Rats!

There are limits, even for pacifists, and I’ve reached mine.

All my humane attempts to trap the rats and they have proven themselves smarter than me.

The live trap was a dismal failure. A rat managed to go inside and drag out all the bait without making the door close – the tin foil with a blob of peanut butter, the peanuts and the marshmallow, all of it. They had a feast.

I tried stuffing their tunnels with chicken wire and laying a piece over the top of the whole mess weighed down with cinder blocks. They happily dug around it.

I had seen a rat hanging around the back of the chicken yard one day that looked like it was sick. Legs all drawn up under its belly, moving slow. I had an urge to catch it a nurse it back to health. I think it was actually laughing so hard at me, it couldn’t stand up. And there I was feeling sorry for it.

Well no more.

I had to go to four stores to find an old-fashioned snapping rat trap. There were all kinds of contraptions for catching mice, including sticky paper. Gross. Poison foods abound. Finally, at the local hardware store I found my device. They only had two and I bought them both.

I carefully smeared a thin layer of peanut butter on the bait hook and managed to get the hook through the hull of a peanut to make it extra hard to pull the peanut off. I baited both traps and carried them out to the chicken area.

I opened the blueberry patch gate and started with the exit tunnel at the end of the row of blueberries. I knelt down and carefully pulled back the kill bar, swung the holding bar over and with the holding bar resting in the bait hook, placed the contraption on the ground. With care I removed my hands.

Then I placed another trap on the roof of the chicken-house where the rats go dancing at night.

I was happy none of the traps sprung in the process of positioning them. That will scare the crap out of you and if you’re unfortunate enough to have your fingers in the wrong place, hurts like crazy.

The next morning, I saw to my delight, one of the traps was successful. I caught a female, which I thought was fabulous. That will eliminate many baby rats. I said a prayer of thanks and asked forgiveness for killing the rat.

The rats had danced all night around the trap on the chicken-house roof.

I reset the tunnel trap and the next morning and to my amazement, it was licked clean of peanut butter without being sprung and they managed to make off with the peanut to boot. Plus, the roof trap still sits amidst the rat turds untouched.

Is this the hundredth monkey syndrome? Time will tell. I cleaned the rat poop off the chicken-house roof and reset the traps again. I’ll let you know how this progresses.

I would be so grateful if they would just decide to look for a better, more hospitable place to live, somewhere far, far away.

 

Cohabitation

IMG_3550

Cohabitation

 

When Lucy and Ethel grew up enough to live outside with Bossy, in their own cage inside the chicken yard, I though Bossy would pitch a fit. She peered at the new chicks, one eyebrow raised as if to say, “Who are you and how long do you plan to visit?” She didn’t get feisty until she realized they were there to stay. Then she would regularly strut over to their cage and give it a resounding peck, just to remind them who’s boss. It didn’t faze Lucy and Ethel in the least. Baby chicks are so trusting and believe everyone loves them.

The chicks were beginning to look like smaller versions of Bossy and had a hankering for more space. I was cleaning out their cage when Lucy decided to take a fluttering leap over the top and straight into Bossy. I held my breath and slowly inched over toward Lucy hoping to intercept her before Bossy lit into her. I was too slow and ended up chasing Lucy all over the yard with Bossy giving chase. It’s amazing how fast a chicken can move when they want to. I ended up grabbing at Lucy, caught her by the tail feathers and flipped her back into the cage. She was none too thrilled with me.

I created portable runs so I could put them all out in the grass to graze. I have a special run for the young ones that attaches to a dog crate. I covered the crate with a tarp to give them shelter from rain and some shade on sunny days. Lucy and Ethel inhabited that run together. I made another run that I covered with a sheet on sunny days for Bossy. I kept her in the chicken yard if it rained and on pretty days she never stayed out as long as the young girls.

The runs are made of flexible pipe arched over so they stand about 1 ½’ tall. I attached them to some rigid PVC pipe made into a rectangle 2 ‘ X  8’. It is covered with small hole chicken wire over the arched top, down the sides and capping both ends.  I cut a door in one end of the young girls run so I could hook the dog crate to it. I created four U-shaped thick wire “pins” to push into the ground over the PVC pipe to keep the run from being turned over by a predator. The runs are easy to maneuver around the yard and the young girls love being mobile. The biggest plus is, the runs are small enough to put anywhere in the garden so the girls can do my weeding for me.

