freer ranging chickens

I am fairly certain, over the seemingly short time of this blog’s existence, that it has become quite apparent that I am a recovering Type A personality. I fight the need to have everything “just so” on a daily basis. I tended to spend hours mapping out any given action, as well as all its possible outcomes. Up until becoming the mother of two (because really, let’s be honest, now it’s just about surviving the day) I was notorious for being over prepared. “Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad” you say? Well here’s an example, our wedding had an itinerary, which was broken down by the hour for the entire day, so everyone knew where they were suppose to be and when. Kevin also had a list of all the luggage and other bits he was supposed to deliver to the hotel we would be staying in the night of the wedding. To answer the questions I know you are dying to ask, yes, Kevin’s family still makes fun of me for it and yes, Kevin still forgot a piece of our luggage which we had to drive back and retrieve before leaving for our honeymoon.

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Anyway, I am sure you are wondering what this all has to do with our chickens. Well, you see, when we initially ordered the laying hens Type A me ran through all the scenarios. They mostly consisted of buying 40 hens, them not imprinting on the coop and never coming home the first night and in my mind every coyote, fox and weasel in the area would be stopping by daily for a snack. We bought movable electronet poultry fence, Kevin built a huge chicken coop, which sits two feet off the ground and on wheels with car jacks attached to each corner to aid in stability when parked, allowing us to move it to new grass within our fenced in pastures when needed. We religiously tucked them all in at night, which at the beginning often meant catching one or two with Kevin’s bird catchin’ net, or what most normal people would call a pool skimmer. Nothing could dig into the coop, most likely nothing was going to traverse two layers of electric fencing to have chicken for dinner, however, we also felt like we were constantly moving a gigantic, and what turned out to be cumbersome, chicken tractor and chasing chickens indoors every night.

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Fast forward to this spring and we had a few dozen chickens who had entered winter laying over two dozen eggs a day and were now limping along with only a few eggs daily, even though the daylight hours were increasing (hum, maybe I should refrain from writing posts like this one and unwittingly dooming us.) They had plenty of food and water, a freshly cleaned out and re-bedded house. No one looked sick, there was no predator pressure and our two roosters were doing an excellent job of gathering everyone up at dusk and tucking them into bed for us. There was no reason for them not to be laying dozens of eggs a day and they all looked a little extra ruffled and seemed to be scuffling with each other a little bit more than usual. One day while preparing dinner and looking out our kitchen window, which has a view of our front pastures, I witnessed our one and only Brahma hen running frantically from one end of their fenced in area to the other, worm dangling from her beak and about 25 other chickens chasing after her. What followed was a scuffle, the Brahma frantically swallowing her snack, some random pecking and kicking and a bunch of chickens retreating to either under or into the coop.

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I got to wondering if they were just acting up and fighting with each other because they didn’t have enough space to wander in. They seemed to be acting like siblings who had been stuck inside for too long with too much energy and no way to release it and, in turn, decided to take it out on one another. The worm incident seemed to be that classic fight of “I want what she has and even though there are 20 other toys, I mean worms, on the ground no other than her’s will do!” So despite my concern, and control issues, we decided to take down their fence, trust that the boys would get everyone in at night and let them range as free as it gets.

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Almost immediately egg production steadily started to increase, everyone started to look sleeker and shinier and fighting reverted back to minor squabbles only once in a while. As of today, no one has ventured out of the pasture that the coop happens to be parked in, everyone marches into bed at dusk and we even witnessed our Speckled Sussex rooster, Brewster, calling everyone in when a particularly bad storm was blowing in.* Now we can roll the chicken tractor into a larger pasture and not have to move it within the week. Best of all, we no longer have to tangle with the electronet fencing every few days.

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I am shocked at how happy and content they all seem to be now and even though they have the whole world opened up to them they seem satisfied with taking just a little bit more space then they previously had and have shown no need to wander too far from home. Ah Ha! Another unlikely lesson in parenting learned thanks to farm life, I’ll be sure to file that one away for later. All of this did get me thinking, if my well-loved chickens were unhappy with just a quarter acre of space versus the full acre (and no fences) they have now, what do those poor chickens, who are crammed into hot huts with no windows, not to mention zero access to fresh grass to graze upon, feel like? Well, I suppose there in lies the truth of it all, this is the reason we make the sacrifices we do, to live this back to the land life of ours…we were simply in search of a happy egg.

* This is what happens when the kids are in charge of naming and the oldest is going through a “everything I say must rhyme” stage. Also, our Americauna rooster is named Wooster. Just wait until you find out what they named the new calf.

spring’s lesson

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Signs of new life here on the homestead have been abundant. Stepping outside this past month you were immediately inundated by her fragrances which hung even heavier in the air thanks to a many days of hot steamy weather. Our Cortland apple tree, the one we so fondly wassailed to back in January, was blanketed in hundreds of these beautiful pale pink blossoms and judging by the amount of pollinators dive bombing my head while I snapped these pictures I am hopeful that come fall she well be laden with almost as many sweet, red fruits .

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Last year’s odd spring weather did not allow us to enjoy the true beauty of all the flowering bushes of a home that was new to us. This year, however, the lilacs and other flowering things were spectacular and we have enjoyed the surprise of hues splashed about the property.

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Every night, right before dusk, a pair of geese guides their gaggle of goslings to our front pond for swimming lessons. While I was out taking photos the other night I got to see them all hop in, do a lap around the perimeter, mom and dad jumped up onto the bank and then waited patiently as their little ones struggle to do the same. On this particular evening all but one managed to climb out and started to follow their parents back to the tree line. I watched as the last gosling flapped and fluttered, trying its hardest to scale the bank and reach dry land. I looked at the mother and father who seemed to pay no mind as they continued on their way and then back to the gosling who refused to give up. Eventually one of the pair (I chose to think it the mother) did stop and waddle back toward its baby but only to a closer proximity, not to help or solve the gosling’s problem. Patiently the goose waited with no evidence of worry or concern (unlike me who was seriously becoming nervous that the gosling would never make its way out) until the little one was able to make that one big enough leap to stay out of the water and find its way to the top. Away they waddled, the little one working its tiny legs to catch up with the rest of the family who had all stopped and waited a little further ahead.

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Some days I am the mama goose, reminding myself that I need to let my babies make their own way, while I watch (seemingly full of calm) while they try and fail and try again. Other days, I am the gosling, feeling like no matter what I do and how I try I can’t make any headway; every step forward results in two steps back, ending with a great big splash into the water I had just previously escaped. Nothing, however, beats that confidence gained, both by mother and child alike, when success is achieved, obstacles are scaled and small steps forward or, perhaps in some cases giant leaps, are taken. It’s so hard to sit quietly and wait, it’s often too difficult to keep getting up to try again. But summer is coming, there are things to be taught, lessons to be learned, experiences to be had and things to be accomplished. There is a growing garden to be tended, newest additions to train, projects to be started…and finished. Luckily, I have a great big brood that I get the privilege to watch over, who will wait for me to get it right and we will swim the perimeter, always together.