Monday, February 24, 2014

Cleaning a Chicken Coop

For those of you who know me, I am NOT a domestic goddess.  I've learned to cook because I like controlling ingredients.  It is rarely beautiful food, but it tastes beautiful.  For the same reason, I do not bake.  I mostly have no interest in sugary, pretty desserts.  I don't even know how to make pudding.

Cleaning?  Well, mostly I'm the kind of kitty who grabs a cleaning wipe and scrubs off the accumulated toothpaste spit from the faucet.  In order for a thorough cleaning to happen, like when your parents are coming to visit, well... one of my parents has to be coming to visit.  I'm more of a tidy girl--I hate disorder.  When I go on a tear, no one can find anything but me since I have done the unthinkable and put everything back where it belongs.  But dammit, it looks nice again.

Yardwork?  I am prime lazy.  I mow as infrequently as possible, and I design my garden beds so I don't HAVE to weed.  Or water.

But I got a bee in my bonnet this last weekend, and decided that Saturday, the Boy and I were gonna clean up the chicken coop.

See, when we got the pullets last month (those would be Acid, Mocha, and Elasta-Girl), the established girls (Ginger, Peaches, Vader and Leia) decided that no new chicken could walk on the floor.  Or eat from the feeder.  Or drink from the waterer.  I kicked the old girls outside into the cold in order to give the new girls a break from living in the nesting boxes and on the shelf over the nesting boxes.  I set out an alternate dish of food so they wouldn't starve, and placed a dish of melting snow up there so they had more access to water.  I finally had to rearrange the whole layout of the coop, and that did the job.  They are all sharing space now, although Leia still tries to nip at Mocha occasionally.

But while the pullets were living in fear, they pooped EVERYWHERE.  The nesting boxes, once filled with clean pine shavings, were now filled with poop.  The shelf had several layers of chicken poop.  Even the ledge along the big windows had chicken poop all over it.

I tried cleaning the ledge once, but found out that really cold temps mean that chicken poop gets hard, and clings to the wooden boards.

Saturday was supposed to get up over 60.  

The Boy and I were prepared, and looked oh-so-fashionable.  Muck boots, old jeans, work gloves, dust masks, and hats.  I had a big shovel, a small shovel, a garden cart, a gardening rake, 2 trowels, a hand-held rake, and a putty knife.

We emptied out all the nesting boxes and dumped the shavings and the poop in an old compost heap.  Then we filled the boxes with fresh pine shavings.  Prettier all ready!  The Boy took on the task of using the putty knife to scrape the layers of poop off every surface he could find.  He just wanted to use a knife.  He performed admirably, even filling a pot with the scrapings.  While he did that, I got the garden rake and dug out the 52" of poop from under the roosting stick.  That was a LOT of poop encrusted hay, but once it was gone, I turned over all the remaining hay.  I hauled all the yuck into another compost heap.  When that was done, I cleaned out the waterer again.  Finally, I looked around, thinking how pretty the coop was again, now that the surfaces and pine shavings weren't encrusted with poop.

I wanted clean surfaces in the chicken coop.
I wanted CLEAN surfaces in the chicken coop.
I wanted clean SURFACES in the chicken coop.
Why would I want clean surfaces in the chicken coop?  They are chickens.  Chickens poop.

I cannot explain myself.  Just like I cannot explain why I haven't  vacuumed the front room since before Christmas.  Well, that I can explain, actually.  When we keep tracking in snow and mud and ice, despite our best efforts, you just wait.  At least that is what I'm doing.

So the farmhouse is un-dusted and un-vacuumed, and yeah, there is still wrapping paper in the dining room.  But gosh darnit, I have a nice clean chicken coop.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

We just had a major snow event (as in, a foot and a half of snow).  And I survived.  The Weather Witch drew no blood.  Well, some blood was spilled, but it was from common carelessness, and certainly not an elevator full of blood.

