Baby Spiders and Chicken Poop

This morning, well before I was sufficiently caffeinated to take on the day, I accomplished one of our big fall chores: deep cleaning the chicken coop and run.

20140920. The biannual massive coop cleaning.Chickens, you ask? We have chickens? Oh, right! We DO have chickens. What with all the all-baby-all-the-time lately, I can understand how you forgot about our five backyard dwellers and purveyors of fine eggs.

20140920. Boo dust bathing.

Raggedy, molting, super-layer Boo.

The girls are still alive and kicking, although I realized the other day they are starting to get a little, well, OLD. At least in terms of productive layers. We’ve had no problem with egg shortages yet, but the girls were born spring/summer of 2012. Two and a half years old, all of them!

20140920. Little Red and Dino Puppy, temporarily friends.

The only time Little Red willingly gets this close to Dino Puppy, who is a total bully.

Here are a selection of sentences I uttered to my husband before 10 am. Some weekends are just… like this:

  • “I have chicken poop all over me.”
  • “There’s some oregano in the front walk.”
  • “Don’t forget about the baby spiders.”
  • “There are three mosquitoes on Willem’s head.”
  • “I didn’t really scrub it. I just powerwashed it and poured vinegar all over.”

Speaking of babies (did someone mention babies?), Willem is now seven months old!
20140918. Seven months.

And he’s going to be a little lamb for his first Halloween:
20140915. Little lambie's first Halloween costume.P.S. I almost forgot about the baby spiders! Upon removing the wheelbarrow from its hanger on the wall, I discovered two sweet spider eggs hanging out, one of which had hatched. Hundreds of baby spiders smaller than poppy seeds were moving oh so silently around their little web. And by “sweet” spider eggs, I mean “terrifying.” And by “silently,” I mean “with great malevolance.” Spiders? I love them in theory, but not so much in practice. Or hatching in my garage.

Sad Seedling Resuscitation

SEEDLING AND GARDEN RESUSCITATION
Back on February 1, knowing I was about to give birth ANY DAY NOW, I started all of our seedlings. I had an awesome spread of seeds, procured from Seed Savers Exchange, thanks to a gift card given to me by my in-laws for Christmas (great gift!). Thanks to the beauty and joy that is bringing a new being into the world, however, we ended up with our own little experiment in survival of the fittest going under the grow lights in the basement.

Only the strong survive!

Thankfully, the flat of greens did really well and went into the ground last weekend. That left two trays of raggedy tomatoes, miniaturized peppers, suspended animation ground cherries, a few spindly onions, a couple of yellowed cucumbers… and not much else. And those guys were hanging on by a thread, still eking out the last of the nutrients from the peat pods I had started them in.

Luckily, Willem loves his morning nap in his carrier, giving me a chance yesterday to repot all of the seedlings AND even plant a few more pots with fresh seeds, just in case I get some more growth in time for this season. I was especially sad that the arugula, peppers, and cucumbers did so poorly. I really wanted some lovely spicy arugula in my salads this spring; more seeds were planted in pots and directly in the ground. ARUGULA OR BUST!

20140412. Willem and me repotting seedlings.

20140412. Sad little onions.

This morning during Willem’s morning tandem nap, we planted more seeds in the garden – beets, arugula, and chard mixed in among the greens. The kale is looking rad, and the greens are thriving to varying degrees. Which reminds me – I need to water those seeds!

NO RATS ALLOWED!
In other news, Chris has embarked on an ambitious project this beautiful weekend to rid our coop of burrowing rodents (aka RATS), which have excavated extensive tunnels underneath our coop to get at our messy chickens’ dropped food throughout this polar vortex winter. Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s got going on so far; more details to come!

20140412. Rat abatement plan, step one: dig a trench.

And check out our sexy new wood rack, built by Chris. He’s the best.
20140412. New wood rack, Chris' work implements for the weekend.

AND… BABIES!!!
Finally, in other OTHER news, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, hey, I really like our baby. Here’s our nightly bedtime wind down ritual:
20140411. Bedtime routine.

20140413. Willem, 7 weeks.

Our Version of “Keeping Up With the Joneses”

Yesterday, we woke to the dulcet tones of saws and hammers emanating from the neighbor’s backyard. It turns out they are rebuilding their chicken coop.

