Tag Archives: chickens

Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal

I love raccoons.

I grew up in the country, and just like every other average American kid I had my share of pets.  There were dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, squirrels, a leopard gecko named Yoda, and more dogs and cats.

Oh, yeah, and raccoons.

raccoon-garage

Don’t all kids have raccoons?  They’re absolutely awesome, so all kids should have them.  They purr a lot like cats, and are much more social.  Cats are jerks, and only care about you when they want to.  I don’t remember our raccoons ever walking just out of arms length, then sitting down to mock us while we stretched out to try to pet them.

I think my dad isn't smiling because he's super embarrassed by how short jean shorts were in the 80's.

I think my dad isn’t smiling because he’s super embarrassed by how short jean shorts were in the 80’s.

I don’t remember the timeline, but I had pet raccoons at several different points in my childhood.  At one time, we had four that were fairly young.  They were in a cage that my dad built, and we’d have to move the cage every once in a while because they would start digging their way out.  One morning, though, they were gone. My mom said that she watched the mommy or daddy raccoon come several mornings to try to dig them out, and she was watching the day that they got away.  She said she felt so sorry for that raccoon mommy or daddy, knowing how hard it was trying to get it’s babies back, so she let them go.

raccoon-family

Apparently my mom even took a picture of the four little rascals getting away!

I was so mad!

Forget the precious momentary connection between and human and raccoon parent, and the unrelenting love for their furry children…  I wanted my pets!

I got over it eventually, though – probably because we had another pet raccoon soon after.

raccoon-david

I got a little raccoon crazy around that time, doing a school project on them, which included going to school with a tail and mask.  I thought I remembered a random fact from third or fourth grade – that raccoons have no salivary glands – but I just googled it and found it to be false.  Don’t judge – we didn’t have the internet back then.  They often dip their food into water, but apparently that mostly only applies to raccoons in captivity (which ours obviously were).  The German word for raccoon is Waschbär, which literally translates to “Wash Bear.”  I also did a school project on Germany.  And on UFO’s, but that’s beside the point.

Anyhow, this is all a really long setup to a much different, darker story.

A couple raccoons have been hanging around our house at night, eating our cat food.  You might wonder how I knew it was raccoons that were eating the food…  I know because we would flip the lights on and stare at them from a foot away through our kitchen window, and they would just look at us like we were waiters asking how their meal was going.  “Needs more water,” I could hear them say.

My wife didn’t like it one bit because she has a soft spot for our cats.  Because of this, I’d try to sneak out a different door with a BB gun to scare them off.  Usually, they’d hear me approach before I had a clear shot and would run off – but there were the occasional times that I unleashed the fury of my 1991 single-pump Daisy.  The gun is apparently strong enough to kill woodpeckers (oops!) and carpenter bees (that’s right – they call me eagle eye), but it’s only enough to freak out an unsuspecting larger animal.

They’d usually just come back thirty minutes later or so, after all the lights went off in the house.

When they really started bothering me, though, is around the time my chicks started disappearing.  It’s one thing to eat our cat food; it’s quite another thing to eat our chickens.  I wouldn’t have have minded it as much if they just ate our cats instead – those guys are freeloaders, and don’t give me any eggs.

So, one night I again went out with my Daisy BB gun, this time staying far enough back to make sure I could get a good shot off.  I assumed that if I could shoot it square in the face, it would be a little less brave approaching our house.  I stood on a chair to line up the shot and…

Bang – right in the face.  And it was the cutest thing ever.

The raccoon looked up in my direction; it couldn’t really see me because the light was in it’s eyes and I was still in the shadows.  It raised it’s hand and rubbed it’s head in a “Why would you do that?” kind of way.

Unrelated “First World Problems” meme – this is how the raccoon looked while rubbing it’s head

But it didn’t run away.  So I pumped again, and shot it once again.  Still, it just looked out in the shadows, wondering what in the heck was going on.  I shot it again and it finally ran off.  Cleary, the Daisy wasn’t packing as much of a punch as I thought.

I went inside, and less than ten minutes later the little punk was back.  Usually, I would give it a little grace, but this one was just mocking me.  So I pulled out the big guns.

Well, by big guns, I didn’t actually get a gun.  In order to take a shot, I’d have to aim towards the house, and I’m not that confident in my middle-of-the-night-with-the-house-as-the-background target skills.  So I got the next best thing: my crossbow.

The murder weapon

The murder weapon

I got in the exact same position and kind of took aim.  Because it was dark and I was fairly close, I couldn’t really use the electronic scope.  There are three red dots in the scope, and choosing the wrong one would definitely embed an arrow into my shed or my exterior wall, so I just judged where it was aimed as if I wasn’t the one holding the crossbow.  X/Y axis sort of thing.  Squeeze the trigger, and…

Bam.  Perfect shot.

The raccoon looked up when it heard the trigger, otherwise my arrow probably would have been a direct hit to the face.  As it was, though, it went through its chest, then through it’s gut and out its butt.  It was obviously a little terrified and jumped off the shed attached to the house like it was committing suicide.  It ran out in the woods, limping and scraping the arrow on the ground.

Then I realized that it still had my arrow.

I started following it, knowing that if I lost it in the moment, some other animal would drag it and my arrow away before the morning light.  I used my phone as a flashlight, and following the sad sounds of a dying raccoon, its eyes reflected back at me in the distance.

About the same time, my wife came out to see if I’d gotten it – and I realized there was no possible way I could finish the little dude off with my crossbow – so I sent her to the garage to fetch an axe.  She came back with it, and I traded the crossbow for the axe and made my way into the underbrush.

The... other... murder weapon

The… other… murder weapon

It was freaking out, and I felt bad because it was definitely suffering.  Still holding the phone-flashlight in one hand, I try to finish the job with a swoop of my axe.  Unfortunately, a one-handed axe swoop while the other hand holds a flashlight is not very accurate, and I pretty much just chopped at it enough to insult it.  So I turned the axe around to bludgeon it until it was gone.

It was sad, and I felt pretty bad because I like raccoons.  I was also sad because the meat was so messed up that I wasn’t even going to attempt to clean and eat it.  But something enjoyed it, because the next day I came out there and all that was left was a puddle of fur.  (I should have gotten a picture of that, but didn’t think about it until later)

The other raccoon learned its lesson, apparently, because it stayed away for a long time.  It has recently been showing up again, though.  Which stinks, because I really do love raccoons.

raccoon-david2

day-in-the-life

Dark Times: A Hen’s New Outlook on Life

I should be updating my blog a lot these days, because I have fewer obligations – but I seem to be filling my time with other on-grid things.  I need to remedy that.  But this time, I’ll again share a guest post from new notes that I found scratched in my chicken coop:


Day 437

I won’t lie.  I’m glad the chicks are gone.  They were really annoying, and sometimes they’d try to eat their own food.  I’m bigger, so of course I should have first dibs on anything they would want to eat or drink.  Anyhow, they disappeared – one by one.  I’d go to my perch for the night, and I’d wake up with one less annoying cheep cheep rattling between my ears.  Eventually, there was only one, and Farmer thought it would be a good idea to put it in here with us.

