Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bow Chick(en) Bow Wow

So...I kinda sorta introduced the girls to Internet porn the other day.

But don't was only animal porn.

Wait, that didn't sound any better. Lemme 'splain.

A few weeks ago I was discussing the status of the chicken flock (roosters crowing!) with my country-wise co-worker and how, in another month, the hens would start laying eggs. My co-worker made the very good point that, since the chickens were approaching sexual maturity, we should review the dynamics of chicken mating with the girls.

You see, chicken sex involves a lot of climbing and pinching and grabbing and squawking, and more than one child has been concerned that the rooster was "being mean" to the hens in the process.

So being a good homesteading mother, I had "the birds and the bees...and the chickens" talk with the girls one night. I explained how the rooster climbs on to the back of the hen, and then uses his beak to grab either her neck and/or comb. The hen squawks, the rooster pulls down his rear can figure out the rest. The whole thing last roughly 10 seconds.

But seeing how kids have active imaginations and a thirst for knowledge, they wanted to know more. How does the rooster balance on the hen? Does the hen just sit there? Does he just hop off when done?

Naturally, I went to YouTube.

I can't decide if the plethora of chicken sex videos available are for educational purposes (as was our intent) or something...more...disturbing. Either way, the girls got their questions answered and I somehow managed to stay clear of any videos that might not be suitable for young viewers.

The timing of our conversation and video viewing was perfect, because about a week later we were the audience to one of Dockers' earliest couplings with a hen.

"Sexy rooster in da hizzle!"

And wouldn't you know, it looked just like what we saw on YouTube.

--Rational Mama

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crazy Honest Chicken

I've always been one of those people that prefer the truth, no matter how unpretty, to falsehoods.

Tell me the truth and I will deal with it; force rose-colored glasses on me and I'm totally unprepared to deal with the world once the spectacles are ripped away. I so very very much hate that feeling of the carpet pulling out from underneath you; when you are left viewing the world from a much different perspective after a violent readjustment.

I believe that living wide awake and facing the grotesque with the beauty is an honest, just way to live.

So when the big factory farms try to sell me packages of meat with images of happy farms and chickens living their lives in sunshine and glorious fields of green I get very pissy. The real reality includes enclosed, crowded chicken houses that require the chickens to wade through inches of fecal waste to get to automated food troughs. And then the insane assembly line at the slaughter houses,'s absolutely horrifying.

I don't want to support that reality. I don't want my money to tell the proprietors that this is all okay.

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

So, friends, a few weeks ago - for the first time - we slaughtered a chicken.

It was the first time in my life that I willing chose to end of the life of anything bigger than a spider (that squirrel on 10th Avenue three years ago sooooo doesn't count - I swear it was a kamikaze squirrel).

The deed had been on the radar for several weeks but we were, well...chicken. Choosing to take knife in hand and kill an animal you've raised since its early days is not an easy thing. The animal knows you, knows that you are a provider. And there's a reluctance, because the burden of making it an ethical, humane kill is solely on your shoulders.

It wasn't technically a spontaneous act, but one Sunday a few weeks ago TMOTH and I screwed up our courage enough to proceed with plans. And once the decision was made we got down to business quickly.

There are plenty of websites out there, dear reader, that go into the nitty-gritty details of how to slaughter and butcher a chicken, so I won't bother sharing the technical processes.

I will, however, tell you it was a wide-awake experience, with sounds and smells which are etched in the surfaces of our memories. The girls were present during the entire activity and participated when appropriate (mostly when it was time to pluck). It was a very quiet time, but there were no tears.

In the end, we had a seven-pound (dressed weight) chicken. Since Rock Star was a meat bird, she had met her market weight of three to four pounds at around six to eight weeks of age. Because we had been dragging our feet about the slaughter, she had managed another six weeks of growth beyond that. She was big.

When folks who were in the know later asked, "How did she taste?" my reply was always, "Honest." Crazy honest. There was no trickery or deception in that chicken meal.

Rock Star had a good life. She always had access to food and water and friends. She was often given treats and and had a clean coop. She was never fed the remnants of other animals, and she was never injected or fed antibiotics while in our care. Her slaughter was swift and done out-of-sight of her coop-mates. Her carcass wasn't injected with solutions of sodium nastiness.

She was an honest chicken.

Thank you, Rock Star.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Solar Powered Cat

Since we moved in to the new home, Fat Cat has pretty much been glued to the sofa.

It's a new sofa (bought specifically for the new house), and apparently the texture is perfect for napping The backrests are wonderful,cushiony pillows - which make the perfect kitty-shaped hammock. And it just so happens that the sofa sits in front of a window that gets direct sunlight during the late afternoon and evening hours. He basks for hours at a time in the warm sunshine.

I bet that if you ask him, Fat Cat thinks that the reason we moved was to give him this little bit of perfection.

Kitty paradise.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ode to a Rock Star

Oh, Rock Star.

You are a chicken loaded with personality.

You make happy little gulping noises every time you see us headed to the coop, hoping that we're bringing some yummy treat your way. And if we take the food dish away to clean it or refill it you pace around, making nervous little squeaks until we return.

You don't care for grass, but you like oats, corn and mulberries. Especially mulberries! Anyone who thinks that a Cornish Rock can't haul ass has never seen you move when we drop fresh mulberries into the chicken yard. It takes effort to lift yourself up and run, but you do it without hesitation for mulberries.

You like to be petted on the tail feathers, but not on the back or head.