Chris’ response? “If their new coop is cooler than ours, I’m going to need to rebuild ours.” He’s only partly joking; he’s been dreaming of building something along these lines since more or less the day after we got our coop.

I love that our version of “keeping up with the Joneses” has nothing to do with having an in-ground pool or super lush green grass or a new SUV. I also love that our next door neighbors have chickens, too. Sometimes I swear our groups of chickens are talking to each other through the fence.

Here’s our coop:
20121221. I have a remarkably steady hand. The chickens' first snow.

Also, OMG, LOOK AT BABY BEAKER!
20120413. Giant Beaker.

Know Your Chicken

After the latest round of temperatures in the negatives, a sunny 25 at lunch time today felt downright balmy. I took the opportunity to waddle myself out to the coop, armed with my pitchfork, and clean up a bit. The shavings needed turning and refreshing, the nesting boxes needed some sprucing, and the girls needed some fresh hay.

It appears they are just as stir crazy as I am. When they bum rushed me as I opened the door, I decided to let them explore the snowy yard for a bit while I worked.

Most of them were pretty okay with the snow. Then there was Dino Puppy. She flew about 10 yards and then, come hell or cracked corn, would not budge. She just hunkered down in the snow like she was in a cozy, quiet nesting box. I think she was actually completely freaked out. I finally had to pick her up and carry her back to the run.

All of this brings us back to the subject of this post and the following video. I know my chicken. You’ve got to know your chicken!

P.S. How have I never posted this amazing song here?

Winter Blast and Chicken Related Woes

Generally, chickens do pretty well in the winter. Our girls will take sunny and 20 degrees over humid and 95 degrees any day. But when it starts dipping down into the teens and lower, well, the pressure on the chicken rearers gets to be a tad greater.

A small sampling of recent and upcoming winter chicken rearing joys:

  • On the new chicken waterer warmer (and our love/hate relationship): Don’t get me wrong – I love that this thing holds a lot of water and stays unfrozen down to about the high single digits. It’s reliable so far, and it keeps me from having to check the water (and refill it) multiple times a day. However, every time I fill the damn thing – and I mean EVERY time – I end up dumping about three gallons of water on my shoes at least twice. Seriously, the last two times I filled it, it took me three tries. It’s a problem.
  • On single-degree mornings and frozen doors: Yesterday on the second attempt to fill the water (and second dumping of water on my shoes in 4-degree temperatures), I managed to dump the water all over the doorway to the coop. Can you guess what that means? The freaking door is now frozen freaking shut.
  • So… at some point today I get to unstick the door so I can gain easier access to the food, water, and (most importantly) the extension cord.
  • Why the extension cord? Tomorrow, we are going to see about 10 more inches of snow, followed by a deep freeze. We’re talking by (tell me why, I don’t like) Monday, our high is going to be -7 degrees, and our low -18 degrees. The extension cord will allow us to leave a light on for the girls in the coop all day and all night until the deep freeze breaks, keeping it just warm enough to be comfortable.

Will we have five chickens sleeping under a heat lamp in our garage before Monday is through? Quite possibly. If we do, there will be pictures, fear not.

20130121. Wind chills of -10 to -20 call for extreme measures.

Last year’s winter setup – I’ve busted out the paneling again to ward against biting winds and snowdrifts.

 

The Haps: Backyard Photo Shoots, Doggie Classes, and a Riot of Green

BACKYARD PHOTO SHOOTS:

Our chickens have officially experienced their first ever real photo shoot. We’re talking big reflective flashes on stands, multiple lenses, and a photographer lying in the muddy grass, all Austin Powers style (“Yes! Yes! NO! NO! NO!”).

Indianapolis Monthly, which is a pretty great magazine (we used to subscribe to it but started getting overwhelmed by the piles of magazines everywhere we looked), is doing an article on backyard chickens in their April edition, and they decided they wanted to meet us. What an honor!

I just hope the photog (that’s what they call them in the biz, right?) got at least one or two decent shots. It has been gray and brown and muddy and generally very uninspiring in the backyard lately, and the girls… well, they look like their surroundings: muddy and damp and brown instead of bright and shiny and pretty.