Bossy, it appears, was none too pleased with the whole affair. She was stressed over the change and started losing feathers at an alarming rate. It took me while to discern she wasn’t happy being out- I obviously wasn’t taking enough time observing her. When I finally did, I noticed she would look for worms and bugs for about a minute, then stand there and pull out her feathers, filling the bottom of her run with a downy covering.

I began to leave Bossy in the chicken yard when I took the young girls out. This was still too much for her delicate constitution. She eventually looked like a plucked chicken ready for roasting, all except the pathetic bent, ragged feather she had left on her tail. What a sight. I would have laughed, she looked that ridiculous, but it would have hurt her feelings.

I opted to keep everyone in their respective areas in the chicken yard until Bossy grew her feathers back. That’s been a while now, and I still don’t have the nerve to try putting them out to graze again. It was just too traumatic for Bossy. So now I’m doing the grazing for them. They are eating grass, comfrey, plantain and collards, along with all my vegetable scraps and loving it. Their yolks are almost orange so I know they are getting all they need. I wish I could let them out to run free and graze on their own, but the osprey continues to fly over daily to check out the situation. I’m not losing another one that way.

 

 

What’s All the Excitement?

What’s All the Excitement?

 

Today we had our first ever Sweat Lodge in my backyard. It’s been a long time coming. I went out this morning to move necessary items into the backyard, things like rolling trash cans full of blankets and sheets, along with ceremonial objects in baskets.

 

Bossy, Lucy and Ethel came running to the fence cackling and clucking every time I brought something else out, obviously thinking the containers were full of food for them. I reminded them I’d already cleaned their house, fed and watered them. They were sorely disappointed when I lined the fence with all the containers and left.

 

When folks arrived to attend the Sweat Lodge the girls were introduced to a whole new cast of characters. The girls were so well-behaved, strutting back and forth along the fence. “What’s going on out there?” asked Bossy. Lucy clucked, “What did you bring for us to eat?” Ethel just watched, which she’s prone to do.

 

The Sweat Lodge fire caught slowly, creating a mass of billowing smoke that rolled across the ground this way and that, directed by the wind. The girls went behind their house until the smoke cleared. I thought I caught the sound of chickens coughing back there. I know I was coughing and my eyes were watering. Fortunately once the fire took hold the smoke subsided.

 

The girls didn’t run around squawking when we were putting the covers over the Lodge, even though I expected them to since it’s right by their area and they typically freak out about anything new, and you’d expect them to be upset by the flapping twelve-foot long pieces of black felt. Maybe it’s because we stayed outside their yard?

 

With the Lodge covered, we crawled through the small door in the East and held a Pipe Ceremony. The girls talked quietly amongst themselves, wondering what we were doing in that weird, round place. They didn’t complain about the joyous drumming and singing. What did I expect, for them to join in with us? After the Pipe Ceremony, we sat around a while waiting for the stones to heat. It was a gorgeous spring day, really perfect for sitting by a gentle fire.

 

The Lodge was beautifully hot, stones glowing red in the stone pit through each of the rounds, creating abundant steam when the water was poured over them. Every time the door was opened, the steam swirled up and out the doorway, giving us a little gust of cool air in return.

 

Even with four rounds of drumming and singing, door sailing up with the breeze and puffs of steam escaping, the girls acted like there was nothing out of the ordinary happening. No sky was falling. No intruder trying to murder them. They just took it on the wing like pros.

 

The change in energy as we shifted from Ceremony to dismantling and putting the Lodge away the felt fluttering as we draped it over the clothes line, blankets flapping as we folded them, sheets undulating as they were whipped off the ground and piled for washing none of that seemed to make any impression on the girls whatsoever. They just watched us.

 

After everyone who attended Lodge left, I went grazing for the girls. I know how much they like their grass and weeds picked fresh from my garden. They ravenously attacked the greens like they hadn’t eaten for a week. I took a peep inside their house to see if they had laid any eggs during all the Lodge hoopla. I wasn’t surprised to find the nest empty. Even though their normal egg laying time of day was past, with all the stress they must have experienced having all that commotion near their yard, I’m sure laying eggs was the last thing on their minds. Bet they lay eggs early tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Stormy Weather

The rain has been beating a harsh cacophony on the roof for the past four nights, the wind gusting, throwing the tempest against the vinyl siding with a deafening ferocity. I stayed, each night, hunkered down in the covers waiting for dawn and a ceasing of the deluge.