You hate being separated from the other hens, but often don't have the physical ability to get yourself to where they are. Your girth has become a hindrance...I'm afraid that is the curse of the Cornish Rock meat chicken that you are. If you were a person I'm sure you'd be eligible to receive a free mobility scooter, just like they advertise on television.

Since you are not physically able to get up on the roosts, you're favorite leisure spot is the natural perch formed by the threshold of the coop yard door. Of course, this means you're blocking the entrance/exit for all the other chickens. Luckily, you're easy-going enough to let them just walk over you.

According to all the chicken manuals, you reached market weight sometime between six and eight weeks of age.

You are now 12 weeks of age. You have mobility issues. And you eat a lot of grain.

A lot.

It is time, Rock Star.

It is time.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Home, At Last


After a year of planning and doing...

After nine months on the market...

The old Rational Living house has sold.

The past six weeks or so have been a blur of painting and hailstorms and roofers and van loads of all those things we didn't bring over earlier in the name of "staging." You know, "Let's keep those dozen boxes of non-important things in the basement so that potential buyers can get a feel for what it will look like when they live here." Or, "The artificial Christmas tree is still up in the attic so that potential buyers will be like, 'Whoa! Finally, a place to put our Christmas tree when it's not December! I'm so amazingly thrilled that I want to buy this place right now!'"

Last Friday all the papers were signed and keys were handed over.

It feels so good to have that weight lifted. Now we can better plan our finances. Now we can have enough time for the new Rational Living house and land (which, friends, I affectionately call The Shire).

Now I can have enough time to write here more frequently.

Welcome home, friends.

--Rational Mama

Monday, June 6, 2011

Garden Review

Well, it's not last year's Victory Garden, but our first garden at the new homestead is in the ground and thriving.

It's a new experience for me to have plenty of space for the vegetable garden; in the past I've Linkhad to creatively cram plants into tiny spaces with sometimes questionable amounts of sunlight.

But this year is different. The established garden area is roughly 20' x 12' in dimension, with room to grow. With all the craziness this spring with the move and we such we stuck to the established area this year and planted the following:

12 tomato plants (mix of paste, cherry and standards)
2 pepper plants
2 eggplants
2 zucchini (1 yellow, 1 green)
5 okra plants
4 cucumber mounds (2 picking, 2 regular)
1 cantaloupe
1 watermelon

I missed the window on cool-weather crops, so there's no lettuce, spinach, radishes or broccoli this summer. Hopefully I can have time to plant those for a fall harvest.

Additionally, I hijacked the flower bed in front of the house for herbs and planted the following:

4 basil
2 oregano
1 dill
1 cilantro
1 parsley
2 sage
2 mints (in pots)
6 lavender

Those of you who know me well will recognize what amazing self-restraint I'm showing by only planting four basil!

TMOTH planted a row of blackberry starts in early spring and we now have 10 that are thriving and will produce fruit this year. He's also planted roughly 60 sunflower seeds.

There are grand plans to convert the back half-acre to an organized, multi-plot garden area, but that is years in the future. In the meantime, I think we've have a nice start, especially when you add in the strawberries and mulberry tree!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The tree closest to the chicken coop is a mulberry tree, and as of this week the mulberries are starting to become ripe.

I didn't learn the joy of fresh mulberries until I was an adult. Luckily, my girls won't have to wait that long. I see lots of cobblers and, possibly, mulberry wine in our future.

A branch of the mulberry tree overhangs the chicken yard. Apparently, appreciating mulberries isn't just a human thing.

Strawberry season stretches into mulberry season, which might just stretch into blackberry season, which is followed by apple season.

Life is good.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Profiles in Poultry

(Note: I have know idea why you might be seeing suspect spellings highlighted in yellow on this post...strange.)

Okay, so this is the post where I go off the deep end and you, dear reader, begin to understand just how much I like our chickens.

Dear reader, I sure do like our chickens.

As of today they are approximately nine weeks old, which means they're on the verge of officially graduating from being identified as "chicks" and will soon be more appropriately referred to as "pullets" or "cockerels." They are still a good two to four months from laying their first eggs (for those built with the required features).

An aside: I confess that I usually just call them "chickens." Or more specifically, "the chickens." As in: I'm going to go let the chickens out," or "Has anyone put the chickens in the coop tonight?"

The past two months we have raised these 11 chickens from wee chicks to their current, prepubescent selves. In that time they have shown their amazing chicken instinct and learned how to scratch, fly, eat worms, roost and roll in a dust bath all on their own. They also all have very distinct personalities and now that we have a good handle on individual distinctions and names we present to you the current occupants of the Rational Living coop.

The Black Stars

The Black Stars represent two of the six sex-linked chicks we purchased. Sex-linked chicks are hybrid of two standard breeds that can be sexed (that means you can identify their gender, get your head out of the gutter!) shortly after they hatch. Black Stars are the offspring of a Rhode Island Red male and a Barred Plymouth Rock female. Because of this, all our Black Stars (and other sex-linked chicks) were guaranteed hens. Our two Black Stars are Feather and Ms. Thang.

"You lookin' at me?"

Feather is a sweet, fairly friendly bird and is Sissy's pet (that really is the best way to describe the relationship).

Ms. Thang
...Because your conscience in cricket form is too easy to step on.

