have before. Because I work with people in the sciences on their dissertations, I have noticed a shift in the rhetoric about climate change in the last year or so. 

For a while, there were the warnings: “Listen up, climate change is going to happen if we don’t do something right now.” Then, the rhetoric got really unusual. Scientists were angry, yelling, desperate to get our attention, something not common at all in academic writing: “Listen here! This is serious! We’re not even kidding!” Of course, it seems the course was set. Now, there is a shift toward a kind of acceptance: “Okay, so this is happening. Let’s help humanity figure out how to adjust, migrate, adapt, survive.” 

Somehow, though I would have thought this place of acceptance would feel more hopeless to me, it feels more hopeful. Maybe it’s that the reality of it cannot be avoided, but it seems like more and more, the people I know—and not just the scientists—are looking for ways to adapt, which often involves learning how to live more in harmony with Nature. The farmers I talk to are nothing short of heroic to me, but they are determined. And, in seeing this, I find solace—and hope. 

The state of affairs with the apple exemplifies what smart people can do when they have to. When Michael Pollan published The Botany of Desire in 2001, he expressed deep concern for the state of the apple. We had farmed the diversity right out of the apple, and lack of diversity within any species is dangerous for that species. If everyone is the same, it doesn’t take much to wipe everyone out. Strength is diversity. Isn’t it interesting that this seems to be a truth humans struggle so greatly to learn? 

But true it is, and, thankfully, people like Michael Pollan raised awareness about the apple. Then, more people started doing something about it. Farmers started to work hard to preserve heirloom varieties of apples. Small farmers and individuals got involved and started working to ensure more apples varieties were cultivated. And consumers helped too. They showed they were open to different and interesting varieties of apples. 

I used to only buy my apples at chain grocery stores. I remember a time, not that long ago, when I bought apples at the grocery store, I really had just three or four varieties to choose from—Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and a something yellow, maybe a Gala, maybe a Golden Delicious. Today, even at the chains, I see at least seven or eight varieties, sometimes more in apple season. And so many people now shop from small farms and at farmers markets. In John Forti’s speech at the Common Ground Fair last month, he said that, in the last decade or so, the number of farmers markets in the United States has grown from the hundreds to the thousands–and the growth continues. 

Historians and farmers continue to work together to preserve heirloom apples. The work on this here in my adopted home state of Maine is remarkable. Maine treasures its heirloom apples. I recently discovered a map of heirloom orchards here in Maine and hope to visit one this year. How fantastic would it be to try a Sundance, a Zestar, or a Cox Orange Pippin apple? And there is a whole movement toward cider apples and a market for hard cider. We don’t want to lose this diversity, so we work to keep them going for future generations. 

And if we can work together to ensure future generations have heirloom apples, we can work together to figure out ways to adapt to climate change. Hopefully, right? 

Apples are such a gift, such a reminder that nature is magnificent, sturdy, that humans can be magnificent, and that life can be so sweet, even if we have to be a little sturdy to ensure we can enjoy it. 

I wanted to conclude my apple trilogy with a quote shared with me by a dear friend, one who sees through my wall of protection so well that I decided to just go ahead and take it down. It’s a quote by Louise Erdrich, from her novel, The Painted Drum, which I have yet to read but is on my list for this coming Winter. When you read this quote, I am certain it will be on your list too because it’s full of truths about life, love, loss–and apples. 

Think of this quote. Go to the apple orchard. Pick the apples. Eat them. Remember to love them. Remember to love. 

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and being alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

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!

The Weather Report for Chickens

Day 89 of 100

I was going to write tonight about corn and give a crop report. It’s fascinating to me what Ron has managed to do in the garden despite the water and temperature struggles this summer. Some things have failed–but not many things. But I will have to give more detail tomorrow because I have a joyful story to tell, and I feel like, right now, if you have a joyful story to tell, I want to hear it. I hope you feel the same.

This is Juliet’s baby, who is on her own with her brother since last week. Oh, Juliet! She has no name yet because I have to know her a little before I can name her well. Today, I learned something about her. I was giving watermelon to the big chickens first, and this tiny hen squeezed under the fence, ran out there with the grownups and stole some watermelon. That’s bold. There’s an order in chicken culture, and this would be punished with a good peck if she were to be caught. She surely knows this, but that baby ran out there anyway while the other babies watched in awe and stole some watermelon. This is fantastically bold.

