A Solitary Sentry

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Quail are so common in our muddy valley that we have a Quayle Road just down the way. In the summer months we see them a lot. They dash along the roadside in single file family groups, pacing us for a few seconds before plunging into the brush. Mini roadrunners with legs flying, flouncy headdresses bobbing in front of them as they go.

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California quail were first released in the Victoria area way back in 1861, a hundred years exactly before I was born. They thrived, as immigrants tend to do, and are now common all over our valley and indeed most of the west coast. In the fall and winter they congregate in “coveys” consisting of a few adults of both sexes and a bunch of youngsters. Female quail choose a new mate each year in early spring, and the happy couples leave the covey to hatch and rear their brood before rejoining, kids in tow, in the fall.

One day a few weeks ago, I noticed a lone male hanging around the chicken coops. That first day, he introduced himself by standing on top of a barnyard fence post, chuk-chuk-chuk-ing at me for all he was worth. When I got too close (rudely ignoring his warnings), he burst up into the air, flew over my head and then dove for the nearest bush, where he hit the ground running. California quail are far better runners than fliers. They use their wings much like chickens do; only in a pinch, and to escape delicate situations.

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A few days later, Resident Gardener approvingly noted how well puppy Arrow was doing with his livestock guardian raptor training. “He ran off a quail!” she enthused, “he knew it wasn’t a chicken!” I politely refrained from pointing out that quail may not be chickens, but they ain’t raptors either. Nor did I mention that I had already met this particular quail.

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Arrow may have run him off that day, but not for long. Our new little sentry is very much still around, popping up every single time I go out to the barnyard. And every time, I get a stern talking-to, in quail-speak, for daring to set foot in what he evidently feels is ‘his’ chicken empire. It’s a blessing that quail aren’t physically aggressive creatures, or I would surely have had my eyes picked out by now. This plucky little fellow, even smaller than Tiny Chicken, has adopted my flocks as his own, lock, stock and barrel. He stands guard from dawn to dusk, usually on the bridge railing (sadly now unfit for human hands), and roosts up high in the willows at night.

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As you might imagine, I am out in the barnyard a lot, enjoying various chicken keeping activities, and I have become accustomed to his constant surveillance and commentary. Our little sentry continues to get himself quite worked up at my presence and so far he is careful to keep a healthy distance. I hope he gets more approachable over time.

When the roosters call out a warning, the little guy goes ballistic, echoing their concern in his most enthusiastic manner. But it doesn’t work the other way around. When he freaks out because, say, I’ve shown up, the chickens don’t listen. They know I am no threat.

Our barn cat is wary of him now, after their recent run in. The other day as I was filling feeders, Callie decided to come on over for a quick visit and neck scratch. She had made it halfway across the paddock separating the barn and the coops, when a brown and gray feathery spitfire launched himself at her, claws first. Scoring a direct hit, he beat her with his tiny wings, chuk-chuking loudly all the while. Recoiling in utter shock, Callie turned tail and ran to hide in the barn, while our little sentry drew himself up, gave his headdress a satisfied toss, and returned to his post. I believe it is only a matter of time before he does the same to Arrow.

I wonder why he is all alone? Did he find a mate and she meet a tragic end? Or was he fated this year to be a bachelor, with not enough females to go around? Did he willingly strike out on his own, eager for a big adventure? Or get the boot? I will never know his story, only that I am now part of it.

I probably shouldn’t be encouraging wild birds to stick around, they carry disease as all wild things do. But my flock free ranges all day anyway, I couldn’t keep them insulated from wild birds unless I fenced the sky. Strong healthy birds fend off disease, so I will focus on good husbandry, and give my birds their freedom, and enjoy my little solitary sentry. I wonder how long he’ll stay?

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Bits and Bobs

I have a weakness for vintage sewing thread. Well, ok, I have a weakness for vintage. I scoop my flour and sugar from 1950s Kromex copper canisters, I cook on a 1953 Moffat Coronation stove, we eat from vintage-style Fiestaware dishes at a 1930s oak kitchen table in a humble 1970s farmhouse and when I started making butter, well of course I had to try a vintage butter press.