Ms. Thang distinguished herself at an early age as the feisty one that leaps into danger (or pecks at your hand) while others hide in the corner. She is very suspicious of humans and seems to be constantly watching and judging us. She's your conscience in chicken form and she is a very good candidate for Alpha Hen. We can tell the two Black Stars apart by the fact that Ms. Thang has deep-black feet with a near-white center toe and a mostly black (rather than pink) comb.

Speckled Sussexes

Helen and Holly, our two Speckled Sussexes, aren't technically sex-linked, but they were known females when we purchased them. They are both sweet, curious and patient birds that seem to have a genuine interest in human activities. Both were named by Eowyn, who is awfully sweet on them.

Sweet and spotty!

Holly was named after Eowyn's teacher this year, who is a sweet, wonderful lady. Holly the teacher has lots of freckles, and Holly the chicken has lots of white spots.

She has yet to make the sign for "water."

Helen was named after Helen Keller, one of Eowyn's inspirations. In the early days of chick handling Helen was less than compliant and reminded Eowyn of Helen Keller's behavior at the time of Anne Sullivan's arrival. Luckily, Helen has settled down nicely and loves to be in the companionship of humans. In fact, she's usually the first one to greet us when we approach the coop. Helen as fewer white spots than Holly.

Amber Star

The Amber Stars are the last of our sex-linked chicks.

All of the nervous energy makes for a blurry photo. Just like with Sasquatch.

In the early days of having the chicks there was one yellow chick that really liked to peck. Peck the box. Peck the water dish. Peck the box again. Peck the food dish. Peck the box. Repeat ad nauseum. That's Pecky-pecky, whose name is a nice homage to Ramona Quimby's cat, Picky-picky. Pecky-pecky has a lot of nervous energy.

Tipsy really likes the camera and knows how to work it.

Tipsy rounds out our sex-linked chicks. Poor Tipsy was not in good shape when she came to the Rational Living household. At that time she was the same size as her box-mates, but had difficulty putting any weight on her right foot. As a result, she spent much of her time leaning against the edges of the cardboard pen and had difficulty getting enough food and water. During the first two weeks she was handled frequently as we helped feed her and made sure she had assisted trips to the waterer. When she tried walking in open space on her own she looked like a drunken sailor, hence the origin of her name.

There were a few days during that early period when we honestly didn't know if Tipsy would make it - she was listless and had labored breathing. But over time her leg healed (it's still not clear if she hatched with a splayed foot or if something happened when the store employee scooped her up for our purchase). Eventually she turned a corner, but because of her early troubles she is a bit of a runt; at this time Tipsy is still only two-thirds the size of her counterpart, Pecky-pecky. Because of this she looks a little small for her feathers and may never produce eggs. We're okay with that last part; she's a lap chicken and enjoys being feed by hand. And we are happy to oblige.

You didn't think that I was joking about that "lap chicken" comment, did you?

Buff Brahmas

The Buff Brahmas were our most mysterious chick purchases. Scooped from a bin vaguely labeled as "feathered breeds," they were a straight-run of (at the time) unknown breed. For those who don't know, a straight run is when you get an unsexed assortment of chicks; in your straight run you could theoretically have all roosters, a mix of roosters and hens, or all hens.

In their second week with us these straight-run chicks began developing feathers on their feet. At first I thought they must be Cochins, which was the only breed of chickens I knew of that had feathered feet. As they continued to develop it became clear that their appearance was not matching up with any Cochin breeds, so I did some further Googling and determined that they were, in fact, Buff Brahmas.

In the past month it has also become quite clear that at least two of the Brahmas are roosters, at least one is a hen, and the other...well...the other...hmmm....

Mr. Fancy Pants, Esq.

Mr. Fancy Pants is a young rooster (technically, they're cockerels until they turn one year of age) and has the most splendid display of feathered feet of any of the Brahmas. While researching what breed the mysterious four might be Sissy commented that the heavily feathered feet and legs look like pants - but not just any pants, fancy pants. Hence, a name was born.

He's business casual when he wears a necktie.

Dockers is the second confirmed rooster among the Brahmas. He, too, has feathered feet, but not to the same extravagant level as Mr. Fancy Pants. Hence, he's a Dockers kinda guy (you know, Dockers are nice enough to wear to work but they wouldn't do for formal occasions). Dockers was originally the subservient rooster - he was about the same size as Mr. Fancy Pants and would back down after challenging him to a game of "Who's the Baddest Bad-Ass in the Coop." Over the past few weeks, though, things have changed. Dockers is now noticeably bigger than Mr. Fancy Pants and has a larger, redder comb and wattles. The power has shifted.

She denies all rumors of being smuggled in carpet.

Cleopatra, or Cleo, is the confirmed hen of the Brahmas. She's a quite, timid soul that, along with Tipsy, is often at the edges of the flock. She's has to put up with a lot of male posturing and displays of machismo among her Brahma brothers, which reminded me a lot of Cleopatra putting up with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (can you tell what I've been reading?).

It's Pat!

The fourth Brahama, well, ummm, we have yet to determine it's gender. It's slightly larger than Cleopatra, but not as large as Dockers or Mr. Fancy Pants. It has a small comb, but it is bright red, rather than pink like Cleopatra's. Is it a he or she? Clearly, it's Pat!

Cornish Rock

Cornish Rocks are a hybrid chicken, a type of meat bird that grows about twice as fast as the above mentioned breeds. They are one of the most commonly used birds in the factory-farmed meat industry. Because of their high rate of growth these birds often experience organ failure and infections due to weakened immune systems. Combine that with over-populated chicken houses and less-than-ethical practices and most Cornish Rocks in this country have a miserable, abbreviated life.

