Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Chicken Dreams

Last night I dreamt that we had to evacuate the property in a hurry. I ran down to the chicken coop to start rounding them up...and found Jericho with something strange on his feet.

He had on little wooden clogs.

I picked him up to take off the clogs because I didn't think he could run in them, only to discover that he had slipped little tiny zucchini on each of his toes! I asked him why he had done that and he told me that he was afraid the clogs would hurt his toenails.

We thank Uncle Joey Manfre for his beautiful rendition of Jericho and his clogs!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Supporting Cast of Characters - Callebaut

The chickens has been receiving the most coverage on the blog site, but none if this is possible without the loving support of the other beings that live with me (and I with them!) at our little farm!

In order of age, not necessarily pecking order, I first have to tell you about Callebaut. Cal-uh-bow. He is a big ole chocolate lab that still thinks he is a puppy and just smiles at you from his heart. I just want to melt when he does. I had never had a close relationship with a dog before him and was more than a little trepidatious at getting one. Farmer Jeff and I (before we were farmers!) were in the car to go look at puppies when it dawned on me that there was no way I was going to get out of there without plunking down money for a puppy. Heavens! I elected to pick out the puppy, so I used the criteria my brother always advised in picking out kittens: pick the most outgoing and friendliest. I did that and ended up with the monster from the litter that is never afraid to give you his opinion…or get into trouble!

We wanted to give him a name that was fitting for a chocolate lab but didn’t want anything as pedestrian as Hershey or Cocoa, so we went to Farmer Jeff’s restaurant, Zin, and went through the pastry department looking for something that would suit the puppy. We took a look at the Belgian extra Brut/dark cocoa powder that we both use in our renowned brownies…and there it was! Brut cocoa powder manufactured by…Callebaut!

He has been a treat and quite the learning experience. The first time I ever stepped in dog poop, Farmer Jeff smiled at me and said, “Just think honey, one day he’ll poop the size of your shoe!”, as if this was a very exciting piece of news. I knew, from that point on, that I would never get any sympathy for stepping in that stuff again!

Callebaut grew up chewing on everything. He’s a lab, right? Very oral. We have been most fortunate that he has only gotten to 2 pairs of shoes. On the other hand, he accidentally swallows things that should not be swallowed. One weekend in December I was in San Diego visiting my family and Farmer Jeff calls to tell me that our baby boy is not feeling well, that he has been vomiting and has failed the appetite test: won’t even eat cat food! Farmer Jeff and I decided that the boy needed to go to the emergency vet right away…Then I received a call later that evening only to be told that Callebaut was in emergency surgery to remove the rock he had swallowed because it was blocking his intestines and he was in danger of dying! Our “Christmas Present” to the emergency vet was $1600. Thankfully the only thing that he has swallowed since that required medical care was a walnut. That was an overnight visit and just an oil enema…so glad I didn’t have to do that one at home!!!

Callebaut is the heart and soul of the animals at our compound. His abounding enthusiasm for life is an inspiration and his unconditional love for everything is a joy to share.

The picture below is of Callebaut and his (adopted) sister, India!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Cycle of Life and Death

I have now experienced firsthand what I have been forewarned of: the unexpected and sudden death of our farm animals.

Last night the dogs were going berserk, barking and trying to dig into the chicken pen. I couldn't figure out why. I thought that the batteries in their shock collars that keeps them away from both the perimeter of the coop/pen and the boundary fence were dead. Then I thought that a critter had gotten into the coop/pen and was threatening the chickens. Our black dog, India, kept barking while standing in front of the coop/pen, turning her head to see if I was paying attention. I thought, at the time, she was doing a Lassie routine. If I had only gone to check.

This morning I saw what they were barking at. I lifted up the long piece of paneling I was using for shade that had fallen on the ground to discover the bodies of 3 of the 11 week old chicks underneath. Baby White Rooster and Bianca, the little white hen, were dead. When I looked to the third body…it moved. Then it tried to lift its head. It was one of the little roosters and he was struggling to stand. I lifted him up, examined his wings, which he was holding to his side, and then his legs. He squeaked in pain when I touched his legs.

