Sunday, November 28, 2010

Golf, more addictive than chickens

We golf at the Ken-Wo course in New Minas, which is closed for the season as of this writing.  David has been a member for close to 30 years but I did not acquire the addiction until we retired in 2004.  I can think of no better activity to keep the mind and body active in retirement, or of no harder activity in which to become a top achiever.  I wish I had begun when younger, I was a curler in high school on the first team to permit women's provincial competition but we were not allowed on the golf course.  I know, it's a travesty by today's standards, but in the 1960's it was the norm. 

This is a view from the 14th tee at Ken-Wo on a Men's Day im 2009.  They're waiting for the group ahead to move forward so they can use their drivers for a difficult shot.

This is taken after a Ladies' Day competition.  It took me a long time to improve, I'll never have a handicap as low as David's but I did win a trophy in 2009 for having the greatest drop in handicap in the Women's division, and it took me out of the dreaded third division.

You meet great people when golfing.  They tend to be courteous, humble and persistent.  Some of them are parents to junior golfers and our club has an amazing program for them run by our pros.  They take a lot from golf into the other parts of their lives.  The Annapolis Valley is a wonderful place to grow up, and it shows.

Chickenry- Is it what you think?

There are many ways to raise chickens, and you'll choose what works for you according to preferences, beliefs  and budgets.  The governement is slowly working its way into small-flock raising, so be aware of local building codes and agricultural regulations.  The future may well bring more than egg-sales laws so as the changes come, try not to tear your hair out.  Will you free-range, free-run or cage birds?  What about innoculations?  The choices are controversial and the decisions judged.

Chicks are cute, but beware because they are addictive and your pets will want to eat them.  You learn that once they are out of the brooder life as you know it ends.  You will be a slave to their safety, a mucker of coops and a self-taught veterinarian.  Oh they will give you eggs, except when they decide to moult, but the first one is likely worth $1100.00.  Ahem.

Oh they are adorable, and when the first one flies out of the brooder you will exclaim, ' there anything on earth so cute'.  . 

And you will already have taught them how to drink, how to go through an archway, how to get into or out of the heat but you will never teach them how to keep poop out of the waterer, no matter how high you place it.

Nevertheless, the moment this flock is old enough you will want to do it all over again.  These chicks hatched May 15 2008 and at two and a half years old are considered 'old'- who knew?  Here we go again.

Of course it's David's fault because be made me the most astonishing brooder and getting the chicks to coop size was so *easy*.  Heh.

For 2011, we're hoping that this Australorp pair will produce enough fertilized eggs for a good hatch. They're residents of Hidden meadow Farm

The biggest challenge here is predator protection.  If you peruse the Wildlife page, you'll see what I mean.  We can't free-range, so David designed the chicken runs to deter the meat and egg-eaters.  The basic rule is to use 1/2" gauge wire, to roof the run, install a predator flange, and to make all parts of the coop inaccessible to anything but the chickens.  Any gap 1/2" or bigger must be plugged in a way that is permanent.  Forget that and a tiny weasel can kill a dozen hens in one spree. 

We began our barn renos in February of 2008 and worked through winter to create our new coop.  This fall and winter (2010) we are finishing a second coop with the same level of protection. The space for the coops used to be a huge horse stall used by our late Morgan mare, Koosa.

We recycled wood from the barn where possible, then used both plywood and particle board for the panels, and treated lumber for the dividers, studs and beams. 

We found the coop a great place to be innovative and created a hopper feeder out of PVC which can be top-loaded in the feed foom next door, and a long row of next boxes that the hens adore.  We discovered that platforms are ideal in a coop both because it gives more floor space, keeps the birds amused, and offers a work surface for the humans.

You would think the coop was the hard part, but the run is more demanding.  We roofed it with clear vinyl, installed a 3' deep predator flange, wired it with 1/2" gauge and sealed it up against all those things that like chicken. David installed snow and wind boards, too, so that the birds can be sheltered year-round.

Laying hens are challenging and the learning curve is steep.  I had experience as a teen assisting a cousin, and it prepared me for a lot.  But even with great predator protection and lack of disease, the issues of nutrition and  care of the egg mechanism are challenging.

If you build well, your first egg will be expensive.  But you'll also be as comfortable out there as your chickens.  In deep winter, it matters.  You can cut costs with good-quality reuseables as we did, but be sure the birds can be draft-free but with a decent air flow to avoid moisture build-up.  And there's nothing nicer during and after a storm as a covered run.

If you're comfortable, they're downright cosy and you can avoid contamination from wild birds and get your eggs without having them freeze.

Adding things like suet keeps the birds warm too, and cleanup is easier in winter as everything scrapes up in tidy lumps.