I am frankly surprised I did as well as I did.  Country Kitty told me that, back during the Snowpocalypse of 2010, they didn't get off the farm for TWO WEEKS.  And the forecasts for the Lovelanche (Love+Avalanche... I totally think that is a stupid name for the storm, but the interwebs never lie.) were showing up to two feet of snow.  I should have been full of dread.

But I wasn't.  I had stocked up ahead of time, so we had plenty of milk and fruit.  We already have a well stocked freezer, and we buy TP at Costco, so we are set well into May.  We had already purchased our generator and tested it.  I felt... prepared. Ish.  All I had to do the day before the snow was to prepare the chicken coop, and figure out some way to cover the generator in the event we needed to run it while it was snowing.

Wednesday, the day before the Lovelanche was to begin, didn't begin particularly well.  The recycling center was full, so I had to bring home two big bags of recycling.  The sump pump outflow hose had frozen again... and there was a wading pool in the cellar.  It should have been a relatively small issue... but it wasn't.  I had to pour hot water into the outside end of the hose and move it around to get the ice chunks loosened.  I also hauled out my nice, professional grade hair dryer in an attempt to warm the hose.  No dice.  I eventually had to set up the old sump pump, attach it to a garden hose, and snake it up the cellar stairs, out the dining room window, and across the yard.  River in the middle of the front yard?  Check.  I had muddy boots and shirt, wet gloves, and an open window in 30 degree temps.  But dammit, I no longer had an increasing flood in the basement.

It didn't take long to deal with the chickens, but I still hadn't begun the genny shelter, and it was already long after noon.  I had already decided that I would use part of the dismantled scaffolding in the corn crib.  But I had to figure out how to cover that structure in such a way that two feet of snow wouldn't destroy.  I also had to move the frame and cross braces all by myself.  It was exhausting, and my muscles were trembling by the time I had carried them all the way to the location we'd picked. 

After lunch, I had the pleasure of trying to erect scaffolding by myself.  (NOT a one-person job.) Moving it into place over the generator was hilarious.  By the time the bus delivered my son, I had it placed, and was glad to accept the Boy's help in building the roof.  I tell you, there was something comical about an exhausted woman and a 7 year old carrying a big sheet of 3/4" plywood all the way across the semi-icy barnyard and back yard, and then maneuvering it to the generator site.

I had to use more brains than brawn to get it in place--there was no way the Boy could help me lift it up to the cross braces (I needed a raked ceiling, so the snow could slide down rather than pile up.)  I managed, and then we had the excellent adventure of extracting the big tarp from the ice and frozen cardboard on top of it.  (Frozen cardboard is terrifyingly heavy AND inflexible.  Never, ever, kick it.) Getting the tarp in place was also hilarious, although my sense of humor was too tired to laugh by then.  But, here you see the fruits of my labor!  It wasn't pretty, but it did the job!

But, there was an unexpected bit of good news.  In dealing with the sump pump, I was outside under the front porch, wiggling that hose back and forth as I tried to loosen the ice, when I heard a rustling in the leaves under the porch.  I know we get skunks sometimes, so I backed away, and then took a careful look around the space.  As my eyes adjusted, I saw a brownish shape moving.  And then I recognized it.  It was Acid.

I don't know how that damn chicken survived 5 nights outside in below freezing temperatures, all by herself.  Nor do I know what she was eating, or why she didn't join the other girls when they were outside.  But she was there, healthy and more than willing to come out from under the porch.  I walked her back to the coop, and she hopped inside and seemed quite ready to eat.

So, we have seven girls again, but I notice that the hen-pecking has quieted.  She is more confident now, and not as scared of her shadow as she was.  It is amazing just how tough the smallest chicken can be.  

Now, the odd thing about her return was, that I was surprised, and that was all.  I was happy to return her to the flock, but I wasn't overjoyed, or even joyful.  I tried to tell myself that I had already accepted her death, and that she was not a pet.  I started wondering if I had become callous.