My romantic brain is drawn to the ‘good old days’ when life was simpler, even as my logical brain reminds me that no, of course it wasn’t. Humankind has always struggled, and today, for all its troubles, the world where I am blessed to be living my quiet little life is truly a wonderful place. I, along with billions of my fellow humans, face much less struggle, toil and suffering than our forebears faced throughout most of history. Yes, even in a pandemic.

I spent much of yesterday sewing masks. I am onto my third pattern now, waylaying various-sized family members and test fitting as I go, weighing the alternatives of elastic ear loops (good for short stints), shoelace or bias tape ties (best fit but complicated to get on), satin linings (sumptuous) and which cotton print for the outsides? Funnily enough, it is the men in my life who are the most worried about fabric colour and pattern. They prefer the somber, serious look.

Much to my delight, I am finally using the many small bits of fabric that I have held onto over thirty-plus years of sewing projects. I knew they would be good for something some day! Even better, I am finishing up some of the bits and bobs of thread of all colours that I have collected.

I have a particular weakness for vintage thread, and am incapable of leaving behind any small plastic bag of wooden thread spools discovered at the local thrift store. Laboriously sorted, packaged and labelled by intellectually challenged workers sifting though long tables of donations in vast charity warehouses (I imagine), these little dollar-or-two bags often include some real treasures.


Pure silk thread from the late 19th century in a rainbow of colours, my best-ever find. Boil fast depression-era thread from back when boiling laundry was what women did, every toilsome laundry day. Heavy duty cotton, for mending thick coveralls and denim. J. & P. Coats, like Mom had. All on solid wood spools and many with their original, delightful labels.

I can’t help thinking these threads are a cut above what I can buy today. Some are a hundred years old, and still sturdy and brightly coloured. Incredible, beautiful, useful talismans of the past that link me, in a chain reaching back through the mists of time, to who knows how many incredible, beautiful, strong women. Women who like me lived their quiet lives, but with probably much less freedom, much less comfort, much less idle time and much less healthcare than I enjoy today. Woman like me who sat sewing for loved ones, listening to the radio, or the rain pattering on the roof, with hot cup of tea at their elbow, mending basket at their feet. Snug, and for the moment, content.

Fortress Blueberry

We all love blueberries around here, so two or three years ago I brought home a couple blueberry plants from the feed store, and planted them out near the pond in the Tarzan Tree field. We wrapped plastic netting around them, and left them to their own devices. They never did much, returning our almost-complete lack of attention with their almost-complete lack of fruit, the ultimate tit-for-tat.

Growing no less fond of blueberries as time went by, this year I doubled down tenfold. When the blueberry man posted his Facebook ad I answered it, and a couple weeks later ten nice blueberry bushes appeared in our driveway. I was going big.

Resident Gardener rolled her eyes a little bit at my folly, but she took half of them out to the Tarzan Tree field and planted them anyway. She had been giving my poor neglected blueberries some love, and a bit of pruning, and this year they actually had some flowers! When the five new ones went in, it seemed we had achieved an actual blueberry patch!

Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m looking for a new project since I now had the raspberry patch sorted. So when RG mentioned the bunnies had been getting at my new blueberry bushes, I went to check it out. Little buggers! Our jury-rigged plastic fence enclosure obviously wasn’t up to the job. The five plants she had set out were now half the size of the five she had transplanted into bigger pots and arranged beside the house until the fall rains came, when we would add them to the patch.

Well, here was my new project. I couldn’t have asked for a more clear wake-up call. I had a blueberry patch now, dammit. I wasn’t going to let those dang bunnies take out my blueberry patch!

Over the next few weeks, in spare minutes here and there, usually at the ends of long days, I would wander out to the blueberry patch and do a bit of work. I scavenged materials from all over the farm, a part-roll of chicken wire left over from coop construction, some rusty but solid t-posts donated by a generous neighbour, some slender eight-foot bamboo poles harvested last fall from our prized clump of black bamboo, and of course the yards and yards of six-foot plastic deer fencing that had enclosed the blueberries, useless against the bunnies but perfectly suited to stringing from bamboo poles to keep the deer out. I even had all the zip ties I needed. My only purchase was the white plastic t-post fence caps, to prevent clumsy horses impaling themselves.