For a brief moment we considered the thought of putting him out of his misery by wringing his neck. I had to give him a chance…a chance to recover while I considered this drastic and Draconian measure. I held on to him, feeling his heart racing and then felt him relax. I really wanted him to live. I want to think that he knew I wanted to help him and he could relax. Who knows what he was thinking.

I tested his leg strength by setting him on his feet and he just fell over. I carried him over to the feeder and he was able to eat, taking in little dainty nibbles. I dipped his beak in the watering trough…but he didn't drink. I kept testing, setting him on his feet and after letting him eat and rest in my hands for ten minutes, tested him again. This time he was able to stand for a few seconds on his own. When he collapsed he was immediately pecked at by another hen. Pecking order is constantly tested in this flock and I realized that until he regained his strength I couldn't leave him with the rest of the flock. He would be at their mercy.

We have a little wooden enclosure where Mama Roux and Grace have been living. It is fully enclosed with a wire covered window. It is the perfect place to convalesce. He has fresh food and water. I have set up an alternate little crate with straw on the floor of the coop for Mama Roux and Grace while the baby rooster is healing.

This will be a long day. When I get home from work I'll see how he is doing. I am struggling with taking him to the vet. Do I put more money into saving him when I am going to sell him and might get $2 for him? Or can I even look at this from an economic standpoint? I think that once we started naming all of the chickens, our relationship became one of a loving guardianship, not an economic venture based on dollars and cents. If that were the case we also would not have built a chicken coop complete with curtains and a linoleum floor!

I am just heartsick over this. I have apologized to the dogs for yelling at them when they were really just trying to warn me and help the chickens, I have apologized countless times to the chicken that is injured and I have sung prayers to the two that were killed. I hope they forgive me my negligence. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Rest in peace, dear little feathered ones.

*Update: I have just gotten back from the vet and the little guy is going to be fine. He will need to convalesce in private for a couple of days and then he can mingle again with his gang. The cost of 28 dollars for the vet was well worth it. I came home to find a green egg laid by Martha, a little white banty egg laid by Goldie and our big red girl, Nicole, sitting in a nest. Life goes on.

PS: we are NOT going to sell the brave survivor. He is now officially staying...and has been named Jericho!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Let the Eggs Begin!

Today was a red letter day for us. Or should I say a red chicken day?

After we lost our beloved big black hen to cancer, I went out and bought 4 chickens to help me get over the grief of her loss. She was a black sex-link hen (try typing that into a search engine and see just how many porn sites it pulls up!) that produced large eggs and had a sweet and curious disposition. Her name was the Black Dahlia and she was my favorite. She would walk with me through the pen and then just stand and look at me, on the verge of speech. I always felt as though I was being observed by her instead of her being observed by me! She would let me pick her up and put her on my lap, let me pet her and stroke her cheeks. I would also give her back rubs...and watch her fall asleep on her feet!

In buying the replacement chickens I wanted a similar breed and ended up with 3 red sex-links and a Rhode Island Red. The sex links have been cross bred with Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns. I can't help but think of Foghorn Leghorn when I say that. I bought them as "pullets" aka young hens. They were 4 months old when I brought them home and was told they would begin laying eggs in another 4-6 weeks.

We named them Rita Hayworth (the Rhode Island Red), Nicole Kidman (very regal with white neck feathers), Reba McIntyre (the little perky red one) and my new favorite, Miss Kitty, after Gunsmoke. She has pale red-orange feathers and just reminds me of ...Miss Kitty!

Each day after work I go out into the backyard and feed the dogs, then feed and water the chickens, giving them scratch and snacks and then check for eggs.Today I found the very first egg layed by the red girls! How exciting!

