Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the practice of keeping chickens

Keeping chickens isn't just a hobby, it's a practice. There's a definite ritual you develope every day with them, or at least I do. Every morning after the dogs have been out, before breakfast or a shower, I bundle up, throw on my wellies and trudge uphill to their coop by the garden. I walk inside and pour fresh mash and scratch grains into their trough, and make sure the frost is removed from the water stations. I say Hi. I tell them about the world news events on the radio. I check for any signs of lameness or discomfort, and leave with an egg or two in my hands.

But nightwatch with the birds is my favorite. I love the last check right before bed. I go outside with the same boots and warm coat as in the morning, but it's after a long day at work, a walk with the dogs, and a healthy meal. I'm tired and have a content stomach. I grab my lantern and walk into the night, which in rural areas is black and dark without the luxury of streetlamps or neighbors windows. My eyes darting for fisher cats or a fox in the brush. Sometimes I see one and yell, shaking the beams of the lantern in the rucus.

Needing to bed them down means I get to breathe in fresh dark air, see the stars, and smell a mix of wet leaves and burning fireplaces from other cabins in the village. Three things I am grateful to do, and those birds make sure I do it every night.

But besides being outside with a purpose, keeping chickens means taking care of something, knowing that they rely on you for protection and food and their general well being. It feels really nice to provide that. It really does. And it's not all giving either - the ability to collect fresh eggs, a source of protein that doesn't require taking their lives, is unique and special to the hens. I don't know many other bi-species relationships that can offer feelings of responsibility, enjoyment, and a killer slab of French toast. Well maybe ducks, but we all know ducks are assholes.

So chickens, thanks.

hipster homestead

I'm a designer who wants to be a farm writer. And since designer comes first in that sentence, I feel obligated to share some kickass stuff I found on Etsy. There's no rule that the rural life means overalls, tobacco tin signs, and plaid sundresses. Etsy has thousands of cool options for those of who adore, aspire, or just plain like country stuff and want something beyond average. Here were some of my recent favorites. The links below take you to their shop pages.

snap pea necklace

steer print

gardener shirt

tractor painting

rabbit shirt

beehive totebag

Monday, April 14, 2008

friends, chickens, coffee, and bio fuels

Meet Benedict, the 11 month old White-Crested Black Polish rooster. Ben and his entourage (two Polish hens) were introduced to their new home this weekend. Thanks to Team Mack, we were able to convert the old garden shed into a four star poultry home. Complete with hay storage, feeding stations, natural roosts and nest boxes made from whatever we could find (some winners were old drawers from the garage and a hay filled dish rack). I don't think I could've finished the coop Saturday without the help of neighbors and my weekend guests, Sara and Tim...

Sometimes it really does take a village. Katie, who lives literally down the hill from my place, gave me some spare wood. And with her resources we were able to build a frame and open wire door that was fairly predator proof. All three of us were holding beams, nailing, giving our two cents. What we ended up with was a fence wall and a flush door and it only took about an hour. The next day we rolled through southern Vermont and upstate New York, listening to music, taking in the sites. We crossed the Hudson and ended up in Saratoga, college town extraordinaire. We had lunch in a nice coffee house/cafe and picked up the hens at a small hobby farm outside of town. We brought home the hens and rooster in the station wagon and set them into their new coop. Want to know what feels great? Seeing productive animals bed down and eat a meal in a house you built them. I was a happy gal. That evening we retired to th cabin. We played music and watched episodes of Northern Exposure. All weekend had warm fires at night, home cooked meals, pie, ice cream floats. (Not great for the diet but grand for the camaraderie.)

Also, Sara taught me how to purl, which completes my basic knitting course and showed me the sweater she was working on. I looked on with wide eyes and utter amazement. I can whip out scarves and hats and the occasional mittens, but an entire sweater knit by hand seems epic. Tim helped by doing what men do, he chopped wood, broke in the outhouse (which has electricity?!?) and found a telescope in the woods behind a shed. Something I hope to check out soon and set up on my porch.

The two Pennsylvanians pulled up in their vintage Mercedes, which they are converting into a bio diesel machine. They drove up on that stuff and Tim is learning how to cook up his own. It's a weird mix of chemistry and planning, but they are in the process of making their own fuel, which is hands down commendable from this girl.

This weekend was wildlife central. I saw toads, song birds, herons, vultures, deer, a porcupine and the highlight - a king coyote trotting along a streamside on my drive into work. He was beautiful. There was also goats and chickens and we passed a big Belgian and his rider on the dirt roads by my house, where a lot of the locals use horsepower to get around still. Speaking of horses, I've decided I adore and want a Fell pony someday. Just a head's up if you're thinking of the perfect birthday present when I'm 30. Solid black please.