Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What I did for fun on Wednesday night...

1) Picked up the girls from school
2) Fed them noodles (again)
3) Went outside and put chickens in the outdoor coop
4) Dug up grubs from our backyard (
5) Fed grubs to very excited chickens.

You would not think this could be so engaging, but it was.

Now I just need to get some new topsoil and seed to spread on the bare patches. It looks like a raccoon attacked our yard, but it was just me, crazy suburban woman.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The latest Chicken pictures

Hazel and I got back from a conference to find all was well back in chickenland. We also, thanks to a neat-handed friend, have added two Waldorf chickens to the flock, named Cinnamon and Nutmeg. I am confident that the latest two will not give me any moral dilemmas nor require a bidet. You can see our outdoor coop with parts from Construction Junction, which isn't ready for sleepovers yet, but is great for backyard bug barbeques while I clean the heated coop in the garage. You can see Hazel is serious about her favorite chicken, cleverly named Stripey. I'm really hoping Stripey is a hen, but the emerging comb is an ominous sign.

Monday, April 21, 2008

They're back! and...too many chickens?

We got back today from picking up the girls from their spring break week in Kentucky with their grandparents (all four of them!). Here are some quick observations on my week without our daughters...
1) I don't get outside as much without them, because there's less reason for me to just wait around for the girls out in the yard.
2) Mowing without them around isn't as fun.
3) Taking care of the chickens without them around isn't as much fun either.
4) The only thing I liked doing outside especially was biking to work, because I wasn't as worried about getting home to the girls ASAP.

We were outside all afternoon: playing with chickens, digging for worms, and we even put the chickens all out in the outdoor coop for an hour or two while I cleaned up the indoor coop (they're still supposed to be kept warm). And it was so wonderful to read and snuggle with the girls again at bedtime. I *think* they missed me more than the chickens, but I didn't really want to test this theory by making them choose...

And one more thing, which I didn't want to say any earlier. We still have 22 chicks, and it is clear that, as expected, several of these are roosters. We have at least another month before there's any crowing, according to the hatchery, but I am starting to wonder: do I merely admire Barbara Kingsolver for her butchering her own turkey-toms? Or am I actually capable of butchering my own dinner? I have easily a month to wrestle with the question, but if anyone near us wants to adopt a rooster, they should start speaking up. The situation is starting to keep me up at night, which is only slightly better than having it wake me (and our suburban neighbors) up early in the morning.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Fort in the Brush Pile, and a trip South

Yesterday afternoon, Emily came to the garage where I was tending chicks and asked for a mat, a hammer, and some nails. I don't normally hand my 8 year old a hammer and nails without an explanation, but I did have a good guess that she wanted to make a fort.

I've been reading about the wonders of building forts in Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, and I'd hoped that they'd get into this sometime. However, my only issue is that I don't want her carrying off a hammer in the woods and leaving it. So I gave Emily an old carpet mat and an old towel, and told her to come back when she was ready for the hammer.

As it turns out, she didn't come back for the hammer, but she and Hazel did make a fort. We have a fairly sizable brush pile in the little woodland, and unbeknowst to me, there was a spot in the back of it which was *almost* a brush cave. I went poking around this morning, and saw mat and towel on the floor, with a roof perfectly made by goldenrod stalks laying over the top of long branches. I wished I could fit in it. Hazel tells me it is just her size.

This afternoon, I'm driving the girls to Columbus to see Ser, and then drop the girls off with their grandparents, who will drive up from Kentucky to take them the rest of the way down. My in-laws have a 5 acre yard with woods and gardens, backed by pastures and ponds. My parents home, where I grew up, is frisbee throwing distance from the U.K. Arboretum. The girls are going to have a great week outside, and I wish I could go with them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

In which, the children discover New Territory

I have referred here, perhaps, to the thin little woodland that runs behind our house. Between the start of the goldenrod and jewelweed to the edge of the pool parking lot, there are perhaps, at most 30' of woodland strip. It is certainly a wildlife corridor - not thick enough to be a real woods, but thick enough to be shelter for an occasional pileated woodpecker or wandering Virginia Rail (like a duck, but with a pointed beak). There is a fair amount of poison ivy in it, so I haven't treated it as a play area, but I confess I'd always hoped the girls would enjoy it and perhaps learn some poison ivy identification skills in the process.

