Monday, February 16, 2009

Recovering chickens, dogs and people

and a new washing machine too. I'm sorry to say that Red didn't manage to extrude the stainless steel bucket for the smoker project. She was still sick, I joined her in the viral party, and we had a gimpy dog, a seriously messed up chicken and each other to focus on mending this weekend. We tried to have some sort of celebration for Valentines day. Red brought home a store bought cake and a frozen pizza- per my own request. My gourmand inclinations were rapidly breaking down amidst the need for mere survival.

Billie the chicken was mangled by the spaniels on Friday afternoon. I was falling into the feverish state that heralded the beginning of the flu, and was trying to nap. I actually was asleep- which is not easy for me to do during the day even if I am sick sick sick. I heard Frances clucking- and in that cluck recognized that something terrible was happening. From the upstairs window, I saw Frances making her way across the yard. Ok- she's fine. Then I scanned and saw two Welshies and one terrible dark pile of feathers. I guess Red says I just started making a sound that sounded like chicken 'bawwwwking' that got her attention but she didn't know why in the world I would be sounding like that. Random yelling, mad dash to unconscious chicken, and mama bursting into feverish tears while Birkleigh tells me 'it's ok'. I don't know why but every time we've had a chicken meets dog moment I get really really upset. The other situations were less than well controlled training sessions where Red was at the ready with the training collars but the dogs managed to get chicken in mouth before getting the message that it wasn't ok. As the fall went on, it seemed like the dogs got it. They would actually move away from the chickens if they happened to wander onto their side of the yard. But all winter, chickens have been in barns and dogs have forgotten all warning about chickens. There was no restraint in the bird dogs when coming upon a chicken this week. So I've concluded that while I realise chickens will die at the hands of predators on this farm, I am NOT ok with those predators being our own dogs. And while I realized many many years ago when my friend was desperately trying to find a vet who could do surgery on her pet chicken that perhaps there is a limit to preserving the life of a chicken, I still seem to have a hefty attachment to our fine feathered friends.

Sick as I've been, I've been shuffling back and forth from the barn to wash her wounds (which wasn't so pleasant I tell you), hold cupped handfuls of water to her beak, handling her as minimally as I can to avoid her being stressed but still gently stroking her under the chin to encourage her swallowing. Each time I would brace myself to see her limp body but each time she showed both signs that she might recover as well as showing how sick and weak she is. Today she flew up onto her roost, ate something, and looks much better. I think she might make it. Her eyes are so tired and she is quite weak but getting stronger.

Birkleigh is so funny about this- she told Red 'we're farm girls... this just happens. Maybe she'll make it, maybe she won't. It will be ok'. I've tried to teach her about the cycle of life/death but I too can cling to my own attachments. I found out today that her grandparents (my exes parents) dog has cancer and will die soon. I'm proud that she has an understanding of death to help her. She will not be told that 'Charlie ran away!' Once when B was about to turn 3, someone was trying to talk in code around her about some pet that had died and she piped up and said "you mean it's not living anymore? You mean it's body is dead?" So Birk gets this life/death thing pretty well for a 5 year old and I have discovered I'm attached to my chickens but I'm ok with the cycle of things too.

And turns out, it looks like we all just might get better.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

overcast, drizzle, 36 degrees

Stayed home from work today due to a nasty cold that struck hard yesterday. Yuck, I feel poorly. Bleh.

My mood is just as gray as the weather. On top of the cold, the washing machine just gave up the other day. I took it apart as far as I could get it, thinking maybe a sock or something had gotten stuck in the pump. Three hours, two broken bolts, three buckets of siphoned dirty water and one skinned knuckle later, I discovered that the rubber seal around the u-joint was torn. Needed a new part, at least, which is when I finally decided to call in reinforcements. In researching my washer model, (A Whirlpool Calypso) which came with the house when we bought it, I found that this is the worst washer ever made. Just a terrible design from top to bottom. No wonder that guy that sold us the house told me his wfe told him to put her old washer/dryer in this house, so she could get new ones. I bet she didn't buy a Calypso, either. They actually stopped making them.

The repair man just left. He told us to replace the parts it needed today would cost between $400-$525. Screw that. Now we need to find a new washing machine. I told Karen I'd start looking on Craigslist, but she seemed vehemently resistant to the idea. At least the repair guy gave us a $65 coupon toward the purchase of a new washer at Sears. That covered his trip charge. Seems like a big scam to me. The nice thing about buying from a dealer is the free delivery and set up.

I don't know about whether I should let them take the old one away....I've been eyeballing it as a potential smoker... hmmm. It is so full of plastic and wires, though, that I don't know if I'll ever get to get it down to bare skeleton. But it *does* have a stainless tub...