If you have electricity, an electric dog bowl is the cat's meow.

and the hens like them too.

Thing is, if you build and the structure can't hold a snow load in a winter zone it's all over for the chickens and for you.  Unless you plan to move them to a garage or your basement.

For help with your chickens be sure to check Down The Lane Website:

The Property and Animals

For years this 'Country Lady', the United Church in Centre Rawdon, has graced the property across from our house.  Soon she will be removed from her foundations to become a home.  The cemetary will continue to mark the graves of church members going back to the settlement days.  It will be sad to see her journey onward, but I am glad she will continue to exist in another venue.  A church in Upper Rawdon was lost in past years but has remained near its original location and houses a family in that community.  This sort of event is becoming characteristic of rural communities as congregations gather up their members and amalgamate to worship in a nearby church.  The UCW of this church used to hold remarkable fund-raisers in the basement in Novermber of each year- their best crafts, preserves, food and recipes.  I smile every time I remember them.

The character of our property is dictated by our red barn.  The original owner told me that cats began to enter the structure before it was ever completed, and we have witnessed generations of them in our 23+ years here.  My research tells me that feral cats appeared in Nova Scotia sometime during 1632, when a shipload of agricultural animals, equipment and French brides arrived on the south shore.  The assembly marched north then west into the Annapolis Valley on a track that later became the Old Windsor Road.  So the cats descended from them, in part, resemble the 'throwback genetics' of the mainly tabbies that came from Pitou Province in France.  And those cats originated in the Middle East and were adopted by Crusaders to control rodents and came back both overland and on ships.

We host about 14 of them now, and have counted as many as 31 in the loft during vicious winter storms.  There is always fresh kibble in stock bowls for them, and an electric dog bowl with clean water.  So we don't have rodents.  The poor things have to travel through the nearby Caseylands to find a mouse!  One of the tabbies is my housecat, Bee (short for Bumblebee).

Bee is typical of the original French cats, and the animals marked this way also display exceptional affection, excel at hunting and generally in getting everything they want.  The ube-queen of the entire feral colony, Sweetpea, looks like this too.

As I write, winter is arriving, though November of 2010 has been kind.  In the last week of the month the temperature has varied just above and below zero during the day.  But we know the snow is to our west, the rest of Canada has had a swift start to the winter season.  This is an average snowfall, but we can get more.  Since adding a snowblower to our tractor, things have been easier.

And when spring arrives, this good land gives us an outstanding array of flowering shrubs and the greenest grass imaginable.

I'm going to leave discussion about chickens to a separate thread, because I could go on and on...

By the spring of 2011we had decided that the breed we prefer is Australorps.  So a new phase in poultry-keeping begins.

What's Going On?

Heritage Australorps

Already here from Hidden Meadow Farm, an Australorp cockerel and his mate: Darwin and Adelaide.  In the next few weeks six pullets will arrive to our newest coop and to grow until they can join the mated pair.  The new girls are from other fine stewards of the land- at Active Life Farm.

The first kits of the season were born to the colony uber-queen late (Sweetpea) - two light tabbies and a mahogany.  The mother is the daughter of the first female to use the barn (Elizabeth).  As far as I can tell the sire is Peaches, a light tabby male who is guarding the litter.  Mom chose the scruffiest sleeping box for nursing, I will be cleaning the space as I can, so long as she allows me.

On the first day of spring, March 20, 2011, we experienced a 'Supermoon' when a full moon was at perigee.  It's the first time since 1993.  This image was taken at 6:55 am as dawn began and just before clouds obscured the moon.  It was -6C and I ventured onto the deck, facing west, in my housecoat and slippers.

Last day of winter, March 19, 2011
The land is drying out but temperatures remain below freezing after a few days of above-normal temperatures.  Lambs are being born at Hidden Meadow Farm, which is heartening, it's where our new flock will be hatched.  We need to complete the pop door, the outdoor platform and the delivery chamber on the new coop and then it will be finished.  The older hens get that coop, since it is smaller and we get only an occasional egg.  The new birds will get the larger one with 6 nest boxes. 

For the first time since November 7, the air smells of relief.  It has been our most difficult winter in 23 years, with 28 recorded weather events so far.  So now, on March 05, 2011, I dare to hope that the just-above-zero temperatures may last a few days and that the sheets of ice and mounds of snow will reduce.  The cats are outside, some in the evergreen maze at the base of the property, and I suspect the uber-queen will have her kits there with others in attandance, sometime in April.  The hens were lined up on the ramp before I offered treats (grapes) and were dust-bathing in the covered run when I left them.  Hundreds of birds, including over 30 ringnecks and dozens of mourning doves are feeding and their songs have a gleeful tone for a change.  We saw deer at a neighbour's yesterday and expect them back on our property at any time.  I hope the losses have not been too great.  Bobcats had been sighted, never a good sign for the herbivores.