But then something occurred to me.  Acid had survived all that time on her own.  She came through her experiences, and none the worse for wear.  She'd figured out how to stay hydrated, she found her own food to eat, and she found a safe shelter.

I've survived too.  I've already faced so many experiences here on the farm that, at the time, seemed like the hardest lessons I've had to endure.  Each episode seemed enormous:  Gandalf's death, the icy driveway, the grumpy sump pump, the isolation.  And yet each of those experiences helped me to get through that preparation day with only a little blood, plenty of sweat, and few tears.  That preparation day was just another day.

I have accepted the reality of life out here.  The driveway will be an icy nightmare, therefore, I have to park the cars at the top of the hill, really close to the road.  Having free-range chickens means that I will lose some.  The arctic cold means the sump pump may freeze, so I have to be prepared to do what needs to be done to remove the water. And sometimes... sometimes you just have to embrace the inner redneck and run a garden hose out your dining room window.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Fashion Nightmare

Ah, Friday.  Friday was supposed to be my day to do my social thing.  I was going into Arlington to deliver our guest cat back to Wine Friend, and I'd also checked with a few friends about maybe meeting up for the local First Friday after.  And, the boys were going out for an evening without me!  I was going to have a fabulous evening!


My hair was all adorable and curly.  I actually put on a cute top and skinny jeans, and planned to wear hawt high heel boots.  Pretty earrings, light makeup... well, except for the eyes.  I did dramatic smoky eyes, in purple.  Hey, I was getting off the farm!

But, before I could escape the farm, I had to do less glamorous things.  I had to pick up the Boy from school.  I had to take Katt to the vet to get her nails clipped, and get more of her anti-vomit medicine.  And then I needed to pick up two big bags of the water-softener salt.  Muck boots were worn for those errands, and I only got two smears of dirt on my jeans.  I wiped them off, and thought, in an hour, I'll be heading east.

And then my cell phone rang.  I have a cool phone now (sorry, crackberry), and I told it to answer.  It was the Husband.  A hawk had been at the chickens, and he couldn't find any of them now.  It was already 3:30.

I got us safely home, let Katt inside, and the three of us began the search, taking Amy with us.  We walked through the woods and fields, searching for the freaked out chickens.  Eventually, we found Elasta-Girl and Peaches-and-Cream in a tree.  We lifted them out, and they were carried home.  Then we found Darth Vader, hiding in another tree.  Her tail feathers had been ripped out, and we found more sign of lost feathers there.  Had we lost a girl or not?

We continued stalking the trees, but it was getting later, and the boys had movie tickets for 5:30.  I told them to go on, that I would keep searching.

And I did.  I contacted my chicken friend, and got a few suggestions.  In the meantime, I took a break so I could prepare for the evening.  Emptying the litterbox, gathering all the cat's toys and the remaining food.  And, of course, making sure her cat carrier was ready.  And, since the driveway was still icy, I dragged the garden cart to the front of the house, so I could haul all everything up the hill.

I did another chicken search.  I let Wine Friend know I was running late, and let the other friends know that my time schedule was shot.  Texting while walking through the woods is hazardous, however.  I got caught by a low hanging branch and got a pretty good scratch across my forehead.  I exchanged the phone for a bowl of chicken feed to shake as I walked, and still managed to run into tree branches.  I was grateful it was winter, at least-- no spiderwebs or need for my web-wand.

Leia had shown up by then.  Ginger, Acid and Mocha were still missing.  But Mocha darted toward me just after the sun went down.  I took her home and conceded defeat, hoping that one or both would return in the morning, assuming they survived the night.*

By then, it was almost six!  I had to get out of there.  I was running so late!  I grabbed the kitty and my purse, put on the boots by the door, and wheeled the cart up the ice.  It was heavy, and I took off my coat again because I was starting to, ahem, glow.