We showed Farmer who’s boss.  We’ll never tell him what really happened to it.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 440

RooTwo disappeared last night.  No notes, no calls.  I think he was the father of all those chicks, so either he was afraid of everyone finding out how much of a deadbeat dad he was, or maybe he went out looking for them.  Either way, more food for me.  He wasn’t nearly as nice as Roo was.  RooThree has some really cute tailfeathers.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Hmmm....

Hmmm….


Day 452

Farmer put a big perch out in front of our coop today.  At first he was riding around on it, cutting up all of the green stuff growing in our playground, but then it stopped tossing the green stuff around.  I don’t know why he does that to begin with – the green stuff tastes better without cutting it.  And every time he cuts it, it’s harder to find bugs.  Farmer is really selfish.

He stopped it, and kept reaching under it.  He was really insistent on trying to get something underneath, even with big metal sticks – maybe there was a big worm under it or something?  Eventually, he sat back down on it, but it never made the loud noise that it used to make.  He covered it up with a HUGE blanket that doesn’t let water through.  I checked it out, underneath the blanket – it’s pretty comfortable.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Lawn mower still won't run. Don't tell my dad - he would be ashamed of me.

Lawn mower still won’t run. Don’t tell my dad – he would be ashamed of me.


Day 457

I love the new perch!  I always try to sleep there, but for some reason, Farmer comes out every night with a glowing stick and grabs me.  He puts me back in the coop.  I don’t think he understands that I WANT to sleep on the new perch.  I’ve made it my own – I’ve been laying eggs there, and pooping in it a bit just to show that it’s mine.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 464

Farmer keeps dumping big buckets of food right by our coop.  Well, I say food, but I mean old crusty, soggy food.  But – it’s still food!  There’s so much I don’t even have to worry about sharing!

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

In retrospect, I think I was just attracting other animals with these scraps...

In retrospect, I think I was just attracting other animals with these scraps…


Day 482

RooTwo was definitely the father of all those chicks.  RooThree has been here by himself, and we’ve been sitting on eggs for a LONG time.  None of them are hatching.  In fact, after we’ve laid on them longer than we needed to, Farmer took them out and threw them in a bag.  Some of them exploded when they fell into the bag and smelled TERRIBLE!  

Looks like RooThree is not very good at his job.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

It smelled like it looks

It smelled like it looks


Day 485

RooThree is strutting around like he’s the cock of the walk, but none of us really eggspect him to pick up where RooTwo left off anymore.  He used to have some gorgeous tail feathers, but it seems like he loses one a day.  Is premature tail baldness a thing?

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 490

I don’t like where this is going.  RooThree is gone.  Is everyone being invited to some bawking party without telling me?

I’m in charge now, and even Farmer can’t change that.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

They were aggressive with me, but they'd stay by my side - even staying near the window when they could see me inside!

The new head chicken (Peepnelopeep) was aggressive with me, but they’d all stay by my side – even staying near the window when they could see me inside!


Day 493

Ummm…  Bruuke, one of the other girls, disappeared yesterday.  Not sure what happened – we all left the coop for our daily buffet when Farmer opened the door.  I didn’t see her last night, and when we woke up today we found that she never came home.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 496

Things are getting weird.  The hairy white one is gone.  It’s definitely not a party, because SHE wouldn’t have been invited before me and Henrietta.  Honestly – nobody liked her.  None of us even knew her name.  I’d be glad that she’s gone, except that I’m not sure what’s happening.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 499

It’s down to me and Henrietta…  The other girl, Rebeaka, was acting paranoid yesterday, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Kept saying “they’re coming back” and “I just know it’s my turn.”  I don’t know what that means, but apparently she knew.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 505

Farmer doesn’t open the door anymore.  We just sit here and scratch tic-tac-talon into the ground.  Henrietta is always scratches and I’m always eggs.  I want to be scratches.  Why won’t Farmer let us out?

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

Unexpected Chicks! Part Two: The Bad and the Ugly

At the end of my last post, I had seven adult chickens in my chicken tractor, and nine new chicks in a temporary brooder.  The brooder is literally just a storage container with a heat lamp hovering above it in my garage – because 1) I’m busy and 2) I’m cheap.  Cheep cheep.

I’ve been planning for some time now to build a glorious permanent coop and spacious chicken run that is split into four quadrants.  I’ll rotate the chickens through each of the run quadrants, so that they’ll eat everything in sight in one section, then move through the others while vegetation grows back.  At the same time, my plan is to allow one quadrant to double as my garden (or a portion of it) because the chickens will fertilize it and because I plant to cover it with netting to keep birds out of the run anyways.  The garden would move through each quadrant as well, so the the chickens could eat the old plants and scratch at the dirt, basically tilling the soil, composting and fertilizing it for me.

But that’s the future plan.  Immediately, I had nine chicks crawling on top of each other with nowhere to go.  To make matters worse, I was out of town here and there, so I was constantly just figuring out what to do with them immediately, rather than long term.

They were ok for a while.  Early on, they need to stay warm anyways, so they would be fairly cuddled up even when they didn’t have to be due to space.  It didn’t take long for them to simply have nowhere to go, though.  And a couple of them figured out how to get out of the brooder (which had some chicken wire laid on top to give the false sense of a ceiling), so I’d sometime find a chick on the outside looking in.  They’re extremely territorial, so even when they escaped, they really just wanted to get back in, which was prevented because of the chicken wire.

My first bright idea was to put them back in the chicken tractor with the adult chickens, since they were a little older and I thought they might be able to fend for themselves.  Not a good idea.

I came back in the evening and two of them were gone.  I assume they ventured too far away from the flock (or technically, the clutch of chicks) and were a predator’s dinner.  But even worse, two of the chicks had been shown who was boss in the chicken tractor…

bald-chick

Yes – you’re looking at that right.  One (or more) of the other chickens took the skin right off of it’s head.  I’d like to think they were just getting a jump on preparing a boneless, skinless chicken breast, but the reality is that they were simply laying down the law.  I found that one balled up in a corner under the ‘stairs’ up to the coop, terrified.  The pecking order is real, folks.

I felt terrible, and wondered if the little guy (or girl – I can’t tell) would make it through the night.  Luckily, it did!  By the next day, its head was fairly scabbed up and healing well.  I frantically searched for another broody box so I could separate the two wounded birds so that they didn’t get sick, then infect the other healthy chicks.

chick-segregation

I found a shelf that I had taken down from the garage, threw some newspaper down, and laid the shelf on the ground.  It gave them probably ten times the space, but they were just chirping at each other, hoping to be reunited.