Having researched effective bunny fences online, I started my install. Pounding in the posts to form a nice big enclosure was the easiest bit. Rolling out 70 feet of 4-foot chicken wire so I could fold up a border a foot wide all along, then rolling it up again and man-handling it over to where I had installed the t-posts, so I could unroll and fasten it along the fence line, was the trickiest bit.


Uninstalling and untangling, then reinstalling the plastic deer fencing RG had jury-rigged was the most time-consuming bit. Building the gate was the hardest bit, luckily Dear Husband came along just as I had finished the basic frame, pointed out it’s shortcomings, and pitched in to help correct it. A good teacher as always, DH more facilitated my build than took it over.

One of our big city pandemic refugees, a young man currently furloughed from Vancouver’s film industry, went after the weeds with a vengeance. He had almost the whole patch beautifully weeded in one afternoon. RG mulched along behind him, as I continued work on my fence.

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On Mother’s Day we finished our magnificent blueberry fortress. Almost. We will sheet mulch the grassy areas so they will be broken down and ready for the other five bushes in October. We may need to add some featherlight netting to cover the top before the berries ripen, to save them from the birds. RG thinks not. Her theory is that there are so many wild berries in our valley that ripen in August at the same time as blueberries, we may be ok. Time will tell. One thing for sure, those darned bunnies are going to have to go elsewhere for their blueberry fix now. Unless the little buggers can chew through chicken wire.

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Adventures In Soil Testing

“I’d like to test our soil this year”, Resident Gardener announced one day last winter, “it would be good to know for sure what our pH is”.

“Alright” I agreed, “I’m pretty sure it’s slightly acidic, but I’ll pick up one of those test kits next time I’m at the feed store.” I’d thought of our soil as slightly acidic for as long as I could remember. I had a vague wisp of a memory relating to a soil test in the remote past, maybe twenty or so years ago. So long ago that I remember absolutely nothing about the actual act, other than I had a hunch our soil had turned out slightly acidic. This ‘slightly acidic’ nature of our soil was by this point really just a legend, valley lore so to speak.

I checked out the kits that week during my feed store visit, and wow, $29.99!?! For a couple little plastic test tubes, maybe 50ml of coloured liquid, and a booklet? Yeesh. THAT wasn’t gonna happen, not without some research into more fiscally responsible options.

That evening I went online and looked into it. I could buy that feed store kit from lots of suppliers, but I could also, I discovered with delight on a prepper website, buy enough pH test strips for a couple hundred soil tests for under $10. Jackpot! I placed my order, making sure I chose the pH 4.5-9.0 ones, not the 0-14 ones that are too broad spectrum for meaningful soil testing. And I went for the free shipping of course. I could wait.

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My new pH test strips took forever to get here, on the slow boat from China, and of course by the time they arrived it was spring, we had a pandemic starting up, and I had a package from China in my hands. Ulp. I shook off my paranoia, rationalizing that any virus would never have survived that long ocean voyage anyway.

A couple days after my test strips arrived, in a free moment, I pulled up the prepper website and read the article again. I had the test strips, what next? Damn! I needed distilled water! I thought for a moment about distilling some, quickly discounting the idea as far too labour intensive, and decided I would just have to pick some up from Crappy Tire. I slung my homemade face mask around my neck, and off I went to brave the retail jungle.

Unfortunately, Crappy Tire does not sell distilled water, only de-ionized water. Argh. Back to the drawing board. Where could I get distilled water? Enquiring minds needed to know! Maybe the drug store? A few days later, I donned my face mask again and ventured out to our local drugstore, where…victory! They had tons, in four litre jugs, for a couple bucks each! Woo hoo! I was in business, and still way ahead compared to that pricey kit. Sure it had taken me more than a month of waiting for the mail, plus two trips to stores during a pandemic, but I finally had everything I needed. It was time to play scientist.