Because of all these issues I had no intention of getting a meat bird, but when I was purchasing the chicks there was a constant peeping from a lonely little Cornish Rock chick. It was the sole occupant of it's bin. I'm a sucker. Yep, you know what happened.

Rock Star
She's the Janis Joplin of the coop.

Rock Star is a behemoth of a bird; she is at least 1/3 larger than her same-aged peers. She got that way because these birds are literally breed to eat all the time. There have been times that we've had to physically separate her from the food because she has overstuffed herself to the point of ill health. Because she's so large her legs have a hard time supporting her when she walks. So, she spends a significant amount of time on the side lines until she summons up the strength to the feeder. She eats because she is unhappy, and she's unhappy because she eats.

Raising Rock Star has been an eye-opening experience. We have provided her with the best care we could manage and still she is on the edge of suffering. I can only imagine how much worse off Cornish Rocks raised in factory chicken houses must be. She really does earn her name; the life of a rock star is to live fast and die young. Because of this learning experience, even Eowyn has mostly stopped eating chicken in restaurants (we won't buy chicken at the grocery store because of these and other problems with factory-raised chickens).

Ultimately, we will have to do the deed with Rock Star. She will be our first experience in home-butchered poultry. Until then, she's buying time sitting in her favorite spot - roosting in the entryway to the coop yard.

Of course, that means she's blocking the entrance of the coop for all the other chickens.


--Rational Mama

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spider-man + Strawberry Shortcake = Nom Nom

(Apologies for the gap in posting...that's what happens when life gets too crazy and your camera memory is full and once you just suck it up and finally buy a new memory chip for the camera because you're not going to get around to printing all those old pics the camera battery completely dies and you have no idea which unpacked box holds the charger...)

So what do you get when you cross one of Marvel comics' leading men, an early 80's children's cartoon, and a symbol of the 1960's Pan-Indian movement? You get this:

One part Spider-man, one part dream catcher, three parts awesome.
(Thanks to the lovely L.P. for the photo!)

One of the really cool things we acquired with the new house is a strawberry patch located between the house and the chicken coop. It is approximately six feet by nine feet in dimension.

I've been interested in growing strawberries before, but we never had enough space to devote to this spreading perennial. So this spring was my first journey into strawberries wrangling, and I admit that my berry knowledge is pretty slim. I had read about problems with birds stealing ripe fruit, so I asked my country-wise coworker if netting was the solution. She replied that netting could be a nuisance because it must be removed and reinstalled every time you pick berries and the netting can become clogged with soggy leaves. She recommended a stick-and-string method that sounded like a cross between Spider-man and a dream-catcher gone wrong.

On a nice April afternoon Sissy and I headed out to the strawberry patch with 30 sticks (each approximately 10 inches long) and two spools of white utility string. We evenly space the sticks around the patch and then began wrapping the string around the sticks as we crisscrossed over the patch. According to my coworker, birds won't bother the strawberries because of the risk of getting their wings stuck in the strings. But, unlike netting, the strings don't have to be removed to pick the berries.

The above photo is of the patch approximately 1 1/2 weeks after we busted out our mad macrame skills.

The girls were concerned that the plants would grow up and over the string, thus voiding any protection from the Spidey-catcher-thingy. I was hopeful that since the plants were putting on fruit when we made the string structure that they would focus their energy on growing fruit, rather than growing taller plants.

Here's what the patch looks like today:

Can't you just feel the three parts awesome?

It's a bit more overgrown than I expected, but has it worked? The first ripened strawberries started glowing red a little over a week ago and I have not yet observed any birds in the strawberry patch, so that's very encouraging. Every few days we go out and pick the strawberries and up until a few days ago we'd only be getting a small handful each time.

But recently we started getting this:

My hands are really the size of Canadian loonies, so those are some giant strawberries. Or not.

That's on overflowing bowl of fresh, pesticide-free, locally-grown strawberries! We've been getting a heaping bowlful every few days this week. Of course, picking the strawberries in Spider-man's dream-catcher is a bit of a masochistic game of Twister, and I'm quite thankful that our nearest neighbors are far enough away so as to not enjoy a front row seat to that dance.

I've been trying to walk the line between having enough fresh strawberries to eat and packing some away in the freezer for a future batch of jam.

Oh, and a few of the strawberries have had small critter-bites out of them...most likely from our own Mickey Mouse that isn't thwarted by String City. Those strawberries, however, are given to the chickens so nothing is wasted.

In the meantime, I'm dreaming of which strawberry jam I'll make when we have enough strawberries. Last year's delicious strawberry-ginger jam? Or something else?

Do you have a favorite strawberry jam recipe?

--Rational Mama



We're still here. Apologies for the delay between posts, but the last month has been a doozy.

There's many things to update you on: strawberries, chickens, the garden, car accidents and gas-guzzling rental cars, missing dogs and more. I hope to start chipping away at this list shortly.

Thanks for your patience!

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer, Post-Rationing

Summer in the plains is officially here.

Today temperature was flirting with 90 degrees, and that's not the heat index. With the muggy air conditions the "feel" of the temperature was definitely in the mid-90s. It brings back memories of last year...

