Thursday, June 30, 2011

Missing Eggs Found

The chickens' egg production has dropped dramatically over the past month. We attributed this to the end of the bounty of "spring flush," and the loss of one of our greatest layers to a speedy haying truck a few weeks ago.* Well, it seems that the loner Spangled hen had more going on than, as I hypothesized in my last post, a grudge against Bernie and a penchant for solo exploration.

eggs with feet!

She had a mound of eggs, thirteen or so, hidden away somewhere. She hatched them, kept them secret and safe there for a couple days, and debuted them this morning.

In some ways, she is an excellent and intelligent mother. She spent all day explaining the world to them by example, as good parents do. Eat this, she said, pecking at the ground. This is water; we drink it, she intoned. Here is grass, that is also good to eat. Be a little nervous around the other chickens. Watch out for barn cats. Stay together. Follow me, and hide under me when I tell you to. Be quiet at night.

She is making a different kind of sound, just like the sows when they had piglets. A very constant, low, beguiling sort of cluck. She can fit all thirteen(ish) under her at once, like a clown car.

In other ways, she is very stupid, as chickens are. She spent awhile trying to convince them to roost with her in the tree. Here! she would cluck, flying up. Now you!!

They would panic miserably at the base of the tree, of course.

Then she determined that the coop, which she has always eschewed, would be a nice place for them at night, and she moved them in this evening. Again, she spent a long time confused about why they would not join her in the top row of nesting boxes. I built a ground floor nesting box for them out of a wooden crate and a lot of hay, which she got them into before, alas, abandoning them for a higher box. But when I closed up the coop (we usually don't, but LM the barn cat, as well as her protege the Black Kitten, had been showing some interest in batting at them with their paws earlier), the chicks were in a happy looking quiet pile in their box, with the Spangled two rows above them (although I could only count eight chicks in there at bedtime, and there were thirteen(ish) earlier...but there is a good chance some were underneath the others, or snug in the hay).

Hey, get up here!

The other chickens aren't quite sure what to make of it. When it was time for them to go into the coop at dusk they awkwardly milled about outside the door for about an hour, peering in casually or pretending to peck at food while warily eyeing the squirming, cheeping pile of browny-black fluff in the corner. Bernie made a new sort of embarrassed father cluck, but seemed a bit squeamish about any sort of acknowledgement that he might have had a part in this. I assume he will be a sort of uber-detached Don Draper character. But at least he is not, as I would have expected, violently pecking their baby eyes out.


Regardless, of the many, many things that can go wrong (barn cats, chicken politics that often involve Murder and Exile, drownings, chillings, lost chicks, and SO ON) we are leaving them up to her. It will be an interesting experiment.


*In an eerily gorgeous scene, white chicken instantly became an overwhelming wave of white feathers rolling towards us in the air, slowly settling lightly on the road, only to be spun up again and again into the air all afternoon as cars tooled past. Other bits of her remained too, and a small group of chickadees quickly found the gizzard and delicately picked out all the corn pieces, loudly and repeatedly proclaiming their fortune to each other. Life goes on here, and quickly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dispatch from Chickenland

A number of you have shown an inordinate amount of interest in and affection for the motley crew of chickens living on the farm – their schisms, the power struggles and murders, their forcible occupation of the barn after abandoning their winter coop in the pasture, their disdain for the gorgeous new coop the Big Man built for them this spring.

It is time for a follow-up.

Bernie the Rooster, victor over all other roosters, horrid creature, dictator, rules the hens with an iron fist. His first lazy crows at 4:30, his more demanding summons at sunup, echo off the valley. He has at last moved his followers out of the barn and into the coop to sleep, finally tiring of our regular evening assaults with brooms. He leads them out once it is light, and has an established rotation of the yard around the barn and the nearby pasture, guiding them from hand house to rosebush to compost pile to the cool spring/antiquated piping system behind the barn, crowing to gather them together and pouncing on any that fail to stay in line.