“Slice four to six inches vertically into the soil” read the prepper article, “remove a slice and put it into a bucket. Crumble well, removing all rocks and twigs, then measure out one cupful into a container.” I levered the first wedge of dirt into my bucket, crumbled and cleaned it, and measured exactly one small mason jar full into the first of the five yogurt bins, one for each major garden. I lidded and labelled it, then moved operations on to the next spot. Blueberry patch, raspberry patch, big garden, tiny house garden, agridome. Once I had all my cupfuls of dirt in labelled yogurt bins, I returned to the carport where I had stashed the distilled water. A mason jar of water went into each bin, and then I gave each a good thorough shaking.

“Wait half an hour” the prepper website advised, “the dirt will settle, leaving clear water at the top into which you will dip your test strips”. But at the end of half an hour, the contents of my bins still resembled lumpy chocolate milk. We were going to have to leave them overnight. “That’s clay soil for ya!” RG cheerfully observed as I carefully stacked the bins on the deck stairs, one per step, up tight against the railing so traffic could get by.

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A couple hours later as I was sitting in my chair reading, a kerfuffle broke out on the deck and RG called me down, urgency colouring her voice. Liza had been following her up and down the deck stairs as RG collected her seed potatoes for planting, and her floofy wagging tail had knocked over one of the yogurt bins. My blueberry patch test sample was now a small mud puddle at the foot of the stairs. So off I went again, to dig up a fresh one. Since I was at it anyway, I figured I might as well go up and grab the orchard sample I’d overlooked the first time out. Up against our valley’s east side, sandwiched between the driveway and the road, we were pretty sure the orchard was planted on fill brought in when the house was built. The soil in that area was a completely different colour and texture from the rest of our muddy valley. What pH would it be? I was sure it would differ radically from our rich black valley bottom soil!

I gathered the two samples, added the distilled water, labelled, lidded and shook them, then tucked all six bins inside my truck bed, where they could hang out safely away from puppy dog tails until the next day. Surely the dirt would have settled by then.

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Yesterday was the big reveal. It was finally time for our muddy valley to give up the secrets of her soil acidity. Oh the excitement! We solemnly assembled in the carport, lined up the six bins on the tailgate, carefully removed their lids, and dipped the first two test strips into the the first sample. Uh huh…and it looks like…ph 6.5. Slightly acidic. Ok. Onto the next one. Uh huh, uh huh, looks like….Ph 6.25. Slightly acidic. Ok. And so it went. Every single sample, even the light red orchard soil! Between 6.25 and 6.5. Slightly acidic.

But wait! These results seemed so…close. Were our test strips bona fide? We needed a control! RG ran upstairs and got a bowl of baking soda in water and a bowl of lemon juice in water. We dipped and peered at the test strips. Oh yeah, they worked great! Look at those colours!
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It had been a long journey, fraught with unforseen obstacles, but we had finally confirmed it. Our muddy valley soil is…wait for it… slightly acidic. A bit of an anti-climax I know, but boy, it’s sure a good thing I didn’t spend all that money on an expensive feed store soil test kit! Plus I have the means to conduct a hundred more soil tests, should I ever want to. Probably not, but it’s good to have options, you know?

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Counting on Ducks

Early Friday morning I went for a drive along the quiet roads, my first outing in more than a week, to pick up a few Muscovy duck eggs from a pony-tailed young mom with a baby strapped to her chest. We did the Covid dance, she advancing and laying the egg carton on the ground, then retreating, then me moving forward to carefully pick it up with gloved hands and slide it into a bag. Swing your partner do si do.💃

I haven’t hatched duck eggs before. I tried once with eggs shipped from Manitoba, but none even started and the breeder graciously gave me a refund. So this should be interesting.

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We have been pondering ducks for a few years now, to help deal with our somewhat dire slug situation, but have never quite committed. This is because we know that ducks are talented mud generators, and we have quite enough mud in our valley already.  We also worry that they would destroy our lovely pond. But the garden is bigger and more important this year, and RG is tired of midnight slug hunts, so we’re finally ready to take the plunge.
Plus, we have a
 disaster readiness plan firmly in place. If it all goes sideways, we shall eat them, and thereby exact our vengeance. Apparently Muscovy meat is tasty, very lean, and red, with some gourmands comparing the breast meat to sirloin steak, or expensive ham. Not what one would expect from poultry.

