Friday, September 12, 2014

Cottage Day Dreams and Dill

The onion is going to flower,
how sweet for the bee.

Collecting dill seeds is soothing meditation.
They slip off cleanly, neatly.
The ease of the task so satisfying
I wish I had more dill weed, dry, and done.

{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

Maria and Natalie, into the lake! It was a good thing~

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our Chickens Our Pets

I love chickens. Just the sight of them makes me smile. Even when I haven't been able to keep some as pets, I have enjoyed seeing them in art, on farms, on salt shakers, and tea towels. This blog is Chickenblog, because when I started blogging I wasn't all too sure what blogging was all about, but I just got my first chickens and they were about all I could think about! So, the blog name is part self-descriptive, part actual chickens! Now it's been many years that we have, off and on, kept chickens, and maybe I've gotten enough experience that I am actually in a position to offer advice, to counsel, and to strongly suggest. Today, I am here to strongly suggest to all my chicken keeping friends that they consider taking some steps to protect their chickens from predators. This is serious business. And I hope that our lessons, hard learned, some, will save you losses and heartache in your backyard flock.

Chicken keeping has become a mania! It's the hobby du jour, and I can't blame anyone for wanting to jump on the farm wagon. Chicken raising is fun and easy! You will see this sentiment expressed all over, in book titles, blogposts, and it is true, but it's not the whole story. I think it's only fair to the farmer and the chicks to add some addendum's to the "fun and easy" statement: Chicken raising is fun, when you have time, interest, and resources. Chicken raising is easy, when you are prepared.

Let's say you brought home your chicks, and you kept them happy under their heat lamp, and you guarded their safety throughout their youth, and now! Now, at last, you have big fat hens, and they're laying, and life is beautiful... but if you haven't done this before, if you only skimmed through a book, or glanced wistfully at some pastoral farm scene on a postcard, please go through our checklist, and double check that your dear hens, your backyard flock, are as safe as can be. Predators are lurking. I am particularly addressing friends in Southern California, because a surprising number of people forget that we have: Bobcats, Coyotes, Raccoons, Hawks, Feral Cats, Skunks, and Weasels. We have encountered all of these, and we have suffered losses to some of these. These predators love chicken (and cats, bunnies, ducks, dogs etc...) They are smart. They are persistent. They will, sooner or later, find your darling coop and kill your chickens. You will sleep better at night if you take some precautions.

For a long time we were lucky. We kept hens, and had no problems, whatever precautions we took were sufficient and, so naturally, I patted myself on the back and assumed I had it all figured out. But then we lost a rooster, and it was devastating. I loved him, and I felt like I had let him down. Unfortunately, I failed to comprehend that as "secure" as I believed our chicken housing was, it was inadequate, and the bobcat that killed Zoltar came back for Kamen. This time Alex and Max witnessed the bobcat with his arm in the cage, pulling her through the bars. We called the horse fence wire cage the "shark cage," and it seemed impenetrable, but spaces were plenty big enough for a hungry bobcat, and wily weasels. Weasels were responsible the next losses (please, follow this link to see pictures of the shark cage and to appreciate how ineffective that chicken housing was.) Yes, there are weasels in Southern California, together with raccoons, they have no trouble at all getting through or opening up chicken wire.

Okay. So, we've seen it all, and we've learned the hard way. Some of those predators really took us by surprise, and I appreciate that there will always be a chance of losing pets to predators, but I feel a whole lot better doing as much as I can to protect them. We all sleep better at night, since we've built our enclosure. It's our pride and joy, and I won't deny it cost a lot in time, and materials. It houses goats and chickens, and it's wonderful, but I understand it's not always possible to make a chicken Shangri-la. That's okay... there are still steps we can take to make our hens comfortable, safe, healthy, and happy.

Our Southern California Chicken Safety Checklist

1. Shade, wind cover, rain cover. Don't let your hens overheat, or get blown away. They need protection, even here where we have mostly mild weather. Be sure they can dust bathe in a shady and dry place, and that when they go to roost they will be safe from rain and wind.

