Orchard Life

Orchard life..image1

… so long as you crop the two dirty, tired, sweaty keepers of the place out of the photo it looks almost idyllic.

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Farewell Roosty

Our rooster, “Roosty” has moved on to the big chicken coop in the sky.

He kept track of all his ladies as they free-ranged together for over six years, outlived all the hens and never once used these impressive spurs on a person.

He was a good rooster.

We’ve got a batch of young birds with a few roosters in it and I’ll be crossing my fingers hoping one of them may be worthy of taking Roosty’s place.

Like this old post from 2014 says, he was worth his weight in chicken feed…

Worth His Weight In Chicken Feed

When you have chickens, like we do, and in conversation you mention that you also have a rooster, like we do, one of two things generally happens.

Either, people say something along the lines of, “Of course, because otherwise you wouldn’t get any eggs right?” and then you try not to physically slap your forehead in frustration with the poor biology background of the general populace and go on to give a well rehearsed mini-biology lesson of your own.

Or, they say something along the lines of, “But don’t you worry it’s going to attack your children, kill your cats, run your dogs out of the neighborhood and crow night and day driving you crazy?!?” and then you try not to sigh, because they clearly have had a traumatic rooster incident and now you must gently explain to that, despite the incident that scarred them for life, your rooster is quite well behaved because anything less than stellar behavior would earn him a quick trip to the soup pot.

Rarely someone will nod knowingly, perhaps a fellow poultry person, because they know that a good rooster in a free range flock is worth the chicken feed he eats and more. In fact, I will go so far as to say I would never want to have a flock without one.Roosty with hens

I’m not exactly sure what goes through a hen’s brain as she walks around doing her chickeny things but none of it seems to have to do with awareness of surroundings  and self-preservation. It’s possible the chicken crossed the road because the rooster wasn’t around to tell her it was a dumb idea.  While the hens are happily meandering about, the rooster (the current one goes by name of Roosty) is on guard duty.  A hawk flies overhead and the hens continue to scratch at the ground – until Roosty (yes, the kids named him) spots it. He’ll give an alarm call and quick as a wink the chickens all vanish under bushes and whatever else they can find, and hunker down until it’s gone. While we’ve lost chickens to hawks between roosters, we’ve yet to have them get one since Roosty’s been on the job!

Whenever his guard duties aren’t demanding his immediate attention, Roosty busies himself by searching the ground for extra treats, calling his ladies over to share whatever he finds.  And as his final rooster duty, he has proven himself with an impressive fertility rate on eggs I gave a friend to hatch. Since she lives in town with a cap on chicken numbers and a ban on roosters, the extras were sent back to us. When all was said and done we had seven extra roosters.

Not all roosters are created equal and chances of nastiness seem to increase the more you have.  And this situation was no different. But even though the new roosters were crowing up a storm and starting to do quite a bit of posturing and mini rooster fights amongst themselves, the young boys were, well, scrawny. As we waited for them to get a bit plumper, Roosty had his work cut out for him.Roosty

All the birds would be peacefully roaming around when one of the young (and might I add slightly evil) roosters would spy a lone hen and take off like an arrow through the grass after her. Stretched out, flattened to the ground, running full tilt they’d race across the orchard, joined by any other young rooster that may have caught sight of them. When the youngsters caught the poor girl, the whole group would start in on behavior that would earn them a decent amount of jail time if they were human. Fortunately Roosty was on the job. As soon as he heard the commotion, he’d go running and flapping across the yard and shove himself right into the middle of the chaos. I never saw him fight another rooster, he’d just strut into the middle and the young boys would break it off. Straightening up, they’d slink away as if trying to say “What? I wasn’t doing anything! Besides I was just leaving anyway…” and Roosty would usher the poor hen back toward the rest of the flock.

While watching this show was both entertaining and educational,  it was also very noisy for us humans and looked exhausting for the chickens. We were all sticking it out waiting for the new boys to get just a bit bigger when one of them pecked at Jane. Not only did he peck  her leg but then he stood watching Jane scream with feathers plumped in a threatening manner until I came at a run to give him the boot (literally) and rescue her. Sadly, Roosty’s fierce protective instincts don’t extend to anything without feathers. While I love having a rooster around, we have a one strike rule when it comes to aggression toward humans. Roosty has never so much as looked at us sideways, but this young rooster had crossed the line.

With that single and final strike, it was time for all the roosters to go.Roosty

And just like that we are back to lone rooster status. The crowing has receded to a barely noticeable level, the freezer has a few new packages and Roosty, still on the job, looks just a bit more relaxed without his added duties.