A kind neighbour gave us the five foot t-bars we shall use to stand up their run, to be fashioned from a roll of welded page wire that was hanging around looking for a job. The old mobile rooster tractor, to be parked near the pond, will be their abode. Unlike other ducks, Muscovies like to perch, so the tractor should work well. First their brooder, then their coop, the rooster tractor will be the only home they will know. Hopefully, once they are grown, RG will be able to wheel them at night to wherever she needs help with slug control, let them out in the morning to do their work, and they will docilely go to bed in their tractor each night, safe from predators. This may be a bit of a pipe dream, we will find out eventually.

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Other than the fifteen bucks I spent on the eggs, we haven’t shelled out a dime so far. We will have to pick up some duck food I suppose, but that should be our total cash investment.

I am looking forward to ducklings, but I had better not count them before they hatch. To achieve my efficient feathered slug patrol, I have to get them out of their shells and raise them first.

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April Fools’!

Google may have cancelled April Fools’ Day, but my silly husband didn’t get the memo. After forty years of him savouring every April 1st, I should have known I could count on him to coax a giggle or two out of me, even in the midst of a pandemic. I can’t remember most of the tricks he’s played over the years, although the one where he duct taped the kids’ bedroom doors shut is hard to forget. I think it was all the scraping and trim repainting required after three kids howling with laughter ripped duct tape from their doors. Or the niggling thought that perhaps partially disabling their exits for a night might have been not quite super safe. But all’s well that ends well and we got a precious family memory out of it too.

This morning when I got up and headed to the kitchen to make coffee, I couldn’t find the kettle. As usual, it took a while for the penny to drop. Ohhhhhh, April 1st.

I finally located it, camouflaged by the cozy we use to keep the bodum hot. I smiled, thinking “of course he couldn’t resist” and feeling relieved that he had been gentle with his trick this year, and I had figured it out so easily. I should have known better.

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When the kettle boiled I opened the drawer to grab the coffee, and discovered that, as usual, he wasn’t quite done with pulling my leg. My morning scavenger hunt ended, as so many hunts do, right back where I started. How did he know that when I saw his first note, I’d head off on that wild goose chase, rather than opening the drawer to its full extent to find the coffee canister hiding at the very back? By the time I had the coffee brewing I was giggling hard.

And how did he know that I would next grab my phone, to take some shots so I could share? It took a little bit to get my phone out of the case it sat in backwards, so I could use it. “I wonder if he’s done yet?” I thought. Again as usual, I will spend the rest of the morning warily living my usual routine, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Well, I did marry him because he made me laugh. And forty years later, I’m still chuckling. ❤️ Happy April Fool’s everyone!

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Thankful for Ordinary: Take Two

Way back in 2017 when life was, y’know, normal, I wrote down the stray thoughts that ran through my head as I prepared Thanksgiving dinner. I shared my resulting interior monologue, calling it “Thankful For Ordinary.

Re-reading this blog post today really cheered me up. Made me grateful that I lived that day, and happy that I didn’t take it for granted. “Good job!” I congratulated myself, “you didn’t squander what you were given.”

I need cheering up too. Because life these days is too eventful. On the one hand, it’s kind of awe-inspiring to be living now. To be a part of history in the making. Even though it’s dreadful history that’s being made, and a little terrifying.

So, to cope with it all,  I’m working hard at finding my balance, as I have had to do many times before in my life. Like when my first newborn was critically ill, and numerous times since, as my family has faced serious illness and injury, and yes, death. As we all must do each time life throws a challenge in our laps.

Thank goodness, I’ve gotten better at life in my 58 years of practice. It’s just life. We get thrown in, and we swim. Or we sink. Swimming is better.

I find my balance by staying informed. Not soaking up every bit of news, not marinating in the hyperbole, the hysteria. Instead, I ration it, listening to a full, balanced newscast once or maybe twice a day. I educate myself, heeding the words of my government and public health professionals. I ignore the unreliable voices, checking the source of every interesting headline before I plunge into the content, refusing to consume the garbage. I safeguard my mental health along with my physical health.

