Sunday, April 29, 2012

Being a Mama Hen...

So... mama hen update.  Three of my little reds had to stay isolated.  The other four were escape artists so- they are fine and back in with the other hens.  I brought them up to the kitchen where I could keep a closer eye on them.

One of my little guys, or gals I should say, was obviously worse than the others.  The isolated three were completely uninterested in food or water and two huddled close to the light for warmth... the third, could barely stand and when I picked it up, it wouldn't hold up it's head.  I'm not accustomed to animal death.  We very recently had to put our 13 year old beagle to sleep.  It was a kind decision... she was struggling and becoming less herself every day... it was merciful to let her go- sad and full of grief, but a decision of compassion for our companion... but these little chicks... I didn't know the protocol for these little lives.   I texted my husband.  I didn't want to make this decision on my own.  I was scared I was going to have to put this chick "out of it's misery".  I know that is part of the homesteading life... but it's a part I'm not ready for.   I offered to my husband that I could take the coward's way out... I could just dig a grave for the chick and essentially bury it alive... thankfully he thought that was a terrible idea.  I did too, but I really didn't want to take any other drastic measures.   So I did what other homesteaders in history haven't had the luxury of -- I started googling.  One chicken owner suggested yogurt and electrolytes.  I didn't have electrolytes, but I did have yogurt... so I started giving dropper-fuls of a watered down yogurt mix to each of the three baby chicks.  They all seemed to perk up a bit by the mid-morning, at least two of them starting to show interest in food and water.    By that evening, after hourly servings of water and yogurt and a bit of chick vitamin drops I picked up at the feed store,  one of the chicks was back to normal... tweeting and trying to fly out of the isolation brooder.   I moved her out of isolation and remained the bedside nurse to the final two.   That night, before I went to bed I fed the chicks agains and while one had seemed to learn to learn how to take the dropper, the other seemed to turn its head away from the nourishment and I would have to almost force it's beak open to take the dropper.   That night I awoke to what seemed like echoing-ly loud chirping.  I went downstairs to find the healthier of the two chicks standing by itself in the middle of my kitchen.  It didn't try to run when I came to it... I know it didn't, but in my half-sleep haze, I couldn't have sworn it held it's little wings up to me like a child raises it's arms when it wants to be picked up!  Sweet little chick burrowed down into my hands, and that's when I saw the other little chick, curled up in the corner of the brooder, with no movement.

There's a guilt and sadness in losing an animal you've tried to save.  I don't have the capacity to be a vet or doctor.... that would eat me up.  I remain frustrated by the loss, but understand that it is part of life... and part of this farm living we are embracing.   I am happy to report that after another 24 hours of isolation, our other chick is thriving and back in with the other chicks.  After all the one-on-one care though, and much to my oldest son's glee, we are keeping all of the red pullets for hens... taking our laying hens up to 12 and our broilers down to 6.   We are pleased as well with our little brood.  Now, to get that coop finished and get these chickens outside where they belong!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Adventures in chasing chickens...

Sweet little baby chicks.   Little balls of yellow fuzzy goodness... they don't stay that way long.  Chickens, I'm learning have a really ugly awkward teenage phase... it starts with random wing feathers starting to grow within the first week and soon that little yellow peep starts growing scary looking chicken legs and the cuteness fades.   Don't get me wrong!  I LOVE my chicks... in fact, I feel very protective and hover-y over them.  I'm constantly coo-ing over them and talking to them like infants.   I thought it would be cute to name them, but since they are all the same breed and I'm a complete chicken novice... there's not really a good way to tell them apart and thus utilize the well thought out name.   We do have one chick,  whose legs are of a greenish tint... so my middle boy, who is almost as mother hen-like as I, has started calling her "PeeWee".  I believe that one will stick.

On kind-of-a-whim... Easter weekend, walked out of our local Tractor Supply store with six White Rock pullets.  Just a couple days old and sweet as can be.  We had talked about wanting chickens for quite some time and this was a perfect opportunity.  We had no coop built, but there was time for that... so we bought a chicken book, then the chicks and the feed and gear and off we went!!  Our very first farm animal.   Well, technically, we have two dogs and a cat... (those don't count) and we live on my father-in-law's farm, on which there are cattle... but we have very little to do with the cattle on a daily basis.  My father-in-law tends to them in every way... only occasionally do we get called in to help.