By March 06, 2011, we began to experience a massive thaw.  Over half of the snow pack is gone and most roofs have shed layers of dangerous ice.  There is localized flooding so we're glad to be on a hill.  Massive rain storms are approaching from the American northeast, so nearby Brooklyn, Salmon River, LaHave, Blue Acres and Middleton are bracing for trouble.

Forty years married in December 2010

Verse and Prose

Chickenspeak and Other Thoughts


 Zipfi has been my first broody and gave me a scare in February of 2008, just after Valentine's.  I had been noticing loose feathers around the coop and in the end nest box near the outer door to the run.  Then on the 15th when she bent over with the others to accept treats in the blue bowl, I noticed a bare patch between her legs.  It was a perfect circle!  I remembered that Zipfi has been hogging that nest box recently.  In fact when I lifted her gently she seemed a bit light.  Bingo.  She's going broody.  Now, Zipfi is one of those hens who watches me closely.  She will accept a gentle stroke while squatting, but she can be obsessive about eggs and has often bawked her resentment as I collect them.  I assume that single egg that always appears in the end box is hers. too.  So she lays one egg, alone in the same place every day but fusses over bigger clutches in any box.  Interesting.  So I began offering her a strip of shredded cabbage in return for her egg, daily, and collected them earlier than usual.  She gradually broke back into normal eating and drinking, and has become more congenial.  Took about two weeks, maybe a little more, and her feathers began to grow back.  Then this morning, March 10,  I noticed a feather in her nest box and that I had only eleven eggs, down one from my usual twelve.  Sneaky cow waited until I left the coop and jumped into the box and laid egg.  I have to think she wanted me out of there so I wouldn't take it.  I waited a while and returned.  She doth protest but I have that egg.  Without a rooster I can't risk having her go broody and get out of condition.  I know she hates me, but, well, she's the only one.  So far.  She seems quite, um, determined.

A Display of Dominance

I witnessed an exquisite display yesterday on our roosts, which are 3- 2x4's at the same level.  A small sexlink named Redwing flew to the roost from the top of the nest boxes last evening as all the girls prepared to groom and gossip before sleep.  Trouble was, the biggest bossiest hen in the coop, Golda, as walking along the middle roost where Redwing sleeps.  Golda chose to interpret Redwing's arrival as a threat and stretched up like a rooster, arched and lifted her wings.

As I was mesmerized by that display, Redwing landed, twisted herself sideways on the front roost and lifted a wing exposing her underbelly to Golda.  Her neck stretched back and she stood on one foot in an utter display of submission.  Not convinced, Golda fluffed and her eyes blazed.  Redwing then, almost against the laws of physics, turned in the other direction and lifted her remaining wing and stood, frozen, in front of Golda.  You's think she belonged to the Winnipeg Ballet.

Then, as though nothing had transpired, Golda returned to her normal size and groomed, forcingRedwing to wait for *her* spot on the middle roost.  I was stunned, no birds were injured in the performing of this show, and soon after the roost filled with hens, each of whom stepped into her sleeping spot, including Redwing.

I wait for moments like this, transfixed.

Charlie the Rooster

There once was a rooster named Charlie
who rode on the back of a Harley;
And when he saw chicks,
He crowed and threw sticks
Until they agreed to a parley.

I wannnit

Whenever I look at a chicken
My greedy heart beats to a quicken
Whether rooster or hen
It comes to my pen
I'm struck with a nameless addiction.

The Games Pullets Play

The girls are pullets now, replete with petticoats at six weeks. They're getting more independent and their beaks are harder. I hear big girl voices and a dozen needy cries when I enter the coop. Feed me, love me, water me, carry me, be my protector. It's good to be a beloved jailer, and these Golden Comets and other RIR crosses are wicked fun!

I'm Bigger Than You are
This game begins with an unexpected face to face as two of the girls look up and find each other in the way. The necks elongate horizontally at first, and then there are little squawks as each tries to prove she's bigger and badder than the other. Heads weave past each other cheek to cheek the way mean girls kiss on the street. There is optional flapping and foot stomping. Eventually one proves she is the taller or bulkier. Maybe it's part of the journey to pecking order, and it usually ends with each of them pretending it didn't happen, as food or other distractions break the focus.