2. Roosts. Hens roost. It's good for their feet and posture, it's what they do in the wild, and it's what happy hens do in their coop. I think HenCam is a wonderful resource on all matters Chicken, and Goats! HenCam suggests giving your hens at least six inches of space, per chicken, on the roost. And remember to keep those roosts sheltered from sun, wind, and rain.

3. Airtight is not right! Maybe you live in a colder region and are thinking a tightly sealed coop is going to keep your hens happy and snug, but that's a bad choice. Air circulation is essential to good chicken health. Be sure your coop has vents, a window... these are necessary to move out damp air, to bring in fresh breezes in hot weather, and to help reduce the build up of ammonia gases (chickens poop, all night, it doesn't take long before noxious ammonia fumes can foul the air.)

4. Wire. This is the part that is easy blow it on. We did. Chicken wire is cute, it's chicken wire, and looks like the ideal choice, but it is a poor choice. Chicken wire has an opening large enough for rats and small weasels to enter. Rats can harass hens and kill chicks, and they will ruin your feed, and water. Weasels eat chickens. So, unless you have an enclosed coop in a chicken run, and the coop is solid, with no openings, except the doors you open and shut, and screened windows, do not use chicken wire to keep chickens in and predators out.

Your wire should be 1" x 1/2" welded hardware cloth. Period. No gaps. No gapes. We attached our hardware cloth to posts with a staple gun. And if you can, consider burying the wire at least 12", maybe 18" down, because predators dig. Another option is to create a deep path of heavy stones or pavers around the perimeter of the shelter, to discourage digging under. When we kept hens in our Ikea picnic table, I used two layers of chicken wire, making them overlap to create smaller openings. This was a bit of work, but easier to do on a small coop.

5. Close the coop! If it's easy to remember, then it's easy to forget. I have left many coops open over night, and thankfully those were nights we escaped predation, but it leaves me feeling awful to discover that I forgot to close up the chickens, safe for the night! Now, I have my mobile phone set with an alarm, and I change it when the sun sets earlier in winter. Every evening, just before dusk, the alarm on my computer and my phone alerts me, and I am reminded to count chickens, check feed, and close up for the night. We also have a locking device on the latch. I like to use carabiners to secure the latch on our run. Use good hardware, and imagine you are trying to outwit burglars. Raccoons are crazy clever and dexterous... they will open simple latches with uncanny ease.

6. Free-ranging... it's some of the best parts of keeping chickens. I love to let our hens out, to see them dash across the lawn, and settle in for a spastic, euphoric dustbath. We cannot make our safeguards 100% foolproof, and when they are free-ranging they are vulnerable, so this is an activity we take with an understanding that it is risky. I lost a favorite hen to a hawk, and we were in the yard at the time. Be sure your hens have places to duck and cover when they are loose. Shrubs are good, a wood crate, even a picnic table will give your hens a place to escape. Besides the hawks, we have had bobcat visits in broad daylight. The bobcats are strong and brazen, and we've seen them hang out even after we chase them off, so it's not enough to just give them a scare. Our hens are eager to return to their enclosure when the bobcat has been around.

These days I only let the hens free-range when I am home, and preferably when people are in the yard. So, when I am weeding, or planting, when we can sit and read, or do homework, when outdoor projects are going on, the chickens are out, too. Also, the hens have the goats, Tasha and Ada, for company. I'm not saying our goats are fearless defenders, but they do make a lot of noise and get quite scandalous when something is amiss, so that much is a big help!

7. One more thing... I always talk about my big fat hens, but that's just an aesthetic amusement. Fat-overweight hens are not really easy to detect, but they are easily susceptible to fatal health problems when they are overweight. Again, HenCam has a great post on feeding chickens. A really important thing to know is that treats, like scratch and corn, are just that, treats. I only use scratch, and very sparingly, to call my hens in when I want them to come before they are ready... as a bribe, in other words. In winter, if we are getting cold-cold days, I give them a little more. But if you are feeding your chickens a scratch mix, if it has lots of corn pieces in it: Stop! Yes, they love it, but it fattens them, slows their metabolism, and compromise their health. Chickens don't show that they are overweight in the same ways other pets do, but please believe me, they need a healthy diet, including fresh greens, and even bugs, and a balanced, organic lay crumble for a staple, and the cracked corn and scratch as their special treat.