Let's fast forward, shall we? I delivered the cat, and Wine Friend took me out to dinner, since I was shaking from hunger.  (I'd planned to eat something after the guys left and before I needed to leave, but that didn't happen, obviously.)  We went to a nice wine bar, and I ate a lovely meal and drank lovely wine.  I visited the lady's room.

Oh, and what a sight I beheld.  I might have been okay if I had freshened my powder and lipstick, although the smokey eyes were more smudged than anything.  And truthfully, the scratch across my forehead would have taken a bit of concealer or something.  My cute curls were in a ragged mess.  There were bits of twig in them!  I had smears of what I hoped was only dirt along my collar bone.  Never mind that I had mud on my jeans.

And I'd put on my riding boots, and not the high heels.  The boots that had been cute when I got them, but then had become my field boots, not to be confused with the muck boots.  These only had mud and a few scratches, and I am almost certain, no chicken bombs.  That I cannot say for the muck boots.

But yeah, the best laid plans of the City Kitty were pooped on by the chickens.  And I wasn't sure which I was more embarrassed by: being late because of the chickens, or looking awful because of the chickens.

*For those of you who could care less about the fashion nightmare, then rest assured, Ginger was there in the morning.  But Acid, the bottom of the pecking order, has gone to the great hawk in the sky.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Winter Tracks

The snow hung around until yesterday.  It was a glorious mid-40s!  I got away with a light jacket.  I felt the warmth of the sun on my face and hands ('cause I didn't have the wear gloves!), and after arguing quite eloquently with the chickens about going out (i.e., I threw them all outside), they strutted around all day.  Even Acid and ElastaGirl joined the old girls.  Alas, Mocha is the bottom of the pecking order, so she stayed inside and enjoyed the lack of harassment.

The snow melted, after almost two weeks of hanging around... I think.  Honestly, we've had so much coming and snowing that I cannot remember what is new and what is old.  It is snowing right now, for what it is worth.  And a huge blizzard is predicted for next weekend.

The Husband and I went out for a walk this last Saturday.  We walked the paths that no human had trod for days.  There was many a surprise in store.  For example...the pond was so iced over, that the deer had been crossing it.  I marveled at the tracks, wondering if we had misidentified them (even though by now we are almost experts at deer tracks around here...but more on that later).

fox? raccoon?  Who can say?

Well, the pond was THIS frozen.  As in a full grown man could have walked onto the ice and would not have fallen through.  Not that anyone in my family would have done such a thing...

We continued on the path through the lower pasture.  We saw these tracks, which may be raccoon but might also be fox.  I thought maybe it might be a small dog, but we were sure it was not the feral cat we see upon occasion.
One way or the other, I snapped it since we had no idea and were too lazy to look it up on our phones at the time. However, I have just looked it up. I found a similar image here.

deer highway

But this was the most amazing sight of the afternoon.  The path before us was heavily trafficked.  It was nothing but deer.  Deer!  Our field must be an interstate highway on the deer maps!  I couldn't believe the sheer volume of hoof prints.  Are they drug mules? (snicker) Or is there a party going on in the fields that I could be bringing wine to?
mouse runs

Now, the cutest sight we saw that afternoon was the little mouse runs under the snow, gradually appearing as the snow has melted.  We followed the runs for quite a way, through the bushes, past the old barn, toward the field, and there it split toward the compost heap and toward the farmhouse... rrr.

The biggest footprint (ha ha) were left by the humans.  Human runs (shoveled paths through what was once about eight inches of snow) show just how they circle their den, strike out for the mailbox and cross through the woods to where they left their car.  Amazingly, the deer and the dog also traversed those runs.

You know, we never did get around to shoveling the patio.  We were too busy dealing with the chickens, building forts, and marveling at the wildlife.  

Next weekend, we will have a blizzard, supposedly.  Two feet of snow.  I cannot wait to see all the new tracks in the snow.  But one of them better be a car returning with a fresh shipment of wine.  'Cause, a glass of wine makes the wildlife that much better.