DOGGIE CLASSES:

In other menagerie-related news, our sweet puppy turned seven months old yesterday – when did she get so big?! Our big girl also got her official doggie diploma. I’m so proud I could cry.

20130302. Birdie graduates!

20130302. Birdie's repertoire.

Birdie’s repertoire… sort of. She’s really good at some things, not so good at others. Particularly if other people, dogs, cars, or squirrels are involved.

A RIOT OF GREEN:

Thankfully, although the gray outside won’t seem to lift, we have a riot of green in our basement. The only regret I have this year is that our seedlings are hidden away, and I can’t appreciate them all day, every day. It brings me a bit of peace (and a good dose of Vitamin D), though, to visit them.

20130302. Riot of green.What does your weekend look like?

Backyard Manifest Destiny

Manifest destiny was the belief widely held by Americans in the 19th century that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. I am becoming convinced that the same can be applied to chickens and our backyard. Our backyard is the wild west, just waiting to be settled and conquered. Our chickens are the settlers/conquerers.

How have we made it to this point? Here’s the recap: we purchase a coop on wheels, thinking we can move it all over the yard. The coop turns out to be nearly too heavy for one person to move with super wimpy wheels that probably won’t last a season of moving it around our lumpy yard anyway. Still, all seems well – until we go on vacation and three of our four chickens cook in the heat of their attached run. We vow to free range the chickens and look for ways to provide them with more cover. Then we have a hawk run-in AND a chicken escape in the span of two days.

The latest revised plan, then, is to give the girls as much free range time as we can, provided we are physically with them, and make their run able to sustain them happily otherwise. We also wanted the run to be secure so we can someday go on a weekend trip somewhere. Wouldn’t that be amazing? A trip! Away from the house! For more than an afternoon!

We started with this lovely little coop.

20120329. Coop and yard.

The coop, pre-chicken.

After yesterday and Chris’ mad know-how and building skillz, we have this brilliant piece of backyard manifest destiny!

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

Laying out the extended floor. We’ve added 32 square feet of space to their run.

20120908. Extending the chicken run - chicken view.

While Chris continues to attach the sides and roof, I do the VERY important work of documenting the view.

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

All done! Look at that sexy door. We also filled up the new section with dirt and grass clippings to encourage the girls to scratch for bugs and to help level the floor a bit as it sifts down through the wire.

20120908. Beaker and Dino Puppy explore.

Dino Puppy and Beaker, the Easter Eggers, take a stroll.

20120908. "If I can't see you, you can't see me."

Construction can be hard on a chicken. I call this one, “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you.”

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

The finished product!

20120908. 4/5 of the chickens.

I think they’ll like it (also, look how GIANT Edgar, the Australorp, has gotten! And how little Little Red still is).

All this… and can you believe we’re STILL waiting for our first egg?! Jeez, chickens.

A Peaceable Kingdom?

I have a new term for the weather we’ve been experiencing the last several days: chicken weather. It has been fantastic weather to be a chicken – a few gigantic, air-snapping, earth-shaking storms have blown through, leaving in their wake new green grasses poking through the brown, cool temperatures, and breezy blue skies that make me think of fall.

It’s good human weather, too. I feel a certain weight lifted off my shoulders – today, at least, I don’t have to worry about our sick chickens also being incredibly heat stressed. I don’t need to make them ice water baths all day or set up the fans or try to get them to eat frozen blueberries. Today, they can peck happily about the backyard, and I can take it a little easier than I have since the beginning of July.

Today also marks me and Chris’ two-year anniversary of our first date. What was our first date, you ask? Lying in a portable hammock on the edge of a farmer’s field in Martinsville, IN, watching the Perseid meteor showers and drinking wine. Pretty epic, right? Two years later, we have a house, two cats, five chickens, and so SO many plans. Life – it is good!

In honor of keeping things simple and low stress, let’s go on a pictorial tour of what chicken weather means at the Space-Farm, shall we?

20120804. Cicada shell and... cicada.

Cicada (not an alien, I promise) and cicada shell on a basil plant.

20120804. Beaker in ecstasy.

Before we could move the coop to its permanent location, the chickens took the chance to have a good bath. Here’s Beaker in ecstasy dust bathing in the dirt.