I cook ordinary meals, wholesome food, for my family, temporarily expanded this week to include a couple big city refugees.  I keep busy. I work at home, so that hasn’t changed, and I have plenty of chores and projects to keep me busy too. I appreciate my family, and my dog, and my barnyard, and my beloved muddy valley.

And I glean what pleasure I can from the experiences this pandemic is beginning to bring. Like the brave Italians singing out their windows. And my coworker’s really good animated short film about social distancing. And the many stories of people helping people. And like the long distance phone call I got yesterday, just to catch up, from a dear cousin who temporarily walked away from her social media accounts last week. Long distance phone calls are vintage social media and happily far more affordable today than they were back when they were the only game in town. My cousin is doing what she must to find her own balance as she faces dual challenges, working in our beleaguered Alberta’s oil patch plus Covid-19. It was good to hear her cheery, spunky voice.

But what works best for me, is just being thankful for ordinary. There is still plenty of ordinary around, I have to look a little harder for it is all. And make sure I appreciate it wherever I find it. As I try to remember what my Dad always says when trouble strikes. This too shall pass.

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Is It Me?

At lunchtime, I feed the equines a snack, then pen up my Wyandottes (who have free ranged all morning), so the next group can get out for the afternoon. They used to meet me at the barn and shadow me to the coops, but now my Wyandotte entourage is waiting at the gate every day.
We walk to the barn together, where they supervise as I hand out the hay, and on exiting the barn, I must pause to hold open the barn door for one laggard silver laced hen, the same girl every day. Then we proceed to the coops where they obediently file into their pen. Such devoted chickens. Is it me do you think? Or the handful of hen scratch I bribe them with?

Chicken for Dinner

What do I do with my extra cockerels? I sell hatching eggs, so that’s a question I often hear from customers. Realistically, in any hatch, half are gonna be boys and half girls. Until scientists figure out how to sex eggs, and they are certainly working on this, there are going to be surplus males. Millions get euthanized every year. So I always admire the pragmatic customers who ask me this question. They’re thinking ahead!

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In the wild, the males of most species compete to mate with females. Mother nature’s plan for the losers is that they don’t get to pass on their genes.  Instead, they can only contribute to the circle of life as food for other organisms.  Darwin’s survival of the fittest, or whatever you want to call it, it’s reality.

So if one is going to hatch eggs or buy unsexed chicks, like Mother Nature, one needs a plan for dealing with surplus males.

  • Sometimes you can find them homes. When I notice a particularly gorgeous, gentle male in my bachelor pen, I will offer him for free on my local “classified ad” websites, making sure to post pictures. I’ve rehomed a few over the years this way to people looking for purebred flock guardians.
  • Once in a while someone wants chicks to grow out for their own soup pot, and I’m always happy to give away extra males.
  • Occasionally I come across someone who wants to process unwanted birds for animal feed. Often though, these folks have more offers of free cockerels and spent hens than they can possibly take. They also want bigger birds. It costs me about $20 in feed to grow out a cockerel to eating size, not to mention the labour. It certainly doesn’t make sense for me to grow them out then give them away.

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So one of the things I do to avoid a rooster surplus, is try to hatch no more extra cockerels than I have room to grow out for my family to eat. I try to time it so I grow out one big batch a year.

Lazy me, I take them to the processor too. I’m happy to pay the $4-5 it costs per bird to be saved all that drudgery. I am by no means an expert at chicken gutting, plus it is a lot of work, not only the actual killing, plucking and cleaning, but the equipment set up and tear down too. And let’s be frank, it isn’t a whole lot of fun either. Resident Gardener leads and I assist, and neither of us enjoys it.

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Both Maria and me like donkey scratches way more than processing chickens.

I mostly hatch dual purpose heritage breeds, that give lots of eggs and make a nice carcass. I feed them all they can eat of a varied diet plus lots of fresh clean water because I know that whatever they eat eventually ends up in me and my family. My cockerels are ready to go to freezer camp at around 20 weeks, about the same time as they really start to get noisy. The crowing definitely helps me to say goodbye easily, although I find that due to flock dynamics, in any bachelor pen it is usually one or two dominant birds who do most of the crowing.