Living on the east coast where the water table is about four inches under the ground creates standing water any time it rains. Apparently, the latest storm was deemed hurricane-ish by the weather bureau. I looked over at my neighbor’s yard and observed an island with a lone tree in the middle of his front yard. There was a raging river flowing between our driveways. All I could think was, ‘Please let the rain stop.’

The chickens were happy to see me slogging my way across the soupy lawn, knowing I always bring goodies. I sighed as I looked in their enclosure, at the moat surrounding the chicken house and the small bit of yard they haven’t managed to kick out through the fence, where they stood in relative dryness.

They always run for the gate as I’m opening it, and today they almost swam, water sprayed up creating a wake as they dashed over to see what snacks I had with me. I wonder if the mud squishing between their toes has the same feel for them as it does for me?

Bossy cackled, “Would you do something about all this water? If it doesn’t stop soon we’re going to need and ark, and I refuse to share it with all those other animals. It’s got to be a chicken only arrangement.”

“Oh my God, my feet are all pruney and freezing cold,” groused Lucy. “Do something to fix this mess.”

Ethel, always the quiet one, silently ruffled her feathers and gave them a shake, trying to rid herself of the spray she endured running behind the other two for treats.

My boots sucked and slid as I maneuvered onto their island refuge to clean the poop out of their house, a task I do every morning to ensure uncontaminated eggs. It amazes me that even with a roof over the pen and cinder blocks lining the edges of the chicken yard to keep water from flowing in from the backyard, that it can still resemble a small pond. I’m guessing it has to do with a high water table and the fact that chickens like to dig, especially around the edges of their enclosure.

We’re still dealing with rain and high winds. This morning I was dragging on my rain coat when I looked out and saw there were only two chickens in the yard. Lucy was in the hen-house laying an egg and Ethel was peeking in the door at her. No sense in wading out there until everyone is back outside, since I can’t clean the hen-house with anyone in there.

I had breakfast and looked out again. I was awed and amazed that all the chickens were in the hen-house. They must be mighty tired of standing out in the weather. I’ve never seen them choose to be inside during the day, no matter how horrid or cold the weather. We’re begging you creator for a span of dry days to take the water table down a notch or two.

New Gate

Sometimes chickens are about as exciting as watching snow melt. They eat a lot, poop even more and lay eggs. It is nice to have them rush to greet me with wild abandon, even though it’s really the treats they want. So there haven’t been any entertaining stories to tell for a while. Until now.

The gate to the chicken yard has slowly been eroding. First the lower right hinge side rotted and came apart. This was remedied with bailing twine- it’s like duct tape for farmers. It was a wobbly fix. Then the upper left side came apart causing the door to hang open at the top when I went in to tend the girls. I’ve been lifting the gate to open it and close it and hoisting it high as it would go to latch it for months now. I had to cram a garden trowel in the crack between door and post to hold the bottom shut. It was time for a more permanent fix.

I woke early on Sunday and made a trip to Lowe’s for materials before the church crowd let out. Try going to Lowe’s, Wal-Mart or hitting the laundromat on Sunday morning to find out just how many non-church goers there are. You’ll be amazed.

I dropped the lumber and gate kit off in the carport because it was a drizzly day and it offered some protection. I brought out all the tools I thought I’d need and took copious measurements of the gate opening. It’s no surprise- the opening is definitely not square. The top is wider than the bottom and the left side is longer than the right. Don’t laugh- I bought a gate kit that guaranteed a square, right angled gate.

I did quite a bit of head scratching and figuring to find a way to make the gate a trapezoid versus a rectangle. I measured the opening multiple times, as I was taught, cut the 2X4’s and laid them out with the gate kit, took measurements  again, muttered some mild expletives when I saw the wood needed cutting again because I didn’t take into account the width of the 2X4’s in my measurements, then some more trimming to make the lengths perfect.

Everything looked fantastic laid out. Of course, the gate kit made it nice and square. And so wrong for the opening. I sighed and thought about my options. The solution I came up with was using paint stirrers to fill the gap created between the boards and the gate kit corners when I adjusted the boards for the proper dimensions. When it was all screwed together into the trapezoid, I hefted it out to the chicken yard to see how it fit. It looked pretty good, so I took it back to the carport and tacked the chicken wire across the opening. I used a lot of staples- not the kind in the staple gun- the U shaped, use a hammer to drive in type of staples.

The gate looked ideal, but I was out of time, so I leaned the gate on a post in the carport to wait for another day. You know how when you think about projects in your mind, they flow beautifully and before you know it you have the perfect gate made and installed? You know how it never works like that? My two hour estimate that included my trip to Lowe’s was more like six hours and I didn’t even finish.