As they grew, I knew that my temporary pen was still…  temporary…  I kept putting off the eventual permanent coop, and trying to figure out what to do in the immediate timeframe.  I even tried to let them outside again – not necessarily into the chicken tractor with the others, but just outside to roam free.  Unfortunately, the same scalping occurred, and I knew i couldn’t do that again.  But, man, were they stinking up my garage.

disgusting-chicks

I ended up building a step between the brooder and the chicken tractor, which was pretty much just a fenced in run without a coop.  It was a simple frame with chicken where stapled around it, with a piece of wood laid across the top to give them a little shelter.

temp-run

Apparently, I didn’t staple the chicken wire enough, though…  After the first night in their new outdoor home, I found remains of two of them where a predator had pulled them through the spaces between the wire and wood.  Well – one of them had been mostly dragged through the spaces, while the other laid decapitated in the corner.  That’ll teach me to think “close enough.”

I stapled every inch of the chicken wire to the wooden frame, and assumed all was well for the remaining five chicks.

The next morning, however, I came back out to the same sight – the only variation being that two had been pretty much eaten through the chicken wire.  Whatever had done it (I think a raccoon or a possum, because of opposable thumbs.  I’m betting on raccoon.) had grabbed them in the corner and probably munched one what they could, even with the wire separating them.

If I were a chick in this redneck run, I’d be terrified to close my eyes.

I assumed the reason the predator got the chicks is because the chicks gather in the corners of the frame, so it had to be easy for them to reach in their hand for their dinner.  The other chicks would have basically blocked in the victim – and chickens are surprisingly calm at night.  I’ve had very skittish birds allow me grab them with no trouble after the sun went down.

So – I stapled feed bags all around half of the frame, so that the chicks could gather in a safe, covered portion.  No way anything would happen now!

temp-run-closed

Wrong.  The predator returned and literally peeled back the corner of a feedbag as if it were tupperware, keeping his leftovers fresh from the evening before.

temp-run-escape

I was down to two chicks.  I then thought I was losing them because chickens generally roost at night to avoid predators, and I had no roost.  I figured I could add a roost so that they would stay away from the corners, and the predator wouldn’t be able to reach them.

temp-run-roost

Nope.  The next morning I was down to one chick.  For some reason, the newly deceased chick was drawn to the edge of the frame instead of the safe metal pipe in the middle of their covered shelter.

I decided I need to completely rethink my temporary run.  And for the time being, because the other chickens had been around the chicks for the last few days and had gotten used to them, I figured it was time to put the last remaining chick in the chicken tractor.

This worked.  It was obvious that he was an outcast, but there were no blood-drawing fights. Anytime I went out to check on them, the others were out and about, enjoying the cage-free, free-range, non-GMO bugs that were available to them.  The chick, however, would be pacing inside the coop, wondering when the monster’s claws would find  him.

A few days into him integrating into the coop, I thought I would help nudge him outside to enjoy the benefits that the others already knew.

That was the last I saw him.

But hey – I’ve got a couple chicks going broody again!

Unexpected Chicks! Part One: The Good


Taking eggs from chickens is a little strange when you think about it.

Obviously, an egg forming in a chicken’s body and then ending up on our plate is magical or whatever, but I’m talking about the actual experience of getting the egg.

My small coop has three nesting boxes, so anytime I swing by, I lift the little roof I made over the boxes to see if there are any presents for me.  There’s always a lot of poop, often some eggs, and usually a chicken screaming at me.

Think about it…  It’s as if you’re minding your own business, sitting in a public restroom, when the entire ceiling lifts up and a giant peers in each of the stalls.  I’d scream, too.  Creep.  But the screams don’t seem to deter him – he awkwardly keeps looking, completely disregarding your personal space.

Even weirder, the giant grabs something that others have left in the stalls.  And you know that he’ll come back for what you leave as well.

Sorry – this is simply where my mind goes.

I’ve had a number of chickens go broody over the summer, which I did not anticipate.  If I haven’t already said it, a broody chicken is one that simply wants to sit on eggs for the purpose of hatching them.  They’re quite determined to stay there once they start – you can pick them up and move them (as long as you’re not deterred by their screams) and they’ll go right back to the nest.  They will forego eating and drinking for the sake of sitting on the eggs.

At first, I only had one broody chicken.  For a week or two, she sat there by herself, staring at the wall.  I looked up how to ‘break’ a broody chicken and found that it’s difficult, because it’s a hormonal stage.  Basically, the underside of hen heats up, and when she’s not sitting on eggs she wants to be.  In one video I found, a family dunks the belly of a broody hen under chilly water for a few minutes, lowering her body temperature.  Apparently, when the temperature of her belly is lowered, she just forgets that she was broody.

No such luck for me.  After sincerely freaking my hen out (she got me as wet as I got her), and finally getting her mostly under water for five minutes or so, she makes a bee line right back to her nest.  I tried this multiple times, and it never broke her.

Not long after that, other hens went broody.  I only have three nesting boxes, but I’d sometimes peek in to see two or even three hens in one box – totaling four or five broody hens at a time.  Though I don’t know if all of them were truly broody, or if a couple of them were faking to be part of the ‘in’ crowd.  Apparently – like sneezing – broodiness begets broodiness.  Some farmers put curtains over their nesting boxes to prevent non-broody hens from seeing their broody sisters – that way they’re not tempted to join in.

Anywho, eggs need to incubate for twenty-one days before they hatch, and as I was strolling by the coop one day, I heard a few tweets from the coop.  And since they don’t have access to my wifi (#TwitterYolk!), I opened up the nesting boxes to find a cute chick tucked under a hen’s feathers.  The hen was even more scream-y than she was before the hatching.

new-chick

Right before a chick hatches it eats the yolk, so it doesn’t need food or water for a couple of days.  Because of this, and because I figured the hen knew what to do better than I did, I just left it alone.  One hatched chick can encourage the other unhatched chicks just by moving around and tweeting.  Well – as long as the other chicks are following its tweets.  (#AnotherTwitterYolk!)

The next day, I found this!

two-chicks

The order of events is fuzzy at this point because it was a few months ago, but another hen hatched two more eggs right within the next couple of days.  Around the same time, I started putting chick feed in the broody boxes, because there was really no other way to get them to eat.  (Side note – the other hen had apparently stopped eating while broody, because its beak was elongated and pointed down.  I put food right in front of her and she had a hard time eating, but the next day her beak was back to normal size.)

