Chicken Tales

One thing I sure didn’t anticipate when I got chickens was just how downright comical they can be.

…Correction…how comical they are. They just are. Whether it is their quirky personalities, their poor decision making, their difficulty in tasks as simple as finding the coop door, their strange and irrational fears, or the fact that they manage to survive at all, there is never a shortage of laughter-inducing antics.

I love watching them around their feed pans when I put scraps out. There is always one hen who finds something extra good (whatever), and rather than quickly eating it before it can be stolen from her, which it probably wouldn’t be anyway, she takes off running with it, drawing undue attention to herself whereupon the entire flock sees what she has and gives chase. Or there’s Little Betsy, my cross-beak hen. I try to wear a hat every time I go down to the coop because I’m not always fast enough or observant enough to see her little cross-beaked face staring up at me from her telltale crouch before she launches herself into the air, landing on my head with her dirty little chicken feet. One of my favorite things is chicken doctoring. The patient is wrapped snugly in a towel with her head sticking out through a hole cut in the towel, and is pretty effectively immobilized. But unless I kick everyone out of the coop to do my doctoring, I end up surrounded by an audience of concerned and fascinated feathered citizens as I’m sitting on a sack of feed with the immobilized chicken in my lap and who then proceed to accost me. They peck my fingers, try to steal my earrings, peck at my hat, or even climb into my lap on top of the immobilized chicken.

Shortly after getting them over into their new coop this summer, I was putting out feed for them in their run. I give two different types of feed, a high protein pellet (which I ferment and which the chickens absolutely love) and a 16% protein layer crumble, and I store that in a metal bin with a lid. As I was dumping a pail of crumbles into their feed hopper outside I heard a crash from inside the coop. I didn’t think anything of it. Chickens are clumsy and curious, a comical combination. Anyway, I opened the door to go back in the coop, expecting to find my clumsy and curious hen, but to my surprise found no chickens. Huh, funny. Then I heard a faint and faraway chattering, rather hollow-sounding. I lifted the lid of the metal feed bin and there was my little red hen looking up at me with a rather puzzled look on her funny face. Oh, did I laugh! I had left the lid only partially on when I went outside and she had jumped up on it, flipping it over on herself, dumping her inside. Needless to say, I don’t leave feed bin lids partially on anymore.

Lately, one of my Australorps has been apparently discontented with the laying box accommodations. Not sure what triggered this, but after all these are animals with brains the size of lima beans. After months of consistently laying in the boxes, I found her nestled in an open bag of pine shavings, and for several days found eggs in that bag of shavings. Last week, I found her multiple times in the bag of layer pellets. I just haven’t the heart to chase her out, she seems so contented in her strange choices of nest. As long as she’s doing her job, I really can’t complain. I rather wonder if she’s the same hen that I watched very carefully steal a golf ball from one nesting box and scoop it into her box so she could lay on it. I wonder what she thinks would have hatched out of that?

Chickens are always good for a laugh.

Seeing Triple

I’ve shared a number of pictures of Amelia and Madeline (Mia and Maddy, as I call them for short), and in case anyone was just dying of curiosity for the next chapter in their story, I felt I should give an update.

Mia and Maddy have settled in as best friends with Polly the Kitten, and their little cohort is known affectionately as Polly and Pals. They have survived this cold snap just fine using the buddy heat method and greet me at the door every morning, eager for their breakfast.

Yesterday morning I went out to do chores and fed the cats as usual on the deck. Polly and Pals as well as my old cats, Ember and Cinders, generally get in on this meal. I had to pop back inside for a moment to get hot water and the fermented mash for my chickens and as I walked past the cats, I did a double take. I looked hard and then looked again. There was an extra cat. No, there couldn’t be. Yep, it was. It was Mia and Maddy’s feral big brother.

I quick grabbed my phone and tried to call my mother-in-law, and when she didn’t answer I called my father-in-law. “Laura!” came the standard greeting from the other end.

“Dave! Does Starla know where her white cat is?”

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Well, I do! He’s eating breakfast with my cats! I thought I was seeing triple.”

Turns out they hadn’t seen him in a few days, since before the storm blew in at the beginning of this week. Either he hitched a ride under or in a vehicle from their house to ours, or the crazy thing walked six miles through bitter cold coyote territory to our end of the ranch. Wild.

Blue-Eyed Banshees

A tragic incident on Friday bereft me of my favorite hen, and has rendered Pearl unfit for and relieved of chicken duty. My very kind husband never once laughed at my copious tears for poor Amelia who got her little head ripped clean off and the next day he brought home three cats. Three beautiful, white critters, with toffee-colored point markings and the bluest eyes. And they are wild as little banshees. Considering that, and they fact that they will never lay blue eggs, I’m not sure it quite replaces my poor beheaded chicken, but I’m willing to be open minded.