I'll Clean You

This is a good one, because it's an excuse to see if pecking the human is possible. It could be a way to bully you if you let it proceed, and I am not to be bullied, thanks very much. Your shoes are a good target because all kinds of edibles seem to collect on the top, above your metatarsals. This doesn't hurt much so we tend to tolerate. But then there's the twang that only the Achilles tendon can produce, and it isn't very nice. It's particularly difficult if you are sockless or if you have a freckle. Yikes. The worst version of this occurs on hot days if we're foolish enough to wear shorts and have grass clippings or something on which they can focus, on the back of the leg. Back of the knee? Nearly intolerable! Your hair will do, too, never mind earrings. The ultimate agony is having them find a tattoo or piercing. Ye Gods! Of course when you scream they look at you sideways as though you were at fault and have a bad attitude. Ruby, my smallest RIR cross is a sneaky little devil.

The Dust Bath

Unlike human baths pullets prefer to dust bathe in groups. it starts with one individual getting the idea, and luxuriously easing herself deep into the provided sand. No matter how big the container it is never big enough and half the flock will line up immediately. The first bird is always slow to leave, and is capaple of throwing up much matter in her efforts to lord it over the others. A pile-on often is the result with the first bird eventually being driven out, though I swear they chuckle at starting the melee. A haze forms in the coop as low-level particulate slowly drifts to the floor. After much exercise, a group sleep is in order. As a bonus, sunlight often cascades through an open door to make the entire experience breathtaking.

Ruby Can Dance

Ruby is going to be a challenge much like the Ruby in that song by the Kaiser Chiefs. For I while I thought she might be an undetected roo, but now I believe her to be an assertive little banshee. It had been suggested that each time she pecks me that I pick her up and not let her down while the others enjoy food and a fresh water fountain. But the fuss! She's hard to hold and getting smarter about my intentions. She's among the top four in this flock of twelve, and we are having a meeting of the minds! She is delightful on one level- if you sing to her, and I do, she will dance on the platform by the pop door. In fact when I sing to Ruby, at least four more will join her in a bird dance. I have a terrible voice, it proves only that she loves the attention.

Shake Your BootyKC & The Sunshine Band said it best and they must have been watching chickens. Thest booty shows occur in a line, when the girls are at the edge of one side of the run, mutually foraging for bugs. The petticoats are in the air, the legs are scratching the earth and there's a tremble of excitement each time prey is found. The buff undertones of their bottoms shake with rhythm and I can't help but laugh.
AahEverybody, get on the floor, let's dance!
Don't fight your feelings, give yourself a chance!

Shake shake shake, shake shake shake,
Shake your booty! Shake your booty!
Oh, shake shake shake, shake shake shake,
Shake your booty! Shake your booty.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Do you, do you, do you, do you
Know what you're doing, doing, to me
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby


Sometimesa pullet will jump up, fold her legs like the lever on a one-armed bandit, and land in her original position. If she has swallowed, you can bet she saw a fly , but why she felt the need to jum is beyond me because her head stayed at nearly the same level as her legs swung up. Do pullet have hinges? The behavior is seldom repeated by the same bird, but seems to be contagious if they are on the same level. Maybe they liften to Van Halen-
Might as well jump. jump !
Might as well jump.
Go ahead, jump. jump !
Go ahead, jump.

The Ring Bearer (the ultimate game)

This is my favorite game. One of the girls finds a feather, a bug or a worm. Squiggly objects are best. She flaunts it briefly, takes off at a shocking pace and each pullet squawks upon discovering her and races to get the prize. All sorts of bad things can happen if the ringbearer stops- the ring can be lost, there can be a pile-on, a dust up, a mean girl kiss, or much flapping. The object of this game seems to be the joy (horror) of the chase and I suspect it is orchestrated by the more dominant members of the flock only. Like Frodo, the ringbrearer is in mortal danger, only she doesn't seem to care.

King of the MountainThe entire flock has run up your spine after the ringbearer as you sit on a hay bale. Each launches from a shoulder onto a platform and back into the coop via the pop door. The trick is to stand up before they come back out and use you again. It sucks to be the mountain.

The Grapevine

Six pullets are sitting in the heat of the sun on a perch behind a plexiglass window.

Pullet 1-What's that red thing she's chasing?
Pullet 2- She called it a %$#@! fox.
Pullet 3- Why is she chasing it?
Pullet 4- With a pitch fork?
Pullet 5- Squawk!
Pullet 6- It stopped.
Pullet 1-OMG, sstopped. It turned. It snarled at her.
Pullet 2-She seems to be coming back.
Pullet 3-So are all the cats.
Pullet 4- She's running.
Pullet 5- Quite impressive, I might add.
Pullet 6- Do you think she'll make it here first?
Pullet 1- I'm just glad the coop door is closed.
Pullet 2- Did she remember the pop door?
Pullet 3- I wish she'd remembered the gun.
Pullet 4- She has a gun?
Pullet 5- Squawwwwwwwwwwwwwwk!
Pullet 6- I like foxes, they're red.
Everyone else- Somebody close the pop door!