We love our chickens. And it feels good to do our best for them. Of course, there are many more things to know about raising chickens, caring for them, but I am eager to share these specific safety points, as the bobcats have been on the hunt in our area. I know I am still learning new things, running into new problems, and it is always a relief to find more information and advice. I hope this post is informative, and brings safety to more chickens, and peace of mind to more of my farming friends.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Before Fall, Summer

Summer is good, when the children are out of school, when there are adventures to be had, and roads to travel. I like summer when we can go to see fireflies, visit grandmothers, pick garden tomatoes, and play in the surf. But as soon as classes are back in session, and we've unpacked the last of the camping gear, I wish for it to be fall, body and soul. I crave brisk mornings, foggy evenings, overcast days, and stormy nights. I pine for the kind of weather and activities we aren't likely to ever enjoy, here. Not in Southern California. Not during a drought. And perhaps most especially, not when it's mid-august, or early September. Summer is good, and I say this with a smile that is slightly forced, because what I really like is fall. And what I really know is that "fall" in Southern California can be the hottest, driest, most wind-blown, fire prone, parched and anxious season of the year, and very little like the Pinterest boards I pin to, with frosted, fallen leaves, wool wraps, mist covered lanes, tree lined and romantic.

Yes, I do seem to mostly endure this time of year, the heat, the hotness, the heat. I do pass many moments in reverie of sights and weather that may not come until December, or March. And I bide my time, imagining the first cold day and the first baked pie, the first night when I can lay a quilt on the bed, and tuck myself under it. Those thoughts make me shiver in happy anticipation. And in the meantime, I say to anyone within earshot, the best part of summer, here, is the sky, and those back country views, where the summer storms hover above the mountains, with thunderheads that rise into towering giants. I love looking east, and seeing the show, the grandeur of cumulonimbus. We have lots more summer to go, maybe clear into November, and Santa Anas, those scorching winds that blow off the deserts, through mountain passes and into our homes. But hopefully we'll get more of those billowing clouds and colossal thunderheads that fill the eastern sky. Maybe we'll chase one down, and get rained on, thoroughly soaked, and charged with the goodness of summer.

I love our summer skies.

Those clouds. The hope that a summer storm may wander our way.

Summer has it's merits and good points, but I am so very ready for fall.

Mister Foo understands my state of mind, body, and soul. He knows what it means to endure these days that press us with heat, and lay us flat. Hang in there, Washburn Foo. Before fall, we just gotta survive summer.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Five Good Things

Some good friends asked us to join them in the local mountains, and thank goodness we accepted their offer. I kept thinking of all the house projects we have half finished {or is that half unfinished?} and it was hard to hit the pause button, and get out of town. But there is no end of affirmations about finding balance and making time for loved ones, and for good reason! Our home was just as messy as we left it, the projects just as far from completion, but every bit of our brief getaway with James and Deanne was totally worth it! We enjoyed all the mountain scenery, the sweet hospitality of our friends, the lakeside fun, and relaxing. Oh, yes... relaxing! The water was the perfect temperature of mountain summer cold, the pines smelled good, the stellar bluejays were endlessly entertaining. Parker and Maria sharing their Lego Club magazine, while we puttered around that gorgeous lake, was pretty cute. Probably the hardest part was packing up and leaving for home.

Good things...

1. Catching up with good friends.

2. Catching just enough of a big storm to enjoy it, but not getting more than we could handle.

3. Beautiful clouds, and sunsets and sunrises.

4. Enjoying the blessings and good news that friends have to share.

5. Coming home, even to messes, and getting ready for the new week.

It's hot here. Not to dwell on it, but seriously... it's really ughy-muggy hot. In the mountains I enjoyed looking for any hints of fall. There weren't many to speak of. I'll keep looking, here, there. Soon this heatwave will break, and foggy mornings will become more frequent, and I'll be digging through my dresser for a pair of wool socks. Just imagining the cool of fall, and all the pleasures I enjoy in that season, makes me feel blissful. Is fall hinting where you are? Are you enjoying good things?