They were born to a neighbor’s barn cat and haven’t really ever been handled. As long as I keep both my eyes and all my digits, the two girls will be mine, and the male, provided he’ll let me shape and mold his disagreeable disposition, will be sent up north to my mother-in-law who lost one of her mousers (supposedly a mouser; I’ve only ever seen them snoozing) about a month ago.

Amelia (in honor of the deceased chicken, may we always fondly remember the dead) and Madeline are capable of the most withering looks of disdain, with their slightly crossed and very blue eyes, and such scornful looks they don’t hesitate to cast in my general direction if I offend them. As long as I mind my manners and don’t talk too loud, they’ll deign to emerge from their little corners and frisk about at a royal distance. Occasionally one might sneak closer, but stop far enough away to remind me of proper etiquette and the fact that they don’t appreciate having been cat-napped.

I rather have my doubts that they understand yet that all parties on this ranch will eventually be expected to fulfill certain obligations, but I’ll let these blue-eyed banshees bask in the warmth of their deity and their self righteous indignation for a little longer.

This Fine and Pleasant Misery

Sometimes I think so long about a blog post that it becomes irrelevant. But this is one I pored over for so long, and really got such a kick out of writing it, I really do want to share it. So even though the summer is pretty much over, and temps these days are hovering in the 70s in general, or lower, I remember the following events from this summer keenly. And even though the summer is over, the sentiment still remains. I hope you enjoy the article!

When the indoor thermometer is reading 85 degrees and the humidity is somewhere near 70% and I’m about to head to bed, or I’m dripping sweat (literally) while washing the dishes, it is awfully tempting to complain. And it has sure been tempting to complain. The last few days haven’t been just hot (for the Black Hills), they’ve been muggy. I’m a cool weather person, but eighty-five degrees is generally pretty nice, and even 90 degrees isn’t terrible, but with the current humidity, 85 indoors feels like a sauna. It is ridiculous. Miserable, actually. We make good use of our box fans.
IMG_9013eIn spite of the heat and the exquisite misery of working or even just walking around in said moist cloud of heat the last few days, I have found myself thankful for our lack of air conditioning. It is a whole lot easier to put up with exertion in summer heat when one is unaccustomed to air conditioning. Truly. My truck lacks it, my cabin lacks it, my church lacks it, and I work (and play) outside. It is also a lot easier to convince myself to stay outside when it isn’t much better inside. Sometimes it’s worse.

But those aren’t the only reasons I’m thankful for lack of air conditioning.

(“Why in the world is she writing about air conditioning?” you’re probably asking yourself by now. Fair question. Keep reading.)

I’m thankful because comfort is so prosaic and lack of air conditioning is such a trivial discomfort.

(“Okay, prosaic? What does she mean by that?”)

Prosaic: unromantic and commonplace. Yes, I’m a romantic at heart. And by romantic, I don’t mean a chick-flick kind of romantic. I mean more…I don’t know…a Lord of the Rings or Master and Commander kind of romantic.

Think of your favorite book. If the protagonist had stayed comfortable, the story would never have happened. Think of the most exciting times in history, when change was happening and people were adventuring and exploring and discovering new things. If they had chosen comfort, physical or otherwise, those events never would have happened.

Air conditioning isn’t just about our temperature preference. Sixty or seventy years ago, air conditioning was essentially nonexistent. And people dealt with the heat. But we’ve changed. Being comfortable has become a priority.

Our culture idolizes comfort. And of course I’ve fallen victim to this myself. We like to be comfortable, and we like to be comfortable now. (Too hot? Turn on the air. Too cold? Turn on the heat. ) But it goes deeper. We don’t like the discomfort of being inconvenienced (I’ve written about this before in my post “The Freedom of Inconvenience”). We don’t like hurting. (Headache? Here’s a Tylenol.) We don’t like being exhausted. (Coffee, coffee, coffee.) We don’t like being hungry or thirsty. (Easy access to food and water all the time.)

Something about how comfortable we are in general makes me uncomfortable. Because we as a culture have gotten soft. Terribly soft.

But it isn’t just physical discomfort we avoid. We don’t like being afraid. We don’t like feeling or looking foolish. We don’t like being wrong. We don’t like people thinking we are wrong. We don’t like being uncertain. We’re afraid of having too little, failing too hard, hurting too much, sweating too profusely, and of feeling too much.