The chicks started jumping out of the broody boxes, which caused the hens to also jump down to protect them.  Because there were four chicks and two hens (and one “aunt” – a hen who stopped going broody and was basically trying to act like the mother of the first two chicks), there were some fights.  At one point, I noticed that one of the chicks was bleeding, most likely because the rival hen wanted to show it who was boss.  Because of this, and because I was hoping that the hens could show them how to scratch and eat from the ground, I put them all outside.

chicks-outside

They did pretty well – they were always close to their respective hen, and it was really interesting to watch the hen act out what she wanted the chicks to do over and over.  (By the way, I keep simply saying “hen” rather than mother because the hen who hatched them isn’t necessarily their biological mom.  Whoever is sitting on the egg when it hatches is identified as its mom.  So I might use “mom” from here on out to make things easier.)

All of the truly broody hens had completely abandoned the unhatched eggs because they had to take care of the chicks, so I put the rest of the eggs in my incubator, just in case some were on the brink of hatching.

Because I had to put them back in the coop each night (the chicks specifically – the hens would follow), and then put them outside again the next morning, it wasn’t necessarily the best situation.  There was a little bit of chick feed in the coop, but the adults kept eating that quicker than their own feed, so the chicks were having to fend for themselves.

On top of that, because they’d be awake in the morning well before I let them out, there were still some rivalries and fights that I couldn’t stop.  I ended up putting the chicks in a little brooder box so that I could keep them safe and fed.  And not long after that, two more chicks hatched in the incubator!

brooder

Over the next week or two, three more chicks hatched in the incubator, totaling nine chicks!  I definitely didn’t anticipate having that many…  Heck – I didn’t anticipate even one hatching, because I still only have the one chicken tractor.  I’ve been planning on building a stationary coop for a while, but just haven’t had the time or motivation.

So – I figured as these nine chicks started growing, I’d quickly need to find the time and motivation.  And you’ll have to wait until the next blog post to see if that happened!

Bee Addition and Subtraction

It’s been a long time since my last update.  Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

For a while, I planned on a new blog post about once a week.  But as it often does, life kept getting in the way.  So, for the next handful of updates, I’ll try to recall all of the special details from past geek-off-grid-iness situations.

Months ago, I got a message from a friend in town who had honeybees in his porch ceiling.  And he needed them gone.

Sweet!  It just so happens that I want honeybees, so this seemed like a win-win-win situation.  I already had most of what I needed: extra hive bodies and the proper equipment need to peek your face into a bee colony.   I bought a couple other things (a queen cage and some lemongrass oil), gathered all of my stuff, and planned on making a day of it.

Sure enough, when I rolled up, there were tons of bees going in and out of the porch ceiling.  Keith said that they were pretty calm and they only sting Jehovah’s Witnesses in the six or seven years that he’d known they were there.  Add me to the list, though, because while I was invading their space (before I had my veil on), one got caught in my hair.  After it panicked for a a minute or so between the forest on my head (i.e., it was nowhere near my bald spot), I thought I’d try to help it get unstuck.  It wasn’t a fan of that, and died in order to let me know.

keith-porch

I forgot to get many pictures, but you can kind of see the hole that they were using as an entrance in the corner.  So I removed the soffit, hoping to see a glorious amount of honeycomb, considering they’d been there for so long.  Here’s what I saw instead:

keith-porch2

Yup.  Nothing.

Apparently that was only the gate to their courtyard.  I walked through his house, putting my ear to the ground (literally) and walls, and determined that the glorious honey was somewhere in the floor joists between two bedrooms.  This was above my pay grade, so I packed up and left.  Sad day.  Sting and no honey.  (Which would have been a much better backup band name for The Police)

Since that produced no extra bees for me, I decided to go with phase two: splitting one of my healthy hives.

It’s not rocket science…  Nature does this all the time, and as a colony grows a beekeeper must make sure to give them ample space to continue to store honey.  If they outgrow their house, a new queen is reared and the old queen takes about half of the bees with her to find a new home.  Or – the ’emergency’ situation is that nurse bees start rearing a new queen if the old one dies, disappears, is sick or just not laying eggs like she should.  Splitting a hive is pretty much just forcing a bunch of nurse bees to make a new queen because they’re cut off from the old one.

I’ve watched YouTube, folks.  I’m an expert.

I took five frames out of my strongest hive – three frames of larvae, one frame of honey, and one empty frame so they could have room to grow – and put them into one of my original Nuc boxes.

healthy-nuc

There are a lot of different methods online – but it seemed like the general consensus was that the existing queen simply needed to stay with the old hive.  Of all of the bees that came over to the new hive, a bunch of them would go back to the old hive (just because when they leave the Nuc, they’d fly back based on their memory) and the nurse bees would stick around and make a new queen.

split-hive

Easy peasy, right?

Well, I came back maybe a week later, and the Nuc was pretty low on honey.  I still had a lot of wax from when I extracted my first harvest of honey, and it was probably actually a 1:1 ratio of honey to wax.  I had planned on heating the honey wax to separate them, possibly to make candles or something (and of course eat the honey) – but instead I decided to give it to the honey-hungry Nuc.  Over the next few days, I left this honeywax at the top of their hive, as well as at the entrance.

If I haven’t said it before, bees do not waste honey.

wax-dust

Each time I gave them a clump of sticky-sweet-waxy goodness, I returned to find that they’d sucked every ounce of honey out of it and turned it into dust.  The above picture has just a little bit of honey left (the darker spot by the bee).

Here’s a short video of them incredibly focused on the task at hand:

Anyhow, it was all for naught.  I realized at one point that it was a losing battle, because no queen cells were starting to form.  And as the hive grew weaker (no new bees to take over as the older ones died off), wax moths and other jerks started taking over.  It was a complete loss.

At least the chickens took advantage of the situation, though…

So I tried again!  Exact same method, but this time I noticed three or four in-progress queen cells when I transferred the frames over to the new Nuc.

And the same thing happened.

jerks

But, even worse: apparently, in all the commotion in transferring frames, the healthy hive’s queen was lost.  I should have thought of that when I took literally all of the potential queen cells out, but I didn’t.  So, when I went back to check the Nuc two weeks later, a once bustling hive was now almost completely empty.

empty-hive

I wish I had good news to end on, but I don’t.  I completely dismantled the hive (it had wax moths and other critters as well, so I didn’t want to combine it with my other still healthy hive) and left it out for the chickens.

dismantled-hive

Perhaps the tiniest bit of silver lining is that the other hive found the now exposed honey, and stored it for themselves.  But, they’re not nearly as productive as the hive that I lost, so I’m not even sure they’ve gathered enough to make it through the coming winter.  Hopefully I’ll have good news later!

stealing-honey

censored-meat

Another Level of Crazy: Why don’t you raise maggots?