Last week, they found their own way in. I hadn't realized, actually, how much space there is - not just in our yard but in the woodland corridor as it expands a bit going up our hill at the backs of our neighbors' yards. Along with two neighbor kids, the girls explored it, and I didn't even know they'd found it until I went looking for them and heard their voices from that direction. On Sunday, when I found them, I played the neighborhood mom, and took them a bag with homemade chocolate chip cookies and some cartons of chocolate milk. This communicated to them two things: 1) I'd found them and 2) I didn't mind them exploring there.

So far, neither girl is itchy or rashy, so either they're not allergic to poison ivy yet, or their early-spring ID skills are better than I thought. In any case, I think it is really cool that there is more wild land than I thought back there, and that they got to find it, without me leading the way.

I'd actually probably feel lonely while they're exploring, except now, I have company, and they're even babies. Twenty-two, to be exact, to be fed and cleaned and held and worried over. Plus these two bright, energetic daughters, big and brave enough to find New Territory, and claim it for their own. I am aware at times that they are roaming much more than the average child in 2008 U.S.A., and perhaps this makes me negligent. I hope, I wish that what they're learning out there is a safe and healthy level of judgement, and self-reliance, and nature smarts. And I hope when they're older they remember that I brought the cookies, rather than thinking that I loved them less while I was letting them go.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Worms and dingleberries

So, be warned. This post is not for the easily grossed out.

Thursday night, I picked up the single book I own on chicken care (Barbara Kilarski's Keep Chickens). It is a very general book about backyard chickens, half selling you on the idea (lots of funny stories) and a bit about logistics and how-to. I found the bit about caring for newborn chicks, and noted this bit: "Pasting up occurs when a chick's droppings cluster up and adhere to its behind (the vent), preventing the chick from passing new droppings. It's the chicken version of constipation....If you see that a chicken is pasting up, pick it up and use a damp, warm washcloth to gently remove the material from the chick's rear end. Try not to get the chick too wet..."

Let me summarize, for those who didn't get the sanitized version. Dingleberries can be fatal to chicks, so to get rid of them you have to wipe the chick's butt. You have to get a hard, crusty dingleberry off, but without using too much water, and presumably (I don't think I'm stretching to guess this) without putting all the butt feathers out.

This is not an easy task. Friday morning found me spending 5 minutes with a damp washcloth on each of about 4 chicks, wiping gently while the chick peeps crazily with alarm. Saturday, I used a wetter washcloth. Saturday night, I made a chick bidet out of an old lid with warm water in it, and soaked each dingleberried chick for a moment. Oddly enough, the chicks seemed to like the warm water treatment best, and I could save most of the wiping for the drying-off phase. I'm going to stick with the bidet method, I think, but I have to say I will be glad when they outgrow this phase. My book, slim volume that it is, does not tell me how many weeks this will be.

If that is the lowlight to date, the highlights. First, and most obvious, there are the moments with the warm, soft little featherball cuddled in our hands. Second, and less obvious of a treat for the humans, is catching worms and offering them to the chicks. Here's the technique: after digging up the worms, we put them in a bowl in the brooder. Several chicks come to look curiously at the wiggling things, and then finally one will peck and make a grab for it.

Now the fun begins. When a chick gets the worm, the smart thing to do would be to nonchalantly walk off in a corner and eat the worm at one's leisure. But chicks aren't that kind of smart. Instead, they begin peeping like crazy, running across the cage, and seemingly shouting "I GOT ONE! I GOT ONE! I GOT ONE! LOOK AT MEEEEE!" and all the other chicks come running after, grabbing for the worm, trying to steal it. This, while there may still be 5 more worms, wiggling but ignored, in the bowl, until some other chick gets the bright idea to look for another. The chaos in incredible.