The picture shows today's eggs. The little white one is from a bantam hen, one of the Josephines, the greenish blue one is from one of the Americaunas but we're not sure which one...and then our first brown egg! I'm not sure who gave us this one. This will be the first of many eggs they will give us over the next 3 years. Thanks Girls!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ode to Chickens

I am madly in love with my chickens. I can't help it. I love the sounds they make when they are telling me that I have forgotten to give them their own portion of cucumber. I love the way they look at you expectantly when you walk through the gate, hoping you have a taste treat in your hand. I love the way they move, the way they...hey, yes, dammit, I am revealing my love of chickens. Um, you may ask...how did this happen?

Well...when Jeff and I first moved to the countryside our vet asked if we would get chickens. He told us that they were really amusing, fun to watch, and were one of his favorite kinds of animal. I had never really thought of it that way, but, okay.

There was a pen next to the pump house and we thought that, yeah, maybe we would EVENTUALLY get chickens. I set down the law and said NO CHICKENS for the first year. We used that area for a dog pen (yes, vain attempts to rein in our two wild dogs!) and then I really just forgot about it...until...a friend said she was moving and couldn't take her flock with her. Mind you, this was a whole flock, not just a couple of hens.

Jeff didn't want the roosters and then we learned that the roosters went with the deal, so, we took them all on. As stated in an earlier blog, the flock had 4 roosters, and, we thought, 13 hens. I went into full scale info gathering. I ordered 4 chicken books, started an informal tour of chicken coops and looked at every website I could find on chickens, some of which I still look at. From those books I started to design of the chicken coop. Jeff, in the meantime, started looking at storage shed plans on the internet and we came up with a structure sturdier than our own home! (That really isn't saying much 'cause this place is a little on the rickety side!) We had a date of July 3rd that we were working towards and as time was running out, we started to get a little anxious.

I would have to say Andrew was an angel sent to us from Oregon...okay, I will...he WAS an angel that stumbled into our yard one day. He was house sitting for neighbors and was, I think, bored. Turns out that Andrew was also a carpenter! Or studied to be a carpenter...let's just say he had a little more training than we did. Andrew, in 3 days, logged many hours of work and was a total delight to work with. In the very last days of getting the coop ready, we were working from 8 in the morning until 10 at night with flood lights!

We wanted to make sure both the pen and the coop were secure from predators. That took many more hours than I ever imagined. We pulled chicken wire over the tops of the pen and then I wove fine wire to connect all of it. We have already shut out a rat and a very large hawk. I can't say we knew what we were getting into building it, and I most certainly had no idea how I would soon adore having chickens.

<>Until the morning we went to fetch the chickens, I had never touched a live one. Being a chef in a former life, I have touched plenty of dead ones. To this day, when I pick up a chicken, I can't help but think...ah...there is the drumstick… With a lot of help we managed to get the chickens into a variety of containers, mainly milk crates turned upside down over them and then something slid underneath until they were set on the bed of the truck.

We got them home, finished securing the pen, and by then it was nightfall, the time when all good chickens go into a deep sleep "coma". Boy, are they easy to pick up or touch at night. They don't squawk or fuss at you. They are pretty darn easy to deal with. The chickens were all perching with one another, huddled next to one another to keep warm. It is very tender how they will snuggle with their almost mortal daytime enemy.

We have set up the enclosure in such a way that they can come and go into the chicken coop and the pen. At night they all head to bed about 60-90 minutes before sunset. They all have their specific place in the coop on their perches, and they all have their sleeping buddies. It is the same pattern every night.

I find myself spending as much time as I can with them. I will take a chair, a book and my cell phone out to the pen and just hang out. I take the cell phone 'cause so many people just giggle or laugh when they hear the chickens in the background. I really don't know what it is about chickens that so captures peoples imaginations. My Dad wants to come up here from San Diego to see the chickens. A good friend of mine in town has told many people about the first time I had to take a chicken to the vet ...and is convinced that I told her that I had the chicken on my lap while driving 30 minutes to a vet that specializes in chickens.