[***WARNING – if you have a weak stomach, skip this post***]

I don’t often scare myself, but I might have just tipped the scales.

Obviously, everyone that knows me pretty well thinks I’m either crazy or…  Well, crazy in a weird, responsible way.  I’m not sure which camp would be right in this scenario.

Remember the free meat that literally fell at my doorstep?  Well, what I ate of it was really good!  Unfortunately, the rest of it was in the freezer in my garage, which one day decided to stop working.  :(

I won’t lie – I was very upset.  Lane and I spent a lot of time butchering that thing, and after it had been sitting in a room-temperature container for who knows how long, it was ruined.

I was complaining to my friends Walter and Matt about it.  Luckily, they happen to be a little crazy, too.  (Sorry for throwing both of you under the bus, guys, but you know it’s true.)

“Why don’t you raise maggots?,” Walter asked with dead-pan seriousness.

I can’t say that it had crossed my mind, even in my wildest off-grid homesteading dreams, but it made sense.  My chickens love eating little bugs, and these specific little bugs love rotting meat…  So, I started thinking about what I might do to start my own hobby maggot farm.

Around that same time, there was a little bit of uncooked chicken in our fridge that had gone bad, so I just tossed it and the deer meat in a bucket.  (Meat doesn’t often spoil in our home – pretty much never, in fact – so maybe it was a little nudge from the Man upstairs to try this thing, eh?)  I hadn’t thought much about my plan, so I left the bucket in the garage until I could figure out what to do with it.

I concocted a plan to basically construct an elaborate cage in the woods on the edge of my property, so that predators aren’t attracted to rotting meat beside my living chickens.  I’d start with a tray at the bottom, then wire mesh that would allow maggots to fall through but would catch pieces of meat.  Above that I’d hang the meat, which would give greater surface area for the maggots to slip off and onto the tray.  Around that I’d put at least one sturdy cage (possibly two), so that animals couldn’t get inside.  It would be a self-sufficient maggot factory after I hung up some old meat.

That was the plan, anyway.  The reality is that I left the bucket of rotting meat in my garage for weeks.

uncensored-meat

The packaging was frozen to it (because I was testing the freezer), and I didn’t hassle with getting it off.

Yes.  It smells exactly as you would expect.  Every once in a while I would go into the garage, forgetting that I left the bucket in there, and would very quickly remember.  I’d step back outside, suck in a large amount of air, and then hold it in while I retrieved whatever I needed from inside.  Over time, I guess I just expected the garage to smell like that.

My wife didn’t really know that was going on until while I was away from home one day I asked her to get something from the garage for me.  I received a text soon after that, which said she almost threw up after stepping into the building.  I texted back a smiley face with a halo above it.

At that point, I realized I should probably do something about it.  The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t even asked my chickens if they specifically liked maggots.  Since my chickens don’t speak English (despite what you might think from previous posts), I realized the only way to get that answer was to present those maggots to them.

So, one Saturday, the experiment continued.

meat-maggots

I opened the garage door to let it air out a bit and brought the bucket outside.  Sure enough, moving the meat around revealed a gob of the little squirmy things.  I could easily put my hand in and scoop a hundred up.

So, of course I did.

maggot-hand

Yes, I realize there aren’t a hundred in my hand, but it’s hard to take a picture of a handful of maggots with the other hand holding a camera.  The little boogers were incredibly slimy, and I could feel them squirming through my fingers as soon as I picked them up.  It was disgusting.

I tossed a few to my chickens, and they were delighted!  If I threw a clump of maggots in front of them, they didn’t really know what to do, but if there were stragglers outside of said clump, they didn’t last very long before a beak would dispatch this from this world.  I assume the chickens’ eyesight isn’t so great, and a giant ball of pulsating slime probably isn’t as appealing as an obvious gyrating worm.

Not long after I started doing this, I noticed at least a dozen vultures circling overhead.  It dawned on me then that that was the reason I’d been seeing a lot more of them perched in the trees on my property lately.  Lucky for humans, our sense of smell isn’t nearly as ken as theirs, because I’d say that they had sniffed it from miles away.

maggot-bowl

I continued to scoop the maggots into some tupperware, thinking I might store them to give them to my chickens over time.  But then I started to consider how would store them.  I suppose I can put them in the fridge, but I didn’t know if that would kill them, or if they needed some meat with them to survive (and I didn’t want to purposely make my fridge smell like rotting meat for the rest of it’s existence).  So, I ended up giving all of the gathered maggots to the chickens, storing none.

Actually, I used the maggots to entice the chickens back into their coop, because I had to leave for the rest of the day and that was a lot easier than chasing after them.

And, yes, I put the bucket of rotting meat back in the garage.

Don’t worry, though – I have a plan.

easter-eggs

Eggcellence: Just in Time for Easter!

I’ve got eggs!

A lot has been going on, and I probably should have posted this almost two months ago, when I actually started getting eggs, because I was super pumped then.  Now, it’s kind of normal…  I’ll try to muster up some eggcitement for the purposes of this blog, though.  Or, at least I’ll crack some bad yolks.

icicles

 

It was quite cold outside – well below freezing for days on end, and I decided to give my chickens a little warmth so that they wouldn’t hate me.  As far as I know, they’re much better egguipped to deal with cold temperatures than you or me are (well, unless you’re actually a chicken), because they basically have the egguivalent of a down comforter on all the time.  As they metabolize their food, they generate heat that is trapped in their puffed up feathers.  At least, that’s what a guy on the internet said.  Because he’s on the internet, I can trust him.  But I still added my heat lamp from when they first hatched.

red-light-coop

Put on the red light

Hens don’t lay nearly as many eggs in the winter because the days are short, but I think when I put the heat lamp in there I kind of faked them out.  I can’t really be sure, though, because they were definitely at the age where the should be laying, and since the heat lamp is red, I’m not sure that that did anything as far as eggstending the daylight hours.  I’ll bet they were simply annoyed at the red light keeping them awake at night, but none of them got too eggravated about it.

eggs-n-golf-balls

Anyhow, I occasionally would check the nesting boxes for eggs, just because I wanted to be ready if they did actually start laying.  I’d gotten used to seeing nothing, so I was incredibly surprised to see two eggs sitting there one Sunday afternoon!  It had to be Henrietta and Peepnelopeep, as they were the oldest.  Not that I actually call them that.

Those two eggs were delicious.

frying-eggs

Omelet-you finish, but frying is the best cooking method of all time.