Once, a couple years ago, my father and mother in law went on a small trip... and my husband was working... so who got to round up the cattle?  This girl.  Now, before you get "City Slicker" horseback-and-denim dreams in your head of what this looked like... for me this meant hopping in our jeep, driving a couple fields over and driving around the field honking the horn and getting the cows to go back into another field where they belonged for the night.  It was no less exhilarating than a full on cattle drive for me, and marked one of those "I NEVER thought I would do this" moments in my life.

Back to the chicks... these six sweet chicks are going to be our laying hens.  We decided we would get a few broiler chicks as well and try that part of chicken raising as well... we like a challenge.  So back to the tractor supply store we went and bought 14 more chicks.  20 in total--  10 we would keep for broilers, and 10 for laying hens.   Or so we thought...

After a small and mostly gentle incident with the dog, one of our projected laying hens hurt it's leg and became a broiler chick.  We moved one of the red chicks over to take it's place.   The following week we noticed that some of the red pullets weren't thriving as well as the others.  The next morning, when I went to check on them, one of the sweet frail red pullets had  taken a turn for the worse and was laying on it's side barely moving and breathing very shallow.  I moved all of the chicks out of the brooder and took the little one outside... sitting on my back stoop with this tiny little bird, the life went out of it.   I felt extremely guilty and overwhelmingly sad... my first chick lost. And in my hands, no less.  I buried the little chick and went back in to check the others and get them back into the cleaned brooder... when I noticed my chick count was down to 7... I panicked.  I was so focused on the dying chick when I moved them out of the brooder that I didn't count.  We had recently moved the chick brooders down to the basement from the kitchen (only so much chicken smell one can take in the kitchen!) and so I began the basement hunt for two missing chicks... one red chick was hiding under a table and was easily cornered and caught.  But that left one larger white rock to find... and I had no clue where she had gone.  10 minutes of searching went by and I was completely worried now that something terrible had happened.  As I went to get my phone, movement by the boys toy box on the opposite side of the room caught my eye... and that chick was on the move!!  Bobbing and weaving through boxes and storage, that chick was enjoying her new found freedom.  She finally made her mistake when she underestimated her own growing size and got wedged between two boxes, but I learned one lesson- don't underestimate chickens with a goal.

Over all, quite a ride so far.  Never thought I would be having a chicken chase in my basement... but here we are.   I have separated the red pullets... maybe on their own they can thrive better without the bigger hens taking all of their food and water... I'm on the watch.  Mama hen through and through...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The beginning...

So... starting a blog...about our family as we transition into homesteading.... where to actually begin...

My husband and I met in college.  He was about to graduate and I was only a couple semesters in to a degree I couldn't actually decide on.   We fell in love, and another year and half later, we were married and committed to our first ministry in the Chicago suburbs.  While we were much closer physically to where I was born and raised in the Northern mid-west, we were far from where he grew up in more ways than just distance.  My husband was raised in the heart of the Bluegrass... the son of generations of farmers.   In 2007, we decided it was time for my husband to head to seminary to achieve his Masters degree and that led us back to Kentucky and back to the farm he knew so well.  We were blessed with the gift of being able to build a house within view of the house my husband lived in when he was born.

Now, looking just weeks away at his upcoming graduation and an open horizon of future ahead of us... we have started looking for ways to turn this home we have established into our homestead.   Along with our three little boys, we seek to put aside some of our creature comforts in search of something purer... something more simple.  To re-engage some of the legacy that the generations before us have left behind.   Getting back to the land, raising our little farm and family together and learning to respect both.

This won't be the first journal ever kept of this type of lifestyle change, I pull inspiration from books and blogs all over the place on this homesteading journey.  I likely won't always be full of eloquent words to describe what it's like to clean out the chicken coop... but I want to record it.  To store it all up in my heart.  And, I want to share it.  I don't know if anyone will ever read this... but if anything I can share can inspire others,  then I want to give that opportunity.

So there it is... welcome.