Last year at this time we were sweating it out, literally, as part of our rationing experiment. Trying to stay true to the period, we vowed to do our best to not run the air-conditioner in our house or cars all summer long. This meant frequent cooling showers, lots of fans, and lost sleep due to sticky sheets and misery. Eventually we caved in late June which, surprisingly, was the energy-efficient thing to do.

But this year, we are not rationing (well, unless you call reducing the square footage of your house in half rationing). And tonight near bedtime it was absolutely miserable in the house; temperature near 86 degrees and humidity level over 60%.

So friends, the air-conditioner is now on. And in all honesty it feels really, really wonderful.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Punchline

So, the previous post asked, "Why did the turkey cross the road?"

(If you haven't read that post go do that quickly, because this one will be much more interesting if you do. Okay, did it? Carry on.)

Apparently, this is why:

Trust me, there's six of 'em in there.

TMOTH was walking in the back half-acre one afternoon last week and startled a solo turkey hen out of the tall grass. This is most likely the solitary turkey hen I saw in the back half-acre the previous week, spending a good portion of her morning playing Near/Far with the red wagon. Upon further inspection ("Geez, that's weird - a turkey bedded down in the middle of the afternoon...") TMOTH found the above clutch of eggs. There were six eggs at that time and we were a little concerned that she (now dubbed "Gertrude") wouldn't come back.

A quick Internet search explained that a turkey hen will continue laying eggs/leave the nest unprotected until she has laid all her eggs. At that point she pops a squat and stays close for the twenty-some days it takes for the eggs to mature completely.

If you Google "pop a squat turkey" this is the first image that comes up. I don't even know where to start...

Since the typical clutch size for wild turkeys is 10 to 12 eggs, we hoped that Gertrude would come back. So we waited, and waited, and waited.

We never saw her return, but each day there was another egg added to the nest. The last positive count we had was nine eggs, and it seems that in the last two days she has settled down to stay in the nest, which means the count could easily be a total of 11 or 12 eggs. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, we're not going anywhere in the back-half acre for the next month. Maybe if we're good stewards we'll get to see some poults (the proper term for a baby turkey) before the end of May.

This is just what baby velociraptors looked like...except they're lacking the front claws, big eyes, and hunting pack.

Oh, and we still haven't seen Elsie, Hazel and Clarice lately. Maybe they've found their own nesting places?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

Have you ever seen a wild turkey in the flesh before? It's a sight that will leave you speechless in mid-sentence. They're sooo prehistoric looking, with their long necks, big eyes, and neck-waggling shuffle. Looking at a wild turkey I have no doubts that modern birds and dinosaurs have a common ancestor.

This is just what a velociraptor looked like...except it's lacking the front claws, big eyes, and hunting pack.

What I didn't know was just how darn entertaining wild turkeys could be.

Several times a week a member of the Rational Living household will spot at least one wild turkey at the new homestead. In the mornings we frequently see them wandering up from the south, following the dry creek that forms the western part of our property. They then cut across our grounds to the northeast corner and continue their journeys elsewhere.

Our regular visitors are typically either a trio of hens or a solitary hen. It is great fun to run a commentary, a la MST3K, of their antics. To do this I recommend using soft English accents, similar to your favorite Masterpiece Theatre viewings. After all, animals are funnier when they have English accents. Also, I'm pretty sure that deep down inside all the hens are prim and proper ladies that would, if acceptable in avian circles, wear conservative hats and carry modest hand bags (if they had hands). Keep all this in mind.

What all the fashionable wild turkey hens will be carrying this fall.
And they definitely won't be talking about this turkey purse (I learn something new every day).

Last week the trio of hens, lined up in single file, were walking along the edge of the back half-acre when two of them ducked under the barbed-wire fence and headed east towards other pastures. The last one in the row? It was as if she was daydreaming and didn't realize the others had left. She just kept walking straight north, parallel to the barbed-wire fence, bobbing her neck in oblivion. Once the two east-bound hens were about 20 feet from the fence they stopped and had a little conversation (at least that's what it looked like).

"Oh dear, Hazel. Elsie's missing again."
"She probably kept walking to the north. Poor thing, she'd find her way to Minnesota if we didn't keep her on track."
"I suppose one of us should go get her."
"Yes, Clarice. One of us should go get her."
"Well, if you're not going to volunteer I suppose I'll run after her."

And with that one of the hens hurriedly shuffled west, slid under the fence, and headed north where she joined up with the daydreamer.

"Elsie, dear?"
"Yes? Did you notice the wild rose bushes up ahead, too, Clarice? Aren't they beautiful?"
"No, dear. We need to be heading east now."
"Oh. Really?"
"Yes, dear. Let's duck under the fence now, shall we?"
"But where is Hazel?"

"She's waiting for us on the other side of the fence."

"How did she get there already? Really, one must not be hasty!"

Elsie and Clarice both headed east, ducking under the fence and rejoined with Hazel.

On a different day, late in the morning, I spotted a solitary turkey hen in the back half-acre. She was walking north along the western border when she abruptly turned south and waddled straight to where the broken red wagon rested near the chicken manure. She spent a good minute surveying the scene: "Ah wagon, manure...clearly someone was hauling manure and had an accident." After a minute she quickly headed in a different direction, ready to be on with her business.

But once she was about 15 feet from the wagon she stretched her wings, spun around, and ran back to the wagon. Again she looked the place over. "Oh dear, I never even thought to look for chickens! There could be an injured chicken needing assistance!" After a minute of looking soothed her worries, the hen pulled herself away to leave.