The chickens were VERY helpful in messing up my beautifully flattened, perfect foundation for the new permanent coop location. We refuse to move that dang coop ever again! They were in such heaven I probably couldn’t have stopped them even if I had had the heart to do so.

And now on to a few of the happy chickens:

20120808. Little Red.

Little Red is growing, although it’s hard to tell.

20120808. Oh, HI THERE.

Oh, HI. I didn’t see you there… You creep.

20120808. Mauled by Easter Eggers.

Near-nightly mauling by the Easter Eggers.

20120812. Honey bees on fennel flowers.

Honey bees and fennel.

20120812. Two-year anniversary of our first date! This was right as Chris was saying, "Do I really have to hold the cake?"

He didn’t like it, but he humored me and let me take this picture. Happy anniversary, boyfriend!

20120812. Honeyed hot peppers and Thomas Jefferson.

The prettiest honeyed hot peppers I have ever made… and Thomas Jefferson.

20120811. Mutant turnips!

It might be time to harvest some of the turnips. GIANTS!

20120811. Sunflower dreams.Happy chicken weather to all, and to all a good night!

My Chicks Are Bigger Than Your Chicks

I can’t tell you how many times in a given month I sing verses of the following song to myself, only with different words. If you would like to step for a moment into the brain of me, just listen to this song, then start mentally creating your own lyrics the next time you’re in the shower, mowing the lawn, baking bread, clipping your finger nails… You get the idea. And you’re welcome.

The verse I was singing in my head about an hour ago: “My chicks are bigger than your chicks, they’ve got more scratch than a dance club DJ, sing it.” I give you Mclusky, “To Hell with Good Intentions.”

Did I only post today in order to share one of my favorite bands with you? No, I didn’t. I actually wanted to mark this day for future reference as THE DAY WE REMOVED THE BROODER FROM THE GARAGE. That’s right – the chicks, who will be seven weeks old tomorrow, are now tenting it in the backyard. Given the projected warmer temperatures this coming week, the chickens have been officially moved to the coop, and I dumped the extremely poopy pine shavings into the composter. No more chicken-stank garage!

Other things of note:

    • The chicks love slightly overripe clementines, and the beginning stages of waddles are showing up at the lower edges of their mouths.
    • They seem to be digging life al fresco.

20120429. The chickens move outside for good.

    • We built a fence today for the season so the chickens can peruse the yard (under our supervision at this point).

20120429. We put up a fence to keep the chicken out of the garden.

    • The outdoor plants are doing marvelously.

2120429. Early plants.

        • Bean does not like feeling left out. Single tear.

20120429. Bean, forever alone.

  • And completely unrelated to the rest of this post, here is a glowing drink I enjoyed at Epcot Center Friday night. Glowing drinks at Disney World = the epitome of magic, I think. I left for three days, and I swear the chickens turned into giants.

20120427. My glowing drink. Cheers, Epcot!

Tour de Coop – Space-Farm

We have not shared many pictures of the coop yet, so here goes. And because it’s a lazy Sunday morning, I’ll keep the words to a minimum.

Basic info:

  • We purchased the coop from Mark Mann of Mann Made Products (mannmadeproducts@hotmail.com). This same model is being used for the Project Poultry initiative of Nap Town Chickens.
  • The coop will house four chickens.
  • The attached run allows for easier chicken keeping. We plan to let the chickens roam the yard as often as possible, but they’d also be fine in the run.
  • The bottom of the run is fenced to thwart digging predators.
  • The wheels allow the coop to be moved around the yard, hopefully sparing total turf annihilation. I can move it myself, but not easily. Two people recommended.
Chicken Coop

The coop has an attached run for the chickens and wheels for mobility. The coop is fairly heavy, so moving it is not trivial…even with the wheels.

Chicken Coop

Here you can see the chicken’s access door to the run.

Chicken Coop

I added a window to the side opposite the human door.

Chicken Coop

This side contains the nest boxes. The roof is hinged and lifts for easy egg collection.

Chicken Coop

Close up of the coop window.

Chicken Coop

Two roosting bars inside the coop.

Chicken Coop

Chicken cam

Chicken Coop

The hopefully raccoon-proof coop latch.

Chicken Coop

Another view of the latch.

The chicks will be three weeks old tomorrow, which means they should be moving into their new digs in another two to three weeks. We’re in the home stretch!