I always give my chickens the weather report to try to help them through the bad days. I am so sensitive to how they feel that, when they are struggling with extreme weather like we are, I worry extra. I try to make their lives reasonable during tough times, I mean, the watermelon rinds are piling up out there. Still, hot and miserable weather is hot and miserable weather for everybody. Generally, in the summers, I can say, “just a few days, and we’ll get a little break,” but it became apparent last month that we were in for a long heat wave and dry spell the likes of which I have not seen in Maine. I did not want to tell my chickens the bad news, so I just laid low.

But, today, as I delivered another round of watermelon and checked all of the waterers, I got to to deliver the good news as well–one more bad day! The cooler temperatures are coming for us on Monday. The high tomorrow is supposed to be 95. The high on Monday is supposed to be 70–and the rain is coming too! All the animals, including some very old hens who I was really worried about in this heat, seem to be going to make it!

Mary Jane is still alive. I gave that old girl a pep talk today. She is doing much better than I thought, so I told her to hang in there a little longer. If she can make it just one more day, she can live to see another glorious fall around here. Chickens LOVE the Fall. The cooler temps, the leaves, the bugs on the leaves. Even if they take turns molting, overall, fall is a fun time for our pasture-raised chickens. The pasture gets extra fun.

I was feeling so good about sharing the good news with all the animals tonight when I tucked everyone in for their bedtime. Shortly after, I came inside after wrapping up the duck game. While outside, I could hear music coming from the house, as, of course, all of the windows are open. When I came inside, I found Ron and our son dancing in the kitchen with the music so loud I am sure the neighbors could hear it. It was 7 Nation Army by the White Stripes, and they both looked so quirky and adorable. Our son was wearing his sunglasses and dancing around with his “old da.” The best part was that Boudica was joining in and jumping and playing in between the two of them.

I smiled so big my face literally hurt.

There is joy in the air on our little homestead. The rain is coming. The heat will break. Ron has kept the crops alive, and I have kept even Mary Jane alive. It’s been tough. I am so thankful rain and cool are coming.

The weather report looks good.

P.S. If you are a farmer or homesteader reading this post and you are struggling with heat and drought, my heart goes out to you. I hope with all of my might that you get some rain soon, too.

Home Again, Home Again

Day 82 of 365

We are home, and I am with my Boudica again! Just now, I was outside freshening the duck water, and Boudica came up to me with a big smile on her face. She, apparently, did a great job with the sitter, but she’s happy we’re home.

I experienced a lot of mixed emotions being home. I was happy to be here, but things had changed more than I thought they would in just three days. Mainly, I missed the departure of my tiny neighbor’s second and last brood of babies. I had a bad feeling I was going to miss it, and I did.

I took this picture the day we left. There were four babies, and there was simply no more room in that nest. I hate that I missed them go. Last time, I was able to witness it. Thankfully, I got this picture right near the end of things. I had read you have to be careful getting too close to the nest right when they are about to fly. You can scare them into trying too soon and cause problems.

I approached the nest so tentatively and pretty soon realized this little gang of wide-mouthed baby Eastern Phoebes was only going to watch me with mild interest–and I do mean mild. Yes, I am thankful for this photograph.

Interestingly, when we got home Ruby was out with the flock!

I could not believe this, but there she was, acting like a normal chicken. Kate, who has officially dumped her baby was also out with the flock, as was Bianca. Everyone was behaving so well and so orderly like. How could these be my chickens?

But it didn’t take long for the quirkiness to reappear. As I was out saying hello to my babies, who grew so much I almost cried when I saw them, I watched as, one by one, all of my quirky chickens flew over the fence and came my direction.

At first, Ron was like, “Well, you spoil those chickens too much.”

But, later, he said, “I’m sure there’s just a certain comfort level with mom being home. It can’t be easy on them to be cared for by a stranger.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. I am amazed at how differently my chickens behave when people they do not know come around.

Our little vacation was the first one we have taken since becoming homesteaders. There’s just too much work to leave to other people for very long, but we did it thanks to a fantastic farm sitter. I am so glad to be home, but I don’t want to wait so long before we do it again.

And I am hoping with all of my might that, tomorrow morning, I hear “fee-bee, fee-bee” outside of our bedroom window.