I was getting two eggs on an average day (sometimes just one).  I’d been putting a lot of pine wood shavings in the coop floor and at the bottom of the nesting boxes, but they usually shuffle (or soufflé) that around, which would leave the nesting box with a fairly bare wood floor.  So, one day I came out to one of these.

broken-egg

When she laid the egg, it dropped to the bare wood and cracked.  I just tossed the broken egg (well – actually I crushed it an gave it back to them, because there are tons of nutrients in an egg, and almost all of it is specifically there for a chicken to eat in order to survive for a few days), and filled up the nesting box with wood shavings again.  But, alas, I lost every 5th egg or so to the same situation, so I decided my hens needed an upgrade.

chicken-carpet

We have some eggstra carpet from our earlier renovation, so I just cut some pieces to size and put them at the bottom of the nesting boxes, then covered them with wood shavings.  They still knock most of the wood shaving out pretty quickly, but I haven’t lost any more eggs due to collision since then.

I have seen a few more cracked eggs, though…

frozen-egg

At first, I assume the above egg cracked because she had let it drop farther when laying it.  However, it was probably about 10° outside at the time, and when I picked it up I realized that the thing burst because it froze solid.  Carpet won’t fix that.  I had to bring it inside to let it thaw in order to crush it to give it back to them.

Some time has passed, and now I’m generally getting 3-5 eggs a day!  There for a while I started eating three eggs a day for lunch, because, well, that’s about as cheap (cheep) a meal as I could do right now.  And I was often frying them in some lard that my buddy Walter gave me, so it’s as organic as it could be, too.  Then I started realizing I’d probably burn myself out too quickly, so I only do that a few days a week now.

As you can see from the image at the top of the post, my eggs come “Easter Ready” – so I didn’t have to dye any eggs in order my wife and me to have an Easter Egg Hunt in our yard.  You’ll probably notice that there are some “blemishes” on my eggs, and that’s because I don’t wash them until right before I cook them.  They naturally come out with a protective coating that keeps them fresh for six months or more, and washing them can take that coating off.  (Commercial egg farms tend to wash their eggs in a bleach solution, which can actually seep through the shell.  I think I’d rather have a bit of chicken poop to wash off the shell than bleach inside the egg white)

I also have a variety of sizes!

egg-sizes

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the far left one is quite a bit bigger than the far right one.  The one on the right is from my silkie bantam, and I’m pretty sure that’s as big as her eggs are going to get.

A lot more has happened in the last couple of months (spoiler alert: I have honey!!), but I won’t make this the Neverending Story in a sing post…  I’ll try to update soon!

day-in-the-life

A Day in the Life of a Hen

Sorry for the silence!  I’ve been busy with Christmas and lots of activities – most of which have been very on grid.  So, I figured I’d just post these notes (along with some pictures for context) that I found scratched inside of my chicken coop:


Day 149

I don’t like our new house.  You can barely even call it that – it’s bwaksicly a couple of boards that don’t do a very good job of stopping the wind.  My boyfriend, Roo, says he’ll keep me warm when it gets cold outside, but he says the same thing to Henrietta.  Heck, he said the same thing to that other chick that magically turned into a pile of feathers last week, and he didn’t seem too concerned for her.  He scratched at the ground near her feathers for a little while, and I thought it was some sort of memorial service for her – but it turns out he was just digging up a stubborn bug.  Kind of makes me wonder if he’d miss me if I turned into a pile of feathers?  Oh well – he says he’ll protect me, and why should I doubt him?

Farmer covered the sky up with something ugly.  I can’t see the big glowing thing that Roo always crows at anymore, but it must still be there because he continues to crow.  All.  The.  Time.  To be honest, he’s kind of annoying, and it seems like he’s trying to flirt to the other hens that showed up last week and took over our old house.  But – I don’t have many other options here…

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 153

Stupid farmer woke us up last night, throwing food at us like animals.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like the food.  But why not give it to us before we’ve perched for the night?  A strange white and gray cat that was in our playground and he ran around after it like an idiot.  It ran under the fence, and he hit it with a broken tree.  The white/gray cat ran off, and then Farmer made lots of noise putting stuff around the edges of the fence.  I don’t know if that will keep the white cat out, but I think it just made him feel useful.  I don’t think he has any purpose besides giving us food, so I’ll try to patient with him.  I didn’t sleep very well after that.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 155

Haven’t seen Farmer in a couple of days.  Roo’s been planning on “breaking out of this prison,” and has been urging Henrietta and me to come along.  I don’t think it’s so bad here, but I guess I’ll follow him.  It’s not so easy, though, since Farmer and those other giants clipped our feathers.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 157

Well, we broke out of our ‘prison’ yesterday.  Roo ended up just circling around our old house the whole time we were out, flirting with the hens and pecking at the other guys.  It was a fairly depressing day, because I already felt like old news.  We perched on top of the old house, and at some point in the night I remember Farmer picking me up and throwing me back in the new house.  I woke up on my old (new) perch, barely remembering how I got there.  

Roo convinced us both to break out again this morning…  It didn’t take Farmer long to find us because we were circling around the old house again.  He ran after all of us for quite a while, until someone put up a magical wall, and we were cornered.  Whatever – it’s not that bad here.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

It's just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.

It’s just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.


Day 160

Roo is obsessed with getting out of our new house.  Every day we get out, and every day Farmer puts us back in with his magic wall.  The thing over the sky keeps falling into our playground, and Farmer keeps hammering it into the fence posts.  I guess guys just like to do the same thing over and over.  (Assuming Farmer is a male)

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 165

I guess Roo finally took it too far with ‘breaking out’ every day…  Yesterday, he decided it would be funny to poop on Farmer’s big red machine.  I told him he shouldn’t, and he kept saying “don’t call me a chicken.”  I didn’t know what he meant – of course he’s a chicken.

Anyhow, Farmer has separated us.  He put Henrietta and me back into the old house when it was dark outside, but left Roo in the new house.  We didn’t find out until the next morning, when Roo started his maniacal crowing at the glowing thing in the sky (which I can see again!).  I already miss him – kind of – but there are two guys in the old house that are kind of cute.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

red-truck-poop

Most people only have to deal with normal bird poop.


Day 167

Ugh – I hate it here!  Everybody here is a bully, even though Henrietta and I are older than all of them.  They call us names, peck at us, and chase us around the old playground.  And there’s not a lot of room to get away.  Henrietta and I usually just go inside the house while the others are outside, and then when they come inside we go outside.  It’s a lot easier to eat and drink without beaks constantly poking you.  When we are together, we usually just hide under the feeder.  Even the guys are being jerks.  At least when the other girls are around.  When I’m alone with one of them, they make me feel special.  But I hear them say the same things to all the girls.  And, bwaukbagok…  Roo is just crowing his head off.  Even more than usual.

