Why I’m not cut out to be a “real” farmer.

This morning, when I went out to feed my chickens, I discovered that something killed one of my leghorn hens. More accurately, it beheaded it. 

When I’ve gotten newly hatched chickens, I knew and expected that some wouldn’t make it. I was prepared for that and cried just a little when I found ones that didn’t survive. This is different, though. I raised these chickens since they hatched. And some stupid animal had to kill it for no good reason other than… well, animal instinct I guess. 

I hate nature. 

This is the first time I’ve lost a grown chicken and I think it’s fair to use the loaded term “hysterical” to describe my response. I cried until I threw up. Logically, I know that this kind of things happens on farms, but we worked so hard to reinforce the fencing and make sure nothing could get in. I don’t know how a predator got to them. I mean, I’ve literally checked all the fencing 20 times. I guess it’s going to have to be 21.

I don’t know what it was that could have gotten in there, but it would have gone in solely for the chickens and was small. We don’t leave feed out and it seemed to have pulled her out of the hen house, which has a very small opening. I’m surprised it got a leghorn, though. I also have bantams and jungle fowl, both small breeds that I would suppose to be easier targets.

I guess there’s no need to ruminate on this. Instead, I need to be mending fences. 

I can’t help but feel like this is my fault. 

Books by influential psychotherapists + roosters

This has little to do with my general small farm life/DIY theme, but I have to share, and then will cleverly segue seamlessly into talk of chickens, referencing yesterday’s post.

Last weekend, I went to the Hem of His Garment, one of my favorite thrift stores. (They have free bread, as much as you can take, plus a huge book section and great retro/vintage furniture and housewares. I also got my pristine vintage ’70s wedding dress there for $50. Definitely worth a trip if you’re near Swansboro, North Carolina.)  Anyhow, I picked up a few books, including Irvin Yalom‘s Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. I read his textbook on existential psychotherapy in graduate school, which was a huge influence on my therapeutic approach and overall outlook on life. I never read his fiction.

Last night, I finally got around to looking at the book and saw a letter inside. As a used book hoarder collector, I love finding letters, cards, and hand-written inscriptions that give me clues about the book’s history. My former favorite was a copy of The Bridges of Madison County sent as a peace offering to an estranged and recently widowed sister. This one blew that out of the water, though.

yalom

 

I had to do a double-take when I saw that the letterhead was really Irvin Yalom’s. As you can see, it’s a letter to one of his former high school classmates, whom he had recently seen at a reunion. So. very. cool.

___________

Okay, I totally lied when I said the segue into chickens was going to be seamless, but this next part is remotely related to psychology.

Elvis. My rooster. The yard still isn’t dried up yet so I had to go through the fun of going in the big chicken barn this morning. Instead of wielding my PVC pipe, I thought going in unarmed might be a better approach because I didn’t want Elvis to go on the defensive automatically. Really, since he’s working off of pure instinct, he has no way of knowing whether I want to fight him or whether I’m holding the pipe for protection. His feelings are neither right nor wrong; they just are. (There. Chicken psychotherapy. And yes, chickens do have feelings. They’re capable of experiencing empathy.)

I took about five minutes of waving my hand and repeating “Chickens, out!” before they finally got the idea that I wasn’t going to feed them until they all left the barn. Elvis complied, without any aggression or feather ruffling. Chickens have a remarkable capability for learning. I’m going to work on more verbal commands with them and see what they’re capable of.

Roosters and Rain Suck

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Well praise the Lord! Such lovely clouds! Oh wait, no, those are impending rain clouds. Clouds that foretell lots of rain, rain that will flood the yard and all the chicken pens.

Whomever it was that built our house thought it would be prudent to dig a ton of dirt out of the yard to make it lower. I just… I, I don’t understand. He didn’t need it for another project; he just stuck it in mounds elsewhere. I’m not going to spend unnecessary time grappling with his sordid logic, but I would like to meet him and shake my head at him in dismay because I’m really sick of wading through water up to my calves every time I go out to feed the chickens. Swamp wading was one of my favorite hobbies as a child. My dad and I would go waist deep in muck and take pictures of flowers and just enjoy some messy fun. Even as an adult, in Florida, I used to love to wander barefoot through the mangrove swamps as a respite from civilization, of which I’m not a big fan. But this is different.

I ended up having to hand feed all my chickens, with the exception of Roid, Mr. Jerkface bantam rooster. Roid got his name two days after hatching, as he went on a rampage and trampled the other chicks, as though he had ‘roid rage. He was kind of a sweet chick, despite being a little feisty.

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Baby Roid, snugging up to me during a late winter storm.

Roid’s current hobby is trying to attack my hand. Luckily, he doesn’t have spurs yet, so really, all he can do is peck at my hand and fluff his feathers. And crow so loudly that you can hear him over a mile away. Not kidding. We were having a wholesome family afternoon of shelling beans at my father-in-law’s house a couple weeks ago and heard him, clear as day, quite literally over a mile from home. Moral of the story: Hand-feeding him today wasn’t exactly fun.

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Present day Roid, screaming his head off because he can.

Feeding the “big chickens” in the flooded yard was an even more perilous adventure. We have ten 2-year-old chickens who live together: one gold lace hen, one silver lace hen, two leghorn hens, five gold comet hens, and a silver lace rooster, Elvis. I don’t have a picture of Elvis easily accessible, but he stands higher than my knee and will mess. you. up. I was free ranging the big chickens one afternoon not that long ago and had an encounter. Usually, we have  mutual understanding: I feed and water him and he leave me alone. But that day, he decided to fight with me, while I was barefoot, and that wasn’t exactly fun. I managed to fend him off with some general kicks in my general direction, but not without getting a few cuts on my leg. My saving grace that probably kept me from stitches is that we trim our roosters’ spurs. It’s a totally painless process and keeps them from inflicting serious injury because roosters are no joke. We might not be so vigilant about it, but with a little-too-brave 11-year-old, we want to err on the side of caution.