In general, we don’t know what it is to struggle or to face real fear. We read stories of deployed service members, or missionaries in third world countries and we shake our heads in sympathy, but we are so disconnected from the reality of their struggles, we can’t relate! We value comfort and pleasure and those are what we pour our energies into achieving. We’ve lost our enjoyment of or appreciation for or satisfaction with doing hard things that leave us exhausted and hurting, or emotionally drained. We’ve lost our satisfaction in sweating and working with our bodies.

So we take no risks, we don’t push ourselves, we don’t try new things, and we avoid situations that have the potential to cause any of those fears or feelings I just listed.

Because in a nutshell: we don’t like being uncomfortable.

How much we miss.

This year has been a growing time for me in this regard. I’ve faced some fears head-on – fears of being uncomfortable (physically, mentally, emotionally), fears of being thought to be foolish, fears of looking stupid and failing, of hurting, of exhaustion, fears of being out of place and out of my league and in over my head. I’ve faced my natural dislike of discomfort and embraced it, only to discover that the discomfort I feared has been significantly overshadowed by the satisfaction of doing something hard and doing it with enthusiasm.

If you’ve never read any Pat McManus, now is the time to change that. Some dear friends of mine introduced me to his book, A Fine and Pleasant Misery, in which he writes with clever dryness in Chapter 1 about how the point of camping used to be the misery, and being able to share misery stories afterwards. It used to be the roots in the back, the smoke in the eyes, the mosquitoes and cold and waking up wet. It was miserable, of course. That was part of the fun. Yet camping has evolved to be something where people leave their comfortable homes in their comfortable cars to go on a comfortable camping trip, somehow trying to avoid all the discomforts that naturally should crop up when leaving the comforts of home.

When did we as a culture collectively lose our taste for misery, our tolerance of discomfort, our enjoyment of the hard challenge? When did comfort become the priority? Now, maybe to a certain extent I’m romanticizing the 19th century, my favorite time period, the era of pioneers and mountain men and cowboys and explorers and miners….But think about the pioneers. Those were average families, they weren’t adventurers by trade. They packed up what few belongings they had and their whole family into a rattletrap covered wagon which became their home. For months. They slept on the ground. They walked hundreds of miles. They sweated. They were hungry. They went without. They were sunburned and windburned and freezing cold. They were uncomfortable, in ways most of us can only try to fathom. But they did it. Because there was something they desired more than comfort.

I’m tired of comfortable. I want to sweat, to be sore, to feel, to fear, to ache, to be bone-tired, have burned skin, a messy ponytail, a muddy, sweat-streaked face, dirt under my fingernails, and strong muscles. I love doing something abnormally strenuous and waking the next morning feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. I love the sense of satisfaction when I realize what I’ve put my body through and that I actually survived and feel better for it. I could have avoided the discomfort, avoided the risk, and missed out on that delightful taste of satisfaction.

And so I come in from the garden, mopping sweat from my face, I look at the thermometer outside and the thermometer inside and groan a little, and see all the little nasty bugs swarming around our kitchen light (they migrate to my bedside table as soon as the downstairs lights are off and my bedside light is on), I feel the trickle of sweat while doing dishes, and I smile wryly. I’m thankful for discomfort.

Thankful for this fine and pleasant misery.

Up a Tree

This cat’s instinct is up. I’m afraid it is awfully fun to watch the dogs chase him. He gets so worked up and shoots straight up the nearest tree. Hilarious. The dogs don’t stand a chance. Not to mention, if they ever did catch up with him, they’d have a whirlwind of razor-sharp claws to deal with. As a young kitten, he frequently got himself stuck up by the downspouts and couldn’t figure out the way down. At first, we rescued him. One of the times I found him up there he was panting – yes, panting. Cats aren’t supposed to pant. It was pathetic. We finally decided that he’s a big boy and needs to figure this out on his own. So now we leave him. But this escape location was a new one. I laughed and laughed. It took him awhile to work up the nerve to jump down.
IMG_3340eHe was a little ticked. Sarah’s comment on the state of this cat was, “It’s awesome when Saber is mad.” Pretty much summarizes Saber. And we love the little (big) guy.

Dirty Dog

Literally. Opal took herself on an adventure a few days ago, and showed back up 20 minutes later looking like this:

What can you do? Sarah wasn’t here, and I didn’t feel like trying to give Opal a bath without help (she’s not my dog, so why would I try, right?), so I just let her dry into a muddy fuzzball. She didn’t seem to care, so I didn’t either. Oh, the fun of mud in the bottom of the stock dam…