Again, after about 15 feet of travel, she suddenly turned and ran back to the wagon. "Of course there aren't any chickens...chickens couldn't pull this wagon! I must look and make sure there isn't an injured human needing assistance!" The hen looked around the wagon again, head held both high and low for full perspective. After a minute of looking ruled out any humans with wagon-related injuries, she turned to head away.

Once 15 feet away the hen changed course and headed back to the wagon. And looked. And then left only to repeat the cycle again. And again. In all, she repeated this pattern at least eight times.

"Maybe if I go away and come back the magical number of times the mystic Indian maiden will appear and I can pull her red wagon across the sky like Freyja's cats pulling her golden chariot towards Valhalla."

I'm not sure if she wanted to determine if the wagon could be fixed ("Oh dear, the wheel completely separated from the axle...tsk, tsk"), if she was suffering from short-term memory loss ("Could it be? Another pretty red wagon!"), or if she was enjoying the best game of near/far ever ("The wagon is near...the wagon is far!"). I nearly choked on my tea, laughing as I watched from the kitchen window. Determined to take a picture, I grabbed the camera and headed outside. By the time I reached the back half-acre she was gone.

Who knew that turkeys could be so entertaining? I'm definitely looking forward to the next episode.

--Rational Mama

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pretty Pretty

When we first moved into the new house the trees had yet to bloom and show their true colors.

Initially, I thought the smallish, twisted tree just outside the bathroom window was a redbud, like its neighbor.

I was wrong.

Such pretty pink blossoms!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Friends, I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided I wanted to someday have my own small flock of chickens.

It was way back in the late summer of 1996. TMOTH and I, fresh newlyweds (we married young and there wasn't even a shotgun involved) took advantage of a nice morning by riding our bikes up and down the hills of central and east Lawrence. Or rather, coasting down and huffing and puffing up the hills of central and east Lawrence. Eventually, we found ourselves at the property of my then academic advisor, who owned a decent two acre spread at the junction of where "town" and "country" met. My advisor showed us around his old farmhouse and garden and introduced us to his small flock of chickens.

My recollection is that there were a dozen hens of various breeds, frolicking and clucking happily in the large fenced yard surrounding the coop. It was clear that each and every hen had her own personality, and their proud owner gestured and described their behaviors and antics as they came our way. The birds were so pretty and quirky and I immediately fell in love.

It was that night, as we settled down into our small, married student housing apartment, that I first spoke to TMOTH about wanting chickens someday. We had already established dreams a small homestead, so chickens fit quite well into that plan. But that plan was sooooo far out it was hard to believe that "someday" would ever actually happen.

Fifteen years later, friends, I finally have chickens.

After acquiring a ready chicken coop in the move to the new house we were initially on the fence as to how to approach the chicken issue. Just for eggs, or meat, too? Chicks or pullets? Small flock or large flock? Rooster or no rooster?

Recognizing that we have so much to accomplish to complete even basic tasks before seasonal deadlines (prepare the garden, clean and repair the coop, etc.) we decided that whatever approach we took this year we would NOT do a big straight run order for the production of meat. We still weren't sure, however, if we wanted to dedicate ourselves to the raising of chicks, or if we'd just try to snag a few pullets off of Craigslist.

And then, the day of the first big coop cleaning, the girls and I went to one of the local farm supply stores...and they had chicks.

Dammit if chicks aren't so cute.

After cooing and handling and talking for a good while the girls and I left the store with an understanding that later in the week (when a new shipment of dual purpose chicks came in) we'd head back and buy around 10 chicks for our own flock. We'd consider keeping one rooster, but any extra roosters and possibly up to five other chicks would eventually become dinner.

But then the next day I stopped at another local farm supply store for chick supplies and they had plenty of chicks. In fact, they were expecting another shipment of chicks the next day, and so were needing to sell some of their dual purpose chicks.

I'm such a sucker.

Bird's eye view of the chicks at one week of age.

I came home with six sex-linked laying standards (guaranteed hens), four straight-run "feathered" variety dual purpose chicks and one Cornish Rock (straight run). For those counting, that's 11 total birds, with six guaranteed hens and five possible roosters.

Wait, maybe this is also technically a bird's eye view...

The addition of a Cornish Rock was a bit of a surprise, since I don't like the possibly unethical growth-rate of it and similarly-bred "meat" birds. But it was the only one left in it's tank...and I'm a sucker.

So now several times a day we're checking on the chicks in the basement (it's still too cold to move them out to the coop, which still needs work anyway). We change their pine bedding every other day and have to freshen their water several times a day, as it is apparently great fun to stuff the waterer with pine bedding. It's amazing how quickly even the dual purpose chicks grow, and almost concerning how quickly the Cornish Rock is growing. They each have their own personalities, and most of them have acquired names via the girls.

The chicks at two weeks of age. Keep an eye on that black one perched on the food - she's watching...always watching...

As a homestead-experienced co-worker summed up, "It sounds like you have pets, not chickens." That may be true for the time being, but things may change as the chicks become more independent and roosters start to defend their territory. Eventually, a spare rooster having a bad day becomes dinner.

In the meantime, we better get hustling on the coop since the days will be warming and these little peepers can be awfully loud (especially at night). We'll be putting up new roosts, rehabbing nests boxes and getting the pine bedding ready for the deep litter method.

Let the chicken fun begin!