So next time someone tells you they have a rooster, nod your head sagely and smile because now you know. A good rooster is worth that extra chicken feed.

 

Flying Through Summer

I’m flying through summer sort of like this Purple Martin. 

It might not be prudent to fly for too long without looking where you are headed but when there is so much going on around you how do you even have time to look ahead to the next week?

Tonight was the first night in the 16 days the kids have been off school that I’ve had a breather to look around and start picking up the house… and the garage… and the yard… and the trucks…

It was like an archaeological dig.

On top of the couch was the bag of dress clothes I wore to the funeral of a family friend this morning. Hiding under that was the miscellaneous items the kids dropped on their way in the door from the summer solstice party we were at yesterday. The garage was heaped with the camping things from earlier in the week. And under it all was a thick layer of capoeira debris from a solid week of workshops and events. Drum making materials mixed with extra instruments on the mantel, cord dying equipment still on the table, boxes of un-sold shirts by the stove and stinky workout clothes in all the corners. Feed for the new goslings can be found under the camping equipment in the garage. And if you dig deep enough in the truck you can still find the remains of the tools we brought north to build bunk beds at the family cabin. Buried beneath it all on the table was a mountain of papers the girls brought home on the last day of school.

The fridge is mostly devoid of food and the laundry, clean and dirty, is piled high. But the good times have been plentiful and now I’ll have some time to work on the mess we left in our wake…

 

… but first I have two weddings to celebrate…

 

April Snow Woes

It’s that problem you have when the day before the ground was solid mud but today it’s all snow covered and frozen.

When you are accustomed to being a glorious white but the mud has lingered and you are are hardly fit to be seen.

When all the puddles and ponds have frozen and all you have left is a water bowl.

And it’s just too small for a decent bath.

 

 

Baby Chicks DO Make Everything Better!

A few years ago my mom broke her arm. Of course, Murphy’s law never to be discounted, that happened to be the day her baby chicks arrived. I picked them up at the feed mill on my way to go help her out, letting them know who I was and why my mom wasn’t there herself. “You bring these right in and put them on her lap” said the woman. “Baby chicks make everything better.”

They didn’t miraculously heal a broken arm that day, but they did bring out a lot of smiles.

Ever since the woman at the feed mill put it into words, I’ve found it to be true. Baby chicks, in many ways, make everything better.

This weekend I had big plans, my brother was going to be visiting and we were going to Get Things Done. The kids had plans with other kids, John had a crazy workout challenge event, it was going to be great. And then my brother hurt his leg (he’ll be fine), the kid plans canceled because it tried to be winter again today (spring will be back soon), John did his event (and had a great time despite the weather) but I was not feeling the “great” that was this weekend.

And then I got a slightly out of the blue offer of 18 baby chicks to be delivered ASAP. After rummaging around outside (in the ice/snow/sleet/rain/wind) for supplies, hauling straw and shavings and digging an extension cord out of the ice, the brooder house was set up and the baby chicks arrived. I stood in the warm brooder house, out of the wind and rain and sleet and snow and ice, looked at my new babies peeping in the straw and suddenly everything was quite a bit better.

But that’s not really how I know baby chicks make everything better.

How I know is this…

A few hours after they arrived Clara, Jane and I all went out to check on (read snuggle) the babies. After a bit I, thinking that I should get something done, left the girls out in the brooder house and spent about an hour in the basement on various chores. I came upstairs and it was suspiciously quiet. Did they go back out? … or… uh oh…

The brooder house has a door with a hook and eye latch on the outside and on the inside. The door, particularly in weather that is trying to make you believe it’s still winter, will not stay closed by itself and baby chicks complain to management when it gets too drafty. The door is always latched, from one side… or the other…

I hustled back out to the brooder house. Sure enough, the door was locked from the outside.  I opened it up and went in, bracing myself for yelling and crying and wondering if my apologies would have to go as far as promises of ice cream and movies. There were Clara and Jane, lounging under the heat lamp. Jane had a half a dozen baby chicks sleeping on her lap, Clara had  a few more along her legs and one tucked under her hair, resting on her shoulder. Clara just looked up at me and said in a voice usually reserved for teenagers, “Really Mom?

Then they ever so slowly shed the chicks from their laps and got their boots and jackets on while Jane excitedly told me how they opened a window so they could yell for me and what their plan was in case the brooder house caught fire while they were locked in it (it totally would have worked by the way). They each gave just one more chick one more snuggle and then they happily pranced off through the sleet to the house.

And that’s how I know that baby chicks make everything better.