The Worm Has Turned

I love to golf. Sometimes you see mammals on the course such as deer, but usually it's the birds who are the heroes of the fairways. Ducks breed in the ponds, nighthawks cry in the pines and eagles soar like emperors.
My ladies' group was on its way down the fourth fairway and I was hovering over a ball with my eight-iron when I happened to see a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. Now how could you hit a golf ball with a huge male fox lumbering parallel to the brook behind us? There was a huge commotion beginning over him as a murder of crows came streaming in his general direction. The fox dipped and weaved, finally crossing a bridge (the place where Marg had lost a new ball). He was nearly over and on his way back to the woods and safety when I hear another cry from the pond up by the green.

A mallard drake was out for blood. He nearly crashed my left shoulder too (wak! waaack! wak!) and I was the one dipping to give him access to his target, Mr. Fox. What the crows could not do this low-flying squadron of one had accomplished. He crashed into the mammal so viciously that the group behind us ran to save the fox. By then we were all screaming and flapping, not knowing if we could stop the melee. The fox scrambled for the brush, stumbling and bumbling, and with the duck following, half on the wing and sometimes landing to launch again.

By then a groundsman was on the spot. I didn't know the little golf buggies could go so fast. Man with a shovel, eight women pleading for the fox. The fox cowered, gathered his second wind and went into a hole. Mixed emotions. He must be the one taking the baby ducklings, and the neighborhood cats. Still. Mixed emotions. I hope the club will hire a humane trapper and move the guy. But where? Spoiled my round, too. I had an eight on that hole.

The Way of the Fox

The orange angora came screaming out of the woods as I took morning walkabout to check the fence posts in our largest pasture. The cat was so stressed that when he saw me in my long Aussie raincoat that he screamed all the way up my body, across my shoulders and onto my head. If you have never been clutched head first by all four claws of a cat while he deafens you with his fear, you have not lived on a farm. That said, my mind drifted through the pain to whatever had sent him to the barn and inadvertently, to my skull. The answer was forthcoming, in a leaping, streaking bundle of four-footed red fur which promptly sat like a pretty dog exactly three feet in front of me. It cocked its head, lovely thing, but the gleam in the eyes said that it might not back down.

I had a problem. It was obvious that Tang, our first barn cat, was not coming down. By now I was punctuated with blood streams and to my greater distress, by a warm stream of cat piss on my neck. The day had not begun well, and I was not carrying so much as a walking stick. The fox cocked her head in the other direction, I had decided on female because of the slender build and the long eyelashes. If she had had a wristwatch I think she would be saying that time for breakfast had come and gone and that the kids were waiting back at the den. I have since learned that a single vixen can have more than one den and we are in former gold digging country, so the hills are filled not with music but with predators.

I was listing my options at a speed greater than light. Back off? A sign of weakness. Step forward? Rejected at first. Turn a shoulder? Not with the flaming cat injecting my weary scalp. I know that if you can make yourself look bigger some animals will back down, so I took my hands briefly away from Tang and spred the panels of my coat out. Tang was not amused and I think I gained sixteen more punctures in that moment. The fox did raise her hindquarters, though. Was she preparing to move off? Seemingly not. I have heard that foxes and bobcats can leap twice their height. Hay-sussssssssssssss, Mary and Joseph, please, no. I was considering giving her the cat, to be honest, except that it would leave me scarred for life. The moments passed. The vixen grew impatient. I'm not sure how long we both stood at high noon.
We both decided to act in the same heartbeat. She jumped at an angle to snap at Tang as I bent my knee with the intention of backing her off. However you look at it, I could have used a little help.

I like animals, I understand the food chain and I do not begrudge a wild thing a full belly. I also like my pets and though Tang was not here by my choice (former owners begged me to keep him), he was also not being hunted by choice. I'm not sure if cats understand that they are food when they are loose, but Tang was getting the picture, fast. Tang was forzen in his terror, expect for those claws that seemed to have a new life, deep in my senses.

This vixen had no fear of me, she must have been around the barn many times and I had often felt her presence at twilight. I had known so many times that something was hunting that I began to lock up the barn a little early so that the horses could relax, knowing that the cats would come in through the hay vents at the edge of the oft, as they pleased. So why was Tang in the woods before breakfast? Why was I even thinking about that with fox jaws so close to my face?