There’s one little hen with really ugly hair that we’ve been bullying, just to show them that we’re not pushovers.  Yeah – I said hair.  It’s so strange – she doesn’t have many feathers.  She must be from out east.  Weirdo.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

hairy-chicken


Day 172

Roo stopped crowing today…  It was weird.  I heard him all morning, and then Farmer and a bunch of other giants went into the new house where Roo was.  Some of the giants were miniature, but they were definitely still giants.  They had all these shiny things with them and gathered around Roo for a while.  A little later, they walked back to Farmer’s house with what looked like Roo – but he was completely naked so I looked away out of respect.  I should have looked, though, because Roo didn’t crow when the glowing thing fell out of the sky, and now I’m wondering if he’s still there or not.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

williams

Some of my fellow giants. (Lane and Tomi were there, too)


Day 180

I haven’t heard from Roo, and I wonder where he went, but I don’t care much anymore…  I think Henrietta and I are finding our place.  These two guys are super sweet to me (like they are to all of us), and they don’t crow nearly as much.  I guess I do have options after all.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

roo-dinner

Where Roo went.

You Win Some, You Lose Some. Aaannnd you lose some.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a sad situation.

But first, let me back up…

As I mentioned in my last blog, my brother brought me six more chickens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I had a bit of preparation to do.  Because I only found out about it about a week beforehand, I fashioned together a fairly unstable coop for them for an unknown temporary time.  (Full disclosure…  I say I only found out about it a week prior, but we’d been talking about it for months.  I just hadn’t planned.  And you thought I was a prepper.)

Behind my barn, there was a pile of wood and junk under an awning, and the previous owner had built a structure that was sort of an incomplete workbench to support said wood.

woodbench

I should have taken a picture before I cleaned out a huge amount of garbage, because you couldn’t even see the supports at the bottom.  I ended up having to jack some of the supports up, because they’d ripped away from the wall where they’d been nailed.  It’s still not that sturdy, but remember, this is a temporary coop.

Luckily, considering this started as a giant pile of wood, there was some scrap pieces that were perfect for this endeavor.

temporary-coop

There were also some old posts in the pile, and I dug some holes with our post hole digger (included in the purchase of our house!) at the corners of the new temporary run.  Unfortunately, because we’re on a big ol’ slab of rock, I could only get about 8 inches into the dirt before the solid clank of the metal tool hit stone and signaled the end of the road.  If I were smart, I’d probably search around for better ground.  But instead, I filled the dirt around the post as best I could and tied them to trees.  Remember – temporary.  For the permanent coop, I’ll probably need to pour a little concrete.  But don’t worry – I’ve poured a ton of concrete.  Like, a literal ton.

temporary-run

After the awkward tied-up posts, I added chicken wire.  I’m starting to hate chicken wire.  It’s crazy hard to keep straightened, and it’s pokes the crap out of me when I’m handling the ends.  In the future I’ll probably use hardware cloth, which is the worst name in the world for fence material, because it sounds like it’s metallic fabric.  Like it’s the kind of thing I’d use for making pants if I was in a glam rock band.

So, as shabby as it is, the temporary coop and run is up, and just in time!  Only a day or two after it was “completed,” Michael brought the chickens in from Indiana and we transferred the old ones to their new home.  Beforehand, however, we clipped some of their wing feathers so that they wouldn’t be able to get out.

clipped-wings

Michael assured me that it wasn’t painful – it’s more like a haircut.  Chickens can indeed fly, but without the longer feathers on their wings it’s much harder.

My whole family was actually there at the time - but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken coop.

My whole family was actually there at the time – but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken tractor.

Apparently I forgot to get pictures of my new chickens, so here’s another picture of the old ones.

chickens-new-home

They adjusted well to their new home.

I thought.

But that was the last time the four of them were together.  As I said, yesterday morning I woke up to a sad situation…  As I approached the “new” coop, one of the hens was pacing back and forth at a section of the fence.  It had apparently been doing it for a while, because it had worn a path into the dirt.  My first thought was simply, “Yup, I need to cover the run, because even with clipped wings they can get out.”

Then after I put the hen back in the run, I realized I only saw three chickens.  All that was left of the fourth was a few piles of feathers.

feather-trail

I also saw a few turkey vultures roosting in the trees above, so I figured the missing hen’s carcass wasn’t too far away.  I assume something grabbed both of them, but the pacing pullet got away while the other sacrificed herself.  At least, it was that dramatic in my head.

I was sad because something ate my chicken.

Specifically, because something besides me ate my chicken.  I got it plump and juicy for some thieving animal that now knows where I live.

Unfortunately, I had a lunch meeting soon after, so I wasn’t really able to do anything at the moment.  And then the day completely got away from me (because, you know, I have an actual job).  And the next morning I woke up to seeing this out my window.

chickens-in-the-woods

Yup, my three remaining older chickens were just prancing around in the woods.  So, apparently they have no trouble getting out of the fence.  I didn’t really know what to do, because I don’t want to spend much time (or any  money) on my temporary coop, when I’m planning on building the permanent one soon.  I did, however, find a big roll of plastic.

It’s probably not very effective, but I just covered the run with the plastic, hoping that it would obscure vision if death came from above.  If something does swoop down into the plastic, it would be like that scene in the movie “Unbreakable” where Bruce Willis falls into a covered swimming pool.  Except possibly a bald eagle instead of a bald dude.  If something crawled in through the side, they’re still sitting ducks chickens.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

I need to figure something else out for the temporary long term…

In other news, I bought a truck!

I says to the guy, "But do you have one in Pepto-Bismol pink?"

I says to the guy, “But do you have one in a Pepto-Bismol shade?”

It’s a bit bigger than I planned on getting, but it was the cheapest diesel that I could find that would actually run.  It’s stick shift, too, so that’s fun!

It ran perfectly fine when I went to test drive it (it’s a little tricky getting into reverse), but when I tried to start it on Monday to get my emissions tested the battery was dead.  Sigh.  I plugged the battery up to a slow charger and left it overnight.

The next morning was a bit colder, and – like me – diesels would rather not wake up when it’s cold and early.  So I had to plug in the heating element for a bit before she fired up.  It wasn’t until I passed a cop (no license plate, a note in the back window stating I was applying for tags) that I realized I’d also forgotten to get insurance on it.  Eek!

Luckily, the cop didn’t pull me over.  Either he could read my note (fairly unlikely), he didn’t feel like writing any tickets that day (also unlikely), or he appreciates the hard working farmer and realized that anybody with a truck like that is hard working farmer.  (Still probably unlikely)  I think he was simply looking down as I passed, by the grace of God.

license-plate

I think this truck will fit in just fine on the Stevenson Family Farm, provided it continues to start.

Also, the tenderloin of the roadkill I butchered was dee-lish!

I know what you food critics are thinking... Yes, it was too much broccoli.

I know what you food critics are thinking… Yes, it was too much broccoli.