Elvis hasn’t messed with me in a while. For the past few rainy days, I’ve had to feed them in the 10’x10′ chicken barn and he’s been just fine. But today, as soon as I opened the door, dude was is fighting mode and din’t want to let me in. I grabbed a piece of PVC pipe just to push him back, but he wanted to fight with that, too, which more or less consisted of him fluffing his neck and crowing into the pipe and me. (Ooh, I’m scared.) Finally, I went into crazy chicken lady mode and had a talk with him. I’ll admit it: I cussed him out and told him to get outside, wade in the water for just a minute, and just let me do my thing. It worked. Still, that turned my 30 minute chicken chores into a solid hour of annoyance.

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My sweet barred rocks make all the work worth it, though.

 

 

Paint it Green

Paint color for the house has been a big issue of debate around here. Rooster Man was set on red and although it wasn’t my first choice, I thought I could go with it. My first choice was green because that’s my color. (See also: Ikea Hell.) I’ve been notorious for having lime green everything, to the point where I’m often able to do an entire load of green laundry. We never touched on color psychology in graduate school, so go ahead and infer whatever you want about what my propensity for green says about my personality.

So I get to the point where I’m adjusted to red, and then Rooster Man sees the picture of my 2004 apartment and gets excited about the green. After showing him swatch after swatch of green paint and him rejecting every one, he finally decided agreed to go with my old colors.

Fortunately, I have a good memory and I remember spending months picking out Behr Carolina Parakeet and Bamboo Leaf.

Behr greens

My early 2000s paint: Winner winner chicken dinner

Even better, Home Depot still carries those colors. I’ve watched tons of online discussions of what people will get tired of and I figured if I haven’t lost my almost-frightening enthusiasm for Carolina Parakeet and Bamboo leaf after 11 years and what feels like four lifetimes, then it’s a good choice. I don’t know if lime green is trendy right now, but I do know that whenever I go to Lowe’s and look at paint, I move the little “customer favorite” flags over the lime paint, so there you have it: One small step toward pushing Pantone’s purple (orchid?) of the year out of office. I don’t know who made Pantone the “authority on color,” but that’s how they advertise themselves. Color doesn’t need an authority. Moreover, I’m scared that people feel as though they need a color authority.

I started my Paint it Green campaign with our mismatched set of well-worn dining room chairs. The look I’m going for is “weathered,” which is perfect, because my paint jobs keep getting rained on. They’re still a work in progress and are going to require some sanding, repainting (I’m using Krylon spray paint), and distressing until I come up with something I like.

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The original chair’s twin.

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Spray painted black. I would have almost been happy with it this way.

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With a thin coating of neon green over the black.

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With some of the lime sanded off. It’s still a work in progress.

 

Today in Chickens

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One of the inordinately friendly and curious barred rock hens.

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Barred rock in the “chicken jungle.” We don’t free range because of predators, but we try to make their habitat as large, green, and interesting as possible. This weekend, we’re getting some more fencing and adding about 6’x70′ to their space.

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BB’s Amerucana (Easter Egg) rooster, Bruce.

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Bruce is all about the laying mash.

 

 

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We try to hand feed our young chickens as much as possible, which keeps the roosters (largely) non-aggressive.

Bird Alert

 

 

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I was reading an article on diseases in the May/June 2014 issue of Backyard Farms’ Chickens magazine about how to help your chickens increase their immunity. Apple cider vinegar in their drinking water is said to help, but one piece of advice of advice was to let turkeys and chickens flock together, with the end goal of the turkeys increasing the chickens’ immune systems. If you don’t have a lot of experience in birds, I would not recommend this, unless maybe they were free-range.

My reasoning for this: I once had a rooster (Rhode Island red) and a large gobbler (male) turkey that lived together and the turkey died a few short months after I got him. My cousin, who was big on raising different types of birds, told me that chickens carry Blackhead Disease. I researched this further and found that this is actually caused by a worm that the chicken carries with no effects, but has almost a 100% death rate for turkeys. This parasite can embed itself in the turkey’s liver, which weakens the turkey and causes it to lose its appetite.

Farmers have lost turkeys because chickens may show no signs of the disease. I’m not saying keeping chickens and turkeys together is a bad idea necessarily, but when mixing different birds, I’d recommend proceeding with caution and doing your research because you can spread disease easily, especially in close quarters. No one wants a bunch of dead birds.

I was reading an article on diseases in the May/June 2014 issue of Backyard Farms’ Chickens magazine about how to help your chickens increase their immunity. Apple cider vinegar in their drinking water is said to help, but one piece of advice of advice was to let turkeys and chickens flock together, with the end goal of the turkeys increasing the chickens’ immune systems. If you don’t have a lot of experience in birds, I would not recommend this, unless maybe they were free-range.

My reasoning for this: I once had a rooster (Rhode Island red) and a large gobbler (male) turkey that lived together and the turkey died a few short months after I got him. My cousin, who was big on raising different types of birds, told me that chickens carry Blackhead Disease. I researched this further and found that this is actually caused by a worm that the chicken carries with no effects, but has almost a 100% death rate for turkeys. This parasite can embed itself in the turkey’s liver, which weakens the turkey and causes it to lose its appetite.

 Farmers have lost turkeys because chickens may show no signs of the disease. I’m not saying keeping chickens and turkeys together is a bad idea necessarily, but when mixing different birds, I’d recommend proceeding with caution and doing your research because you can spread disease easily, especially in close quarters. No one wants a bunch of dead birds.