Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blog Posts from the Edge

Day 7 of my captivity:

Hand, foot & mouth disease has invaded our once peaceable kingdom, and during a 9-day forced togetherness fest they call spring break, no less. We've yet to experience this elusive "Spring" phenomenon, and there most certainly hasn't been any sort of break. I'm confident that I'm rapidly approaching a mental break. Does that count?

Sick, bored, itchy children abound. Planned excursions to the out-of-doors have been scrapped due to inhospitable weather conditions and a highly communicable virus. We grow steadily more weary of one another's company with each passing hour.

Worse still, living conditions are deteriorating rapidly. The inmates children insist on being fed DAILY, pushing the very limits of my once generous sense of hospitality. Dishes are accumulating faster than they can be dealt with, and other routine tasks are being neglected as well. An increasing amount of my time is being consumed re-directing children to find something to do and otherwise manually dislodging them from "my grill". Surely madness lies around the next corner?

I pray you, send reinforcements as soon as can be managed. Earplugs, chocolate, fortified liquor and calamine lotion by the gallon are our most immediate needs. Some sort of force field that separates the children from my person by at least 5 feet would be most welcome, but I am uncertain as to whether or not such technology yet exists. In lieu of that, perhaps a remote control mute button, or a spell that renders me temporarily deaf? Anything helps.

We have a minimum of 3 more days of incarceration togetherness before the large, yellow, multi-passenger transports return to whisk my charges away to their institutions of learning. May their journey be swift and unhindered, delivering not only my bedraggled younglings to their destination, but delivering me from a slow, soul-crushing episode of cabin fever as well.

Three more days, three more days, three more days.....

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Chicken Whisperer Chump

You all know by know that this is house is Casa de Nerd, right? We're nerds in the conventional sense - we're all rather socially awkward and covet and hoard books like they were bars of gold - but we're also farm nerds. We're the kind of goobers that do things like hang around in the poultry barn at the county fair ogling exotic ducks and chickens, or who relentlessly pick the brain of the poor lady selling goat cheese at the farmers market. What kind of goats do you have? How long do you leave your feta in the brine? Are your goats fed pasture or pellets? We collectively, can be a little intense.

We were budding farm nerds even when we still lived in city limits. Expanding our geek horizons was part of what lead us down this path to buying our 3 1/2 green acres. We wanted more chickens, turkeys, and maybe something with hooves, the more exotic, the better. Olivia with her Asperger Syndrome's signature laser-like focus on a narrow, often obscure topic, was the queen nerd when it came to birds, especially chickens. She literally memorized field guides and encyclopedias about all things bird, and coveted, above all things, fancy chickens.

So, when we moved to Boggy Hollow, one of the first items on our farm checklist was to greatly expand our flock of chickens. We pored over books, the Murray McMurray catalog, and asked our 10-year old resident bird nerd to weigh in. We decided on a mixture of some of the lower-maintenance, high-yield breeds like Australorps and Ameracaunas, with a couple of silver laced Polishes thrown in to appease Liv's appetite for fancy birds.

The workhorse breeds thrived. They started laying right on time, and most of them even laid through the winter. The Polishes... we're down to two.

We've done a little experimental breeding to see what we could see, and ended up with a goofy little fancy-pants brood of babies that we call the "Policaunas". Crested, jet-black hens that lay pale, pale blue eggs. And half of them are frizzled. Pretty funky! Still, Liv longed for the truly fancy birds; Suramas, Brahmas, Silkies, Silver Spangled Hamburgs, the fluffier, more feather-footed and floppily-crested, the better. Explaining to her that only no-nonsense chickens would work on a farm such as ours fell on deaf ears. Repeatedly.

So we finally gave in, a little.

Today I brought home 5 chicks from the feed store - 2 light Brahmas, 2 Silkies and one that we *think* is a white Ameracauna. Liv was on cloud nine.

With the altogether too fresh memory of our last clutch of incubator chicks' poop-funk smell permeating my back room, I sought an alternative way to brood this small clutch without sacrificing our indoor air quality. We decided to try a method that I'd heard of other folks doing with great success - sneaking days old chicks under a broody hen while she slept. Easy-peasy!

Not exactly.

Bill put our notoriously broody girl, Huckleberry in a separate run just before nightfall and set up a heat lamp as insurance in case the transfer didn't go so well. Then about an hour after dark, I went out to slide the babies under Hucky.

Huck, unfortunately woke and began wandering around in a daze. She sat on the babies a few times, whether or not by complete accident, I can't say. When I tried to pop an errant chick back underneath her, she rattle-clucked at me, which is a good indication that she is feeling protective of her nest. I watched them as unobtrusively as I could from outside the run. Things seemed to be going ok, when one of the Brahmas popped out from under Huckleberry and sat right next to her head, wailing out a panic peep that got the attention of every bird in the coop. Huckleberry gave the little one a few rather vicious looking pecks, and the complainer turned tail and burrowed back under Huck's breast. I'm assuming that she's going to be a no-nonsense, spare the rod, spoil the child-type of Mama, and not an annoyed biddy who will have run all of the babies off by morning. I'll be checking on them every few hours tonight as quickly and quietly as I can, just to make sure that no one is being picked on or left out in the cold. I'm already worried about the little black silkie. He's just a little too floppy for my liking. Hopefully some time sandwiched between his reluctant new Mama's breast and a bed of fresh straw will perk him right up. Morning is going to be make or break time for this little experiment in avian foster parenting.

The things that we do for our kids... just keep getting weirder.