Monday, February 2, 2009

30 degrees and breezy

I imagine our groundhog (Sun Prairie Jimmy) saw his or her shadow this morning. Now why a nice sunny day means 6 more weeks of winter, I could never figure out. Any way you slice it, we almost always have 6 more weeks of winter from Feb. 2nd. I don't remember a year when real Spring was here by the middle of March. And by real Spring, I mean milder temps and no more snow. Heck, our 50% last frost date is May 1st.

However! I am here to trumpet good news to all of us who are really getting sick of this cold weather and want it over! I have it on good authority that Spring will come early this year, and this aint from the beady eyes of a large rodent. No! I learned something new the other day and friends, I am going to share it with you now.

We are going to have an early Spring, because the clothes buyers for the department stores say we are! No, really! I was in the shop getting my hair cut the other day, and chatting with my pal Rachel. We all know haircutters are a font of knowledge. Well, Rachel has a client who is a buyer for one of the major department stores. Her buyer informant told her that they watch long term forecasts and get as much inside weather information and analysis as they can, so as to try and time the launch of seasonal clothing rightly. (This was a shocking development to me - who knew to find out the weather, you asked a clothes buyer???)

And her store is putting out the Spring clothes earlier than usual this year, because they believe Spring should be arriving in this part of the world about the end of March. Thank goodness, because I just don't know how long I can make do with these old peddle pushers - I need new!

Like I said, this new source of climatic trivia delighted me. Now, in case the power goes out and I can no longer get Bob Lindmeier on the teevee to tell me what the weather is, I can just go ask any nearby department store decision-maker. They are everywhere, which is evidenced by the soaring unenployment rates these days. I hope they keep up with the forecasts even if they don't have to go in to work every day. I'd like to know how many tornadoes to expect this year, and also the chances of drought.

Since Karen and I are going to be raising more of our own food, we will be more directly impacted by droughts or other severe weather. So to that end, we are gonna be putting a few rain barrels on the barns and house to water the garden from. I do think that the weather patterns are getting worse. More, stronger storms and more frequent cycles of drought/flooding. Speaking of, the central valley of California has been hit by another severe drought, and some farmers there are just not planting this Spring because they wont be able to keep their crops alive without the water. Most of the lettuce and melons in the grocery stores come from there, as well as almonds, etc. Keep buying local, people. It keeps the smaller farmers near you in business, and you are gonna need them a lot more than you do now someday soon.

Better yet, plan to put in your own backyard veggie garden. USDA forecasts prices of fresh vegetables and fruits to rise as much as 30-40% this year.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

warmup! for Brigid's day

What a great day- it's finally above freezing ! and the snow is even melting away. Frances the hen was excited to come out and search for grass. She deserves some extra treats one way or another. Yesterday, she laid 2 eggs, must have been one right after the other. We checked in the morning and there were none, and then about 4 hours later- 2! Still her barn mates are givin us nothing ;). (Because the eggs were blue- we knew that she was exclusively responsible.) And today, she laid again. We sure do like aracaunas. Now on the flip side- we look with puzzled bemusement at our polish duo who with their pompom head feathers run into us and other objects because they can't see through all their feathers. One, the buff named Tom, has gone through this winter with icicles on her frozen feathers from dunking her head in the water. We've tried to resolve it with moderate success by reconfiguring the waterer. They are much less friendly and approachable and if they keep being slow to give eggs, are offering little to recommend them. Red in particular has few nice things to say about our david bowie chucks. It wouldn't surprise me if Red wants to bring them to chicken swap in the spring.

We had a big weekend preparing for a school fundraising party and then Birkleigh had a teaparty with friends. Yesterday I visited the Trautman's - bought some roasts- one is in the crock pot as I write- and Julie gave us some Amish butter that we are enjoying today with the bread that just came out of the oven. Yesterday I baked some cookies with it for the Winter Breakout event. Amongst all the things I love about the Trautman's and their farm, they have organic wheatberries we can buy! I was hunting for a source and coming up with nothing. I am hoping to find ways to work with them- they have been grazing and pasturing for a while- and now are doing dairy as well. Scott teaches and is clearly a storehouse of knowledge. Julie asked if we might want a calf or two that they are wanting to cull- and I would really like to farrow and sell feeders to them. It feels so nice to be in community around this- I'm making new farming friends and learning a lot. I think about how long it's been that I've been teaching and mentoring in my career as a midwife/doula- and it feels good to be 'new' at something as well as of course being very humbling.

Birk and I for the last 3 years have had a Brigid's day celebration and bonfire. Today we are celebrating more quietly. (and succumbing to Red's longstanding ritual of superbowl). But as we walked through our land to stamp out garden plots into the snow, and watched the sun turn the barns and hills golden while the snow drips in rivulets off the barns, and tiny rivers form and gain momentum rolling down our drive, it feels like spring may really come. And I sense that there is much joy and learning ahead. And lots and lots of mud.