I tried, when one chick got a worm, to pick up the chick and hold it so it could eat in peace, but the moment she was in my hand, she dropped the worm and ignored it. Emily figured out the best way to get them to take one is to dandle it from her fingers, as if she is another chick who has a treat worth stealing.

We generally, so far, find this amusing for at least 3-4 rounds of worm-hunting, and then we get tired and go do something else. Fifteen minutes later, if we peek in, they are all snuggled up, exhausted by all the action, asleep in a circle around the heat lamp. Calm resumes, at least until the next worm feeding.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Soccer season begins...

Yesterday evening, the weather was fine, and the whole family of us were out playing ball in a beautiful green field of clover and grass. We were among friends, adults and kids both running and playing. What was wrong with this picture?

Nothing, really. The only problem is this - it is soccer season again. My husband is co-coaching Emily's team - he is well qualified as he actually played soccer in college for a year, as well as varsity in high school. I am co-coaching Hazel's team - I never played soccer, but having observed Emily's teams for almost 5 years now, I feel myself richly qualified to coach 5 and 6 year olds' play. We set up our practices for the same night, selfishly and for our own convenience, so that we can avoid over-scheduling the whole family. So we have one crazy evening a week and 4 relatively calm ones (occasional work meetings for each of us, but no organized activities).

I love how soccer is good for fitness; I love that even the players who don't score run around and get exercise. I love being outside for hours at a time, and I love the teamwork. I really, really enjoy all the parents on this team - some of these kids have played together for over 4 seasons (spring and fall separate), and the team has a great atmosphere, competitive, positive, and with great camraderie. I don't have a minivan, but I respect that for friends with more than 3 kids, carseats alone make a minivan a requirement, and I myself have sometimes wished I could transport 4 children at once.

The only thing I wish were that this scene - parents and kids outside, playing, laughing, engaged - happened more often, and more informally. I wish it happened building treehouses, walking dogs, running, and at playgrounds. Sometimes it does. But more often than not, the only time we get together is soccer. And perhaps this is because the other nights are all taken up with baseball practice.

P.S. The 23 chicks are all well; post coming this weekend about chick dingleberries and the routines and delights of pet care.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This is so much better than Webkinz

It is beautiful weather, and the kids are out scootering at the community center with their favorite neighbor friend. I have garden seedlings growing in the dining room, chicks in the garage. Emily has been trying to keep a Webkinz garden growing for months now (I have been reminding her to water it - I can't believe I'm *helping* her play a computer game!), but it seems we have finally entered the real, not virtual, outdoor life season again.
Today I have felt like I have a special chicken TV in the garage, but maybe that's just because I don't have a real TV. I watched one chick show the others how to peck at the numbers on the thermometer. Her (his?) aim was quite good, which is impressive for a 2 day old even if the critter is too little to recognize food yet. I watched another one taking mini-naps in front of the water trough. Each time his (her?) head would start to droop, he'd hit the water with his beak, wake up, and take a drink. The chick repeated this brilliant maneuver perhaps 6 times before I got distracted by another chick, perhaps the one who was crossing the brooder by stepping on the backs of all the other chicks. They are impossibly soft and silly little creatures.
I am really glad that the girls think that I got chickens for them, but the truth is, they are just plain adorable, and I am in love.

They're here!

FINALLY! The last waiting was the worst, as I got the call from the P.O. yesterday afternoon when I was stuck in meetings until 6:00, after the hatchery has *promised* they wouldn't come yesterday. But this morning the girls and I showed up at the P.O. at 7:15 and never has a package been handed over faster. The peeping must have been driving them mad.

Of the 25, we have 24 living, with only 1 looking like s/he might not make it long. Given the extra night at the P.O., I'm hardly surprised. What we have is a peeping mass of yellow, black, grey, with one golden-brown chick.

I'm letting the girls stay home for the first hour or two of school to play with them. This has been 7 months of anticipation in coming, and we are going to make the most of it!