--Rational Mama

Friday, April 15, 2011

It's a Dirty Job: Cleaning Out the Chicken Coop

Lately, the sun has been shining and daytime temperatures have gotten well into "shorts weather," as the girls refer to it. We've been listening to the woodpecker pecking away at a new nest opening and at night (and sometimes during the day) we could hear frogs chirping down in the dry creek. Clearly, spring was here, which could only mean one thing...
It was time to clean out the chicken coop in preparation for our own chickens.
Grade A spiderwebs, no?

I knew this wouldn't exactly be an easy task, since, based on the accumulated..."debris" the coop it appeared that the previous owner postponed the last scheduled cleaning of the coop in anticipation of his own move. Now we were stuck with an overdue coop and when I mentioned cleaning it to TMOTH he said, "Have fun with that."

Whatever, the girls were excited about getting chickens so I knew they would help me. Right?

In light of the thriving population of mice inhabiting the coop (and the possibility of hantavirus) I decided safety was the best approach and declared that anyone helping with the coop clean-out would need to wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, a handkerchief over their hair, washable shoes, eye protection, work gloves and a disposable face mask. I take contactable zoonotic pulmonary viruses seriously.
Ready for hantavirus...and Ebolavirus, just in case.

Unfortunately, I chose the warmest morning in nearly six months to undertake this project, which meant once I announced that today was THE day for the project the girls were no longer interested in helping me and instead decided the rope swing was feeling neglected.

Funny that I should feel like the Little Red Hen while cleaning the coop, no?
Today is a good day to shovel.

Anyway, I started by using a broom to sweep down the copious amounts of spider webs (and dust) and then moved on to the shoveling. I began shoveling next to the coop door, and the loads had a certain satisfying cleaving pattern. Based on how quickly that section went I was sure I'd be done in no time.

Of course, since I'm new to chickens it never really occurred to me that the worst part would be under the roosts. By the time I got back there I was melting and the goggles were fogging up (not to mention, the claustrophobia was kicking in). Unlike the area near the door, under the roosts was a good five-to-six inch moist and smelly layer waiting for me. Ugh.

Suddenly the shovel loads were not quite as satisfying.

I had been placing my shovel loads into our old plastic wagon, which straddled the coop door. We don't yet have a wheel barrow so this was the next best thing. Unfortunately, I filled the first load so heavily that the wagon's bulging sides lodged the wagon in the door frame. So...I had to squat (nearly putting my face in the wagon contents) to lift the load up and over the door threshold.

Don't overfill your wagon or wheelbarrow, people. Lesson learned.

My plan was to dump the wagon contents in a corner of the back half-acre, since the manure was still too "hot" to add directly to a garden. Unfortunately, the path required for that plan meant that I would have to pull the 100+ pound wagon of manure uphills several hundred feet.

Change of plans.

I decided to dump the wagon contents at a closer corner of the back half-acre which would require uphill pulling only after the wagon had been emptied. Genius! Well, genius except for the part where I forgot to get my foot out of the way before switching directions.

After getting the first load dumped (and being thoroughly drenched in sweat and dust by now) I decided that my goal to finish emptying the coop that day may not happen. Instead, I resolved myself to get at least three wagon loads out.

And three loads it was because after the dumping the third load I realized that a wagon wheel had broken. Sometimes the universe helps you stick to your plans.
Wagon broken. Watch out for the cholera.

A week later (and on a much cooler day) I finished up the worst of the coop cleaning. Now we just have to hose everything down, replace the roosts and get bedding, feeders and waterers installed.

And, of course, get chickens. Which we may or may not already have...because sometimes I'm not a very patient person.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Zen (Hay)Fever

I just took my first spin on mowing the back yard, which is just under an acre. I used the riding lawn mower (the first time I've used such equipment), and after a few learning hiccups everything fell in to place.

With the pretty sunset and pleasant breeze (and noise canceling headphones) it was actually quite a pleasant activity.

It was kinda like doing one of those Zen sand garden thingies. But louder. And with gasoline.

And with little bits of grass going up your nose and in your eyes.

Can't wait to do it again.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Schnauzer Action!


Who needs a mouser when you have a miniature schnauzer?
The bad-ass skull-and-crossbones sweater intimidates the mice.

It's what Schnau-Dog has been bred for, and he's definitely game. Now that he's figured out that there are mice in the coop, he struts past it, on guard, ready to pounce.

And he's already earned his keep, if you know what I mean.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Carnival Appliances

Remember the appliance rules of the rationing project?

We're still kinda following them.

When we moved in to the new house we needed to purchase a refrigerator and a riding lawn mower. Our budget was tight and we hated the idea of purchasing new items when gently used options were available at a reduced cost.

So we headed to the local used appliance store. Okay, "used appliance store" doesn't do this place justice. Those of you in T-town know what I mean. Back in the olden days (you know, before "T.J. Hooker"), this place used to be a local carnival, with rides and refreshments and toothless barkers offering to guess your weight (why, oh why, so people pay for something like that?). But then times changed and local carnivals went the way of, well, "T.J. Hooker" and the place shut down.

And then it reopened as the most bizarre flea market type store in northeast Kansas. Seriously, the creepy smiling clowns are still on the side of the building and the toothless barkers are now inside, smoking their cigarettes and asking if they can help you find something. Chances are, if you need something you can find a used version here. Ashtray? Yup. Jig-saw? You can chose from 20 on the shelf. Coffee table? Some of them already have coffee stains! Life-sized R2D2 cooler? Got it! (Damn, I need to get back and get that...).