Now, the chicken you end up with when you grow your own is not like grocery store chicken. Home grown birds are harder to carve, because their bones and tendons are so much stronger. They are leaner, their breasts are smaller, and their dark meat is firmer. They also taste amazing. After you eat home grown, you will find most grocery store birds to be mushy, very fatty and tasteless.

Because homegrown birds are more robust, braising is my go-to cooking method. Coq a vin. Butter chicken. Chicken paprikash. There are so many delicious ways to cook one, low and slow, in the oven.
Or I will use my instant pot, laying the pieces in a neat pile with the legs on the bottom, the breast meat on the top, adding a couple cups of water, then doubling the grocery store bird cooking time. I use the meat in chicken teriyaki or quesadillas etc., returning the bones to the i-pot with an onion or carrot or some celery trimmings, then topping up with water for a batch of yummy bone broth.

Two 90 minute pressure cooks, with the second set to start just before bed, makes for a pot full of still warm perfectly done bone broth ready for straining in the morning and soup in the evening plus a cup or two for the freezer. In this way, one bird feeds us for several days. There is certainly something to be said for producing one’s own food. It takes lots of effort, and can be frustrating, but the results when you succeed are invariably delicious. Mmmmmmmm, chicken for dinner!

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More Rain!

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On top of January’s once-in-10-years rainfall accumulation, we got more than ten mm of rain a day in February until the 8th when the sun finally shone.  Our muddy valley is sopping, dripping wet. Keeping the barnyard crew comfortable (and thus healthy and thriving) is currently a very hard slog.

The farrier came last week and to our relief pronounced the equines’ feet to be in pretty good shape, better than most he’s seen recently. Lots of horses in our area are up to their fetlocks in mud and nowhere dry to stand. 😕

Luckily our hoofed creatures have a dry barn floor, as well as a high spot here and there in the paddocks to take refuge on. We’re hoping it will dry up enough that we can get the tractor in the paddocks to scrape the worst areas…but the rain keeps falling.  Maybe later this week, fingers crossed.

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We ALL enjoyed Saturday’s sunshine, and the sky (!) somehow a richer shade of blue than I remember. Washed clean I guess. Sunday morning we were back to steel-grey heavens, with a little sun in the afternoon.

Even my fully roofed chicken pens are soggy. I can’t count the number of mud-filled wheelbarrows I have sledged over squishy fields to dump on the poo pile. It’s sure a good workout!

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I’ve learned some tricks since those first few winters, when I literally had streams running through my chicken pens. All summer long I throw heaps of veggie garden thinnings etc. in the pens, giving the birds their own private compost pile nirvana while building up the ground litter. By winter, this high ground deflects the surface water run-off around the pens instead of through them. When the chickens track in enough water that the ground gets muddy, (it has to rain a LOT for this to happen) I can use my trusty Restore pitchfork to pry up and remove the top couple of inches of mud throughout the whole pen, revealing fairly dry soil underneath.  This year, I’ve already had to do this two or three times in each pen. I will have to stop soon though, the ground height is dropping, with actual puddles seeping up in a couple spots. Time to change strategy and start deploying pallets over the worst areas to keep my girls out of the muck.

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The dust baths are stocked full of dry peat moss and wood ash from the fireplace. The chickens LOVE it, more so in this weather of course. The ladies’ public baths are crowded! Some birds need a bit more care, developing pendulous mud balls on their chests that need clipping out, or rinsing if it’s warm enough and they can run around to dry. I have never, in all my years keeping chickens, had the pendulous-mud ball issue before. It just goes to show that there’s always something new with chickens.

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This weekend, I can feel spring just around the corner. The osoberry is beginning to flower, and the alder catkins are swelling. Soon they will be dropping everywhere, detonating on impact in little yelllow puffs of smoke, and my poor DH will be sniffling and closing windows.
Of course the winter-flowering hellebore and snowdrops have been blooming for a while now. I wonder if we will get another dump of snow before old man winter is finished with us? These last few years, snow in February has been a thing here. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!
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