Oh, and this happened in my front yard last week…

car-wreck

Second wreck in my front yard this year.  (Don’t worry – the driver was ok)

Doesn’t Everyone Gather Acorns?

To make up for the lack of off-grid-iness over the last couple of months, I crammed a few random things in over the last week or so.

To start off, I’d been looking into acorn flour lately…  So, one day when I was planning on going outside to do who knows what, I got distracted by all of the wonderful acorns on the ground.  I thought I’d pick up a handful or so, and make that a ritual each time I went outside, but I got a little obsessive.  I filled all my pockets, and then got a bag  and went back to it because I just couldn’t stop.  I mean – there were so many of them!

Around that time, some friends of ours (who left a jacket at our house) stopped by.

Mitch: Hey David!  What are you doing?

David: Oh, you know…  Just picking up acorns.

Mitch: ….Oh yeah…  Yeah, I know all about it…  I just love gathering acorns…

(There was a lot of sarcasm in there, in case you didn’t pick up on it through my typing)

I finally realized that I was a borderline psychopath, so I stopped with a healthy amount.

acorns

Later on that night, I started splitting them.  I’m extremely glad I didn’t spend any more time gathering these nuts, because almost all of them looked like this:

acorn-dirt

It looks like my worm friend there – and all of his worm friends – got to the acorns before I did.  Instead of finding a nut inside, I found dirt and usually the culprit.  I cut every single shell open, and I had less than a handful that were decent.  And a lot of those were questionable.

acorn-nuts

I realized I was probably going to do a ton of work for about a cup of acorn flour, so I decided this might be a project better suited for next year.  When I start hearing them hit my roof as I’m attempting to fall asleep next Autumn, I’ll know it’s time for the harvest.  Then I’ll be a psychopath again.

Later that week, my buddy Andy and I went to visit his friend Todd’s farm.  Andy had been talking to me for a while about it, telling me of all the cool stuff that Todd has going on, and we finally carved out some time to make the trek down.  Andy didn’t know exactly where Todd lived, so we simply followed the map announced on Andy’s phone.

Big mistake.

We left the paved road, and then left the gravel road, to what seemed to be a driveway, or perhaps better called a trail.  Thing is, we drove on this thing for at least two miles.  His little Mazda 3 did not like the gigantic water-filled pot holes whose gaps were bridged by old doors.  Yes – someone had taken interior doors to fill in these holes – but the years of driving over them pretty much just made them random splintered pieces of tire-death.  We also passed a sign that said “Stop – Gun Range in Use.”  The sign was not actually up – it was laying on the ground beside the road.  At that point, Andy really started wondering if we were in the wrong spot.  I said “Hey – we’re surely almost at something – we might as well keep going down this road.”  Because – as we have already determined – I’m a psychopath.

Well, the road abruptly came to a steep hill, and he wasn’t excited to see if his car could make it back up said hill – especially if it wasn’t the right farm.  Luckily, there was a bunch of Amish dudes building a house at the bottom of the hill, so I walked down to inquire.

Nope – not the right farm.  But at least it was the amish, and not a live gun range.

After we got back on the road (backtracking the splintery trail), we got ahold of Todd who updated our destination.  Funny enough, Todd’s house is literally right off the pavement.  No off-roading needed.

The first thing I noticed was that his chickens were just about everywhere.  I asked him if he was afraid of predators, and he said his dogs keep them at bay.  (reason #432 why dogs are better than cats)  The second thing I noticed was there were children just about everywhere as well.  I think they have 11 kids, and there were a few friends in tow.  Yowza!

We helped him start some ferments, and had some awesome fresh-from-the-farm cuisine, and just talked about life, God, and everything in between.  Kind of the way I imagine a conversation with a true farmer should go, rather than the distracted dialogue inserted between glances at a phone screen.

The next day, I was planning on doing a little work outside (cutting logs), and I realized – Hey!  I’m better than a dog, right?  I could keep those mangy predators away while I’m outside beside the chickens!

Thus instituted the inaugural free-ranging Saturday.

free-range

It was hilarious, actually…  The first time in their lives they are given actual freedom, and they pretty much stayed where the chicken tractor had been circling for the last few months.  Specifically, where the ground was down to just dirt and covered with their poop…  Anything familiar, I suppose.

And apparently I’m familiar, too, because anytime I came nearby, they’d all circle around me.  At the time, my wife laughed and cutely said they were following their farmer.  Now I’m wondering if they were simply plotting to take me down.  When I sat down on a stump and sharpened my chainsaw blade, I’ll bet they decided to rethink their plans.

They even followed me to places that contained nothing for them to peck at…

concrete-chickens

I suppose the cats are following me because I’m their farmer, too. Just kidding. Holly won’t let me eat them.

I didn’t get too far into my wood cutting for two reasons:

  1. Turns out I’m not very good at sharpening a chainsaw.  I’ll give it another go, but I’ll probably just take them to my dad so he can refresh my memory on how to do it.  It would still cut, but not as easily as it should.
  2. Someone stopped by to look at the Blazer sitting at the end of my driveway.

That was a pleasant unexpected visit, because I’d just put the Blazer by the road on Thursday evening, and I’d fielded a couple of calls from guys on Friday that said they might stop by Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t noon yet, but this guy bought it right on the spot.  It makes me excited that I had so much immediate interest, because that means when I put a sign in my front yard that says “Fresh Eggs,” it will be seen.  It also makes me think think I should have priced it higher!  (Only halfway kidding)

With the money from the Blazer, I’m hoping to buy a beat-up diesel truck.  Beat up, because I want something cheap that I don’t worry about getting scratched to pieces driving through my woods.  Diesel, because I want to try my hand at alternative fuels.

Well, sure, I guess diesel is alternative, but I’m talking about making biodiesel from cooking oils.  (If any of my readers have a restaurant and need to get rid of a bunch of used oil, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.  Or – if you don’t have a restaurant, but you fry food for 11+ kids, you probably have plenty of oil.)

Also, at some point earlier in the week I checked on the bees, who have been fairly silent.  I knew they wouldn’t be out and about when it got cold, but I expected to hear them generating heat in their hives.  I got nervous because I couldn’t hear a sound.  Luckily, when it was warmish, I opened them up to find them balled together just like they’re supposed to be.  One hive had bees up in the top super, though none of the comb was drawn out.  The other hive had no bees and no comb drawn in the top super, so I removed it.  I figure they’d prefer to save on their heating bill this winter by not warming a huge empty space.  (For anyone wondering – and I’m sure you all are – there was still a frame or two of undrawn comb in the remaining top box, so they shouldn’t feel claustrophobic)

Also also – apparently my subscribe button wasn’t working there for a bit – so if you tried to subscribe but didn’t get this in your inbox, please try again.  Chalk up another reason why I’m not a fan of wordpress.