There are some great finds, but there's plenty of...well...junk. Some of the furniture looks like it needs a hefty dose of duct tape and glue and I am still freaked out at the thought of buying a used mattress (damn you, incessant national media stories on bed bugs). But you can't help but look, and look, and look. Oh, and try not to step on one of the cats that roam the store.

Outside, sprawling in front of the store and across a good section of the parking lot, is a six-foot chain-link fence that encloses most of the lawn and garden equipment: weed-eaters, birdbaths, wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, shovels, lawn chairs, window panes, storm get the idea. There we found a 16.5 horsepower, 42" deck riding lawnmower with low hours for a price less than what was available on Craigslist.

Inside, in the back of the store, there are several rows of appliances. Now, since we moved the oven from the old house, I wanted a white fridge to match. Unfortunately, all of the white refrigerators they had were scary - severely dented doors, peeling paint and inside shadows reminiscent of a Zuul, the Gatekeeper of Gozer possession. So, I went with a cream-colored Kenmore model slightly bigger than our previous fridge. The best part? It was about 1/3 the cost of a new model with similar bells and whistles.

Now, TMOTH and I both agreed that once finances settle down from all the new house purchases we'd like to replace the refrigerator with a newer, white, Energy-Star rated refrigerator. But in the meantime, we'll be all anti-Martha and take pride in our used, totally mismatched appliances.

Coordinated kitchens are soooo least, they are for the next year.

--Rational Mama

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mouser Wanted!

Yeah, so remember those mole holes I wrote about?

Apparently, not all of them are for moles.

We've known since we moved in that there is a bit of a mouse problem in the chicken coop. The previous owner didn't clean out the coop for quite some time (duuuuude, like, a really really long time) and so the floor is a solid mixture of chicken poop and grain. This, apparently, is some sort of mice heaven. A few weeks ago TMOTH quietly sat in the coop for five minutes and he swears he saw 17 separate mice. Ugh.

I assume that once we clean out the coop and acquire our own chickens that the mice will move on and seek other avenues, as their food source will be significantly reduced and the chickens themselves will deter the mice. So, in the meantime, there's been a bit of a truce.

But yesterday I was walking behind the coop and apparently interrupted some sort of mouse convention, as a good half-dozen fled from the holes in the grass to the coop. Say what?

Oh dear, the mice aren't just in the coop...they're in the lawn. Which means they could move into the house and/or the garden.

Oh dear...

--Rational Mama

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Spread...and A Little Help Needed

Hello, readers! Ready for the tour of the new place?

The general description of the new spread is that it is a backwards-L-shaped lot, encompassing 2.58 acres which host a small house, detached double garage, potting shed and chicken coop. This land, north of the Kansas River, was once under several hundred feet of ice during the Quaternary glacial period (we've found several exposed Sioux quartzite stones on the property, deposited by said glacier).

The acreage is divided roughly into three sections, which we generally refer to as the yard, the west acre, and the back half-acre (we need to work on some creative names, huh?)

"The Yard"

The yard is roughly an acre in size and is bordered on the south by the road which serves as our entrance to the property. There is a modest front lawn between the road and the house where a nice, large sycamore dominates the view.
The House

Just to the west of the house is a detached two-car garage with a small workshop area. On the west side of the garage is a trio of walnut trees and the large oak tree that supports the rope swing.

The back lawn sprawls out north behind the house and garage and is dotted with cedar and redbud trees (and mole holes).
The back yard, as viewed from the back door of the house.

A small potting shed sits halfway between the house and the chicken coop, which is sheltered by a mulberry tree.
The chicken coop.

To the east of the chicken coop is the established garden area, which is roughly 25 feet by 12 feet. In general, the yard has a gentle slope down towards the west acre.

View of the backyard from the north (looking back towards the house and garage). The garden is in the foreground.

"West Acre"
The west acre is an expanse of pasture that slopes downhill towards the western border of the property, which is a dry creek. There are more walnut trees and saplings in the dry creek (along with some frogs).
The west acre. The row of trees in the middle of the picture marks the location of the dry creek.

The dry creek becomes a wet creek when the watershed pond just barely north of our property fills with water. We hope to turn a significant portion of the west acre into space for blackberries and apple trees.

"Back Half-Acre"
The back half-acre is another pasture zone that is completely fenced in four-wire barbed wire and accessible by two gates. It sits directly north of the yard.
The back half-acre, as viewed from the eastern border. The clump of trees on the right marks the location of the watershed pond.
(The blue tarp is for a gardening project)

The back half-acre, like rest of the property, slopes gently towards the west and the dry creek. There is a small lean-to shed in the northwest corner (just beyond which is the watershed pond mentioned above). TMOTH has big plans to sculpt and mold this area into a series of raised-bed gardens spots with paths and benches.

"The Name"
Most folks who have a small homestead come up with some sweet and/or clever name for their property. We've tried, but not generated any tag or title that we all really love. "Dry Creek Acres?" Boring. "Glacier Hills?" Hmm... "Victory Acres?" Pulls in the rationing project but sounds like Amy Winehouse's next stop.

So, dear readers...any name suggestions for the property?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, April 2, 2011


One of the promises TMOTH made to the girls when discussing the move was to install a rope swing on the giant oak tree just south of the garage.

Never was there a better use of $35.

So simple, so retro. On these nice warm days they practically live on that thing.

--Rational Mama