He always makes sure to have them near the gate at chore time, so he can actively protect them from me. I am, you see, terrifying. I simply must be, given his aggressive defense. My stature and the aura of power that I no doubt exude make him understand the enormity of the threat I pose to his hapless ladies. Or perhaps it is the WMD that I carry around with me at all times. Or maybe he thinks I am some giant hen who somehow escaped his wrath and needs to be brought back in line and into the coop. And so, as I walk through the gate (always carrying something heavy), he watches warily from the weeds. As soon as my back is turned, he scampers closer, the feathers around his neck flaring out and his eyes sinking into an odd, blood-thirsty mist. I whirl toward him (lightning reflexes, I have) and he freezes, one foot in the air. The feathers slowly deflate as he innocently pecks at the dirt. As soon as I turn away, of course, the flare-feathered scampering resumes, and we play this frustrating game of red-light green-light until I finally get a bit dizzy, put down my load and toss enough rocks his way to bother the hens and send him off to comfort them.

Thus, he is destined for the stock pot sometime before snow sets in. My nerves simply can’t take him through the winter, and I am tired of explaining to people how actually frightening an animal that is maybe 8 pounds can be to an intelligent and capable lady. Skeptics are invited to come visit and walk broom-free with bare legs through the barnyard.

One hen has declined to be a part of his populace. She wanders on her own all day, pecking about further west than the others, and roosts in the tree behind the barn at night. I suspect she is one of the original defectors, part of the first group to leave the coop with the modern game rooster (RIP) this spring. Probably she was in love with him and can’t stand to be near his murderer. At night she is joined by another Dutch Everyday hen, who, for reasons similar or different, also prefers roosting in the tree to roosting in the coop.

The other aberrance is Shelf Chicken. All the hens, tree roosting or not, still lay their eggs in the coop. Except for Shelf Chicken, who is a very broody hen. She does not want you to take her eggs. Her eggs are her precious and she will protect them. She protects them by laying them over the side of the metal shelf where she roosts. They fall to the metal shelf a foot below and break, slowly cooking throughout the day to form a mass that cannot be scraped up.

She sits a foot above them, keeping them warm and safe. For a while we assumed that she moved into the coop at night, but recently we began noticing her there at roosting time, flattening herself out as much as possible behind the tools to avoid detection.

She must keep those eggs safe, day and night!

Although she did manage to protect this one from us, somehow laying it in the middle of a 6 inch piece of pipe.

Clever girl.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

TBA Farms Fall Festival, 2011

Well, it is that time of the year again ... already time for a save-the-date for our Fall Festival! This month is absolutely flying by, a whirl of planting, greening, rainy weekends, foggy mornings, spectacular thunder and life whizzing up from the ground, out of the blossoms, scampering across the pasture and past our eyes in a heartbeat. The grass is growing like piglets, the piglets are growing like weeds, and everything else is enjoying the long days and cool nights to the fullest.


After much hemming and hawing we have set the date for our fall harvest party: September 9th - September 11th. The event will be much more spectacular than last year's, although the basic format is unchanged. Why so fabulous you ask? Well, here's just a partial list of the new and exciting things that we've added to the farm:

Piglets (a fresh batch will be born in early August)
Turkeys (reserve early for Thanksgiving (available fresh) or Christmas)
A significant garden expansion (4 times the size, including some that will hopefully be for sale)
An orchard, full of possibilities
A big new (to us) truck
A first floor renovation, complete with a new kitchen (hopefully, trying not to count our chickens as they say)

And the biggest of all, PORK FOR SALE!! As you know we're selling pork by the 1/4, 1/2 or whole this fall, processed by a local butcher or you can do it yourself, the very same Fesitivus Weekend. Many of you have expressed interest and it has come time for us to ask for deposits, $50 for a 1/4 or 1/2 and $100 for a whole, payable by check (preferable) or Paypal (through our website, When submitting your deposit please indicate whether you plan on Slaughtering/Butchering Your Own (SbYO) or would like it processed for you. We do still have a few animals available, so if you've been on the fence now is the time to jump off. We may also process a few animals through a USDA butcher if you'd like to buy by the cut, but be aware that prices for these individual cuts will be higher due to the costs associated. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask. If you'd like to SbYO please plan on arriving on Friday, hopefully in the early afternoon, but if it's not possible don't let that deter you. We can make most anything work.