Sitting with the chickens is one of the most calming things I do in a day. With 27 little beings to watch, there is always something to see. There is Queen Elizabeth: she was sick and is now much better after we have given her pills twice a day for 2 weeks! There are the other 2 large girls: Eleanor and Martha. To kind of explain the names, we got the chickens on July 3rd, hence the president's wife’s names. But let me tell you, you don't want to mess around with Eleanor. She is not to be trifled with. She casts her gaze upon you ...and you know not to cross her. Martha, on the other hand, is one of our steady and reliable egg layers.

I could write for days and not be able to fully explain how fun, unique, challenging, rewarding and pretty wonderful to have these chickens. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I feed them and they feed me. The food cycle/chain is pretty darn close. Also, with all of the ages of the birds (baby chick to OLD!) there are so many things to observe with their behavior. Everyday something new happens.

Today, for example, I took out an old cantaloupe that we had grown but not gotten around to eating to give to the chickens. I cut it up into chunks and tossed it into the pen. JEEZ...I thought that they liked cucumbers and tomatoes, but NOTHING in comparison to cantaloupe. The bigger hens were grabbing the nearest chunks and running across the pen with the melon in their beak, with the other birds screeching and running behind trying to snatch it away. I was just tickled to see their behavior. They delight me!

I am grateful to the chickens for many things (eggs for one) but I will be forever grateful to this flock for getting me back to writing. Bless you, Eastside Road chickens!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Mama Roux and Grace

About 8 weeks ago we inherited an existing flock of chickens. It is comprised of a variety of chickens (Americaunas, Bantams, and a Belgian Boot-legged Bantam) along with 4 roosters. We THOUGHT we were just getting 3...but, there were 4! The Americaunas (3) are big hens that lay big eggs that will produce big birds and lots of little bantam hens (6) that lay little eggs that will produce little birds. We would prefer to have bigger eggs because all of Jeff's recipes (and mine) have been calculated using large eggs.

While we were out of town on vacation, the house sitter didn't collect all of the freshly laid eggs out of the chicken coop. It seems that Mama Roux (a bantam hen) and Martha (an Americauna hen that lays pastel green/blue eggs) were sharing a nesting box. When we got home there were 4 pastel eggs and 4 little white eggs. We removed the white eggs...not quite sure what we were going to do with them...but decided to let Mama Roux hatch the other green eggs. We removed the little eggs, set them in a basket outside the coop...and the dogs stole them and ate them!!! That was a first!!! Jeff thought that the dogs hid the eggs...an early Easter?...but then we later saw evidence of little shells in the lawn in their...well...anyway, you know what...

We let Mama Roux sit on the eggs/the clutch thinking that maybe a couple of the eggs were fertile and we would have a few more hens. Well, seems that Martha liked laying her eggs in Mama Roux's box and we went out the next day to find 5 eggs. Jeff marked each of them with an X so we could tell when a new one appeared, but then we discovered that Mama Roux turned the eggs so many times a day that it rubbed off all of the markings!

In the end, Martha had laid 7 more eggs, totaling 12 by the time Mama Roux hatched her one and only little chick (that is one of Martha's and will soon be bigger than Mama!) My father requested we name the chick Grace, after the Pirate Queen of Ireland. Well...it is now named Grace, and if it is a boy, it will be Grayson!

Reek: Working Dog

This darling little dog, Reek, was a resident at the farm we stayed at in Kenmare, Ireland. He is a rat terrior and just the kind of dog my friend Muff has always wanted. This picture is for her!

Reek has a talent of finding the calves the mamas have hidden in the high grasses after having given birth. The farmer needs to tag them, innoculate them and, in general, keep an eye on them to make sure they are healthy, making Reek's help invaluable. Dogs at work!!!

My first Blog!!!

This is my very first blog on my very first blog site!

This would not have been possible without the generous help of my dear friend and web mentor, Ramon Urenia! Without him I would be just reading others blog and playing with my chickens instead of preparing this site so I can begin posting "the Chicken Chronicles"!

Please take a peek at this site in the future for more blog posts, pictures, recipes...and anything else I can think of!

Wish me luck!