For those of you who were unable to attend last year or are new friends of the farm, our Fall Festival is a time when people come together on the farm to complete a few large scale tasks, eat, drink and be merry. We have a few bedrooms available for those who absolutely need them but the majority of people stay in tents, and we have indoor space for tents in the case of rain or other inclement weather. Dogs are welcome, strangers are welcome, most everything and everyone are welcome. Bring your mud boots just in case, your swim trunks (since it will be so much warmer this year), and your can-do spirit. There is a small charge (we suggest ~$30/day, ~$60 for the weekend) to cover our costs of providing you with food and drink, but don't let that deter you if you're can't scrape up the jingle. We'd rather have your company than your money. If you're coming from Philadelphia or NYC and are looking for a ride we can find you one when the date gets closer. We spend the week prior getting ready, and if you're available for that we'd love to have you, we'll feed the heck out of you in exchange for your labor.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Finally, finally, finally.

Fanfare, please: I have been able to plant. That which should have been in by and on the last frost date -- from romanesco to watermelons to heirloom tomatoes to artichokes -- is in the ground.

Pepper patch. 8 varieties.

The seedlings are admittedly not much to look at, but if weather and fate cooperate, in a shockingly short time, the garden will go from mostly brown to entirely green.

[The below paragraph was written this afternoon, before I inspected the garden this evening. I wanted to illustrate that I am an optimistic lady, and that I was logically basing this year's plans on last year's success, and not continuing to be someone who assumes nothing will work out, which I sometimes do, sometimes, yes, but not usually. Anyway :] (that is not an emoticon. punctuation. a colon and then the bracket indicating "end ramble".)

I am trying a slightly different approach this year because of the wild success of last year. Last year I just planted as many plants as I could fit in the garden, assuming lots would die off from being eaten by every small mammal in the county, every insect in the hemisphere, and diseases as yet unknown to botanists. Of course, not a single plant I planted in the garden failed to produce (except for melons, which I have de-classified as "garden plants" and re-classified as "miraculously challenging, fickle aliens that will only grow 5% of the time for 5% of people, probably people who tithe/meditate/keep kosher." My self-esteem requires that at this point. Atheists and agnostics have to buy their melons.) and it ended up being too jungular for me to give any plant the attention it needed to really thrive, let alone to paw through all the overgrown foliage to find all the fruits. This year I am giving everybody more space, and (hopefully!!) more attention.

[Ah, such a good impulse. Unfortunately, this evening when I trounced out to water the plant babes, I noticed that TWO of my paste tomato plants had been EATEN TO THE GROUND by something HORRID. I do not know if being eaten to the ground kills tomato seedlings. Probably yes. However, my recent experiences with fruit tree pruning make me feel like no. Either way, I immediately did that thing I do where I panic and overcompensate, and instantly planted a vast amount of backup plants, now assuming that 25% of everything in the garden will die. Fingers crossed that it will end up similar to bringing an umbrella when rain is predicted, thereby ensuring a completely dry day.]

Anyway, all can heave a sigh of slight relief; the garden is underway. The peas that I thankfully slipped in in mid-April have flowers!! The endive, arugula and beets that I planted on Saturday are already sprouting!!! But work is never the related Gargantuan and Crazy Planting Projects category, this weekend I have to get the Three Sisters pasture experiment underway.

The piglets have been cleaning that spot out for me recently. They are doing a good job - tilling and weed killing and fertilizing.