The following Tuesday I didn’t have my first massage client until eleven-thirty in the morning. Ever the optimist, I figured there was plenty of time to install the gate. Erroneously, I thought it would take thirty minutes. I went through the steps in my mind the night before, woke with enthusiasm (Well, not exactly enthusiasm) and again assembled the tools I thought I’d need. I was thinking this part of the job would be a piece of cake- take the old gate off, screw the hinges of the new gate onto the post, install the gate-closing hardware and voila’- done.

 

Carrying the gate out to the chicken yard was my first hint about the task that lay ahead. You wouldn’t think four 2X4’s and some chicken wire would be heavy, but you’d be wrong. And, it was five feet tall and clumsy to carry with no place to find a grip. After the corner crammed into the ground a few times jarring my shoulders, I finally made it to my destination.

I held the new gate up to block the doorway to keep the chickens in while I unscrewed the hinges on the old gate, which promptly folded in half, making an unwieldy triangle. I pushed and pulled and finally managed to get the old gate out of the way, all the while holding up the new gate so the chickens wouldn’t make an escape. I pushed the new gate into the opening and started screwing the new hinges onto the post. The top hinge was great, while the lower one wouldn’t work because of a metal bolt protruding in the exact spot the hinge needed to be. Since the hinges were part of the gate kit and unmovable, I took the two hinges off the old gate and used them as well, leaving the lower kit hinge flapping in the breeze.

The gate opened and shut beautifully. Almost. The gate was an eighth of an inch too wide. No problem, I’d just go get my electric planer and take that edge right off. I made the trip to the garage for the planer and when I plugged it in, the motor whirred and nothing happened. The blade refused to spin. Fine.

I went back to the garage for the circular saw. It takes a lot of strength and finesse to run the circular saw up the edge of a hanging gate, almost more than I possessed. I managed to get most of the edge cut off, but the bottom of the gate was too close to the ground. I tried to cut down on the edge with the circular saw, but the wood has a grain unsuited for cutting in that direction and the saw jumped backward. So I gave up on that idea.

I went back to the garage for the third time for my pruning saw and cut off about three of the six remaining inches that needed to be removed. This saw was way too slow so I went into the house for my Japanese pull saw and finally finished the cut. While I was in the house, I checked the time and was shocked to see how much longer than thirty minutes this job was taking. I needed to finish soon. I figured I could use bailing twine to tie the gate shut if I didn’t finish in time.

The gate still didn’t close properly. There were just a few places that were too tight so I thought I’d use the belt sander. I went to the garage again, took out the belt sander, back out to the gate, plugged in the sander, and nothing. No motor sound, no whirring belt, no sanding. Apparently the belt sander and planer had made a pact to defy working.  I started talking to my tools, berating them for their ineptness. Using my brilliant brain power, I went back to the garage again and pulled out my two manual planers. The old small planer did nothing, but the big Sears model rolled the wood shavings off with as much ease as you can get holding the planer at an odd angle on a wobbly surface. I planed and planed until I had a somewhat smoothly closing gate.

The edge of the gate was totally mom-miked though, so I went back inside one more time for the palm sander, which joyfully buzzed away smoothing off the splinters and making the fit even better.

I added the inside and outside handle along with the latch mechanism and there you go- one completed gate that works like a charm. By some crazy miracle, I got the gate finished and all the tools put away before my first client arrived.

Finally, no more hefting the gate to get it open and shut. It’s a breeze to get in and out of the chicken yard now, with the gate swinging freely, just the way it was meant to do. And, when I have to rebuild the gate again, which is inevitable, I have already figured out an easier way.

 

 

 

Open the Confounded Door

Usually when I go out to feed and water the hens, they cluck a kind greeting, ask what I have to offer them today and ask what my day holds. Sometimes there is an egg waiting for me in the hen-house. Hens aren’t consistent with their egg laying times or even days.

This morning when I went out to see them, they were mad and that sounds a whole lot different from clucking a good morning. I know exactly what they were saying. Bossy was crabby because she needed to lay an egg and couldn’t get back in the hen-house after pushing her way out the small one way door when the sun rose.

So here’s what I heard.

“Lady, get your big fat butt over here and open this confounded door right now! I have an egg in my poop shoop and it’s not waiting for anything. How could you put the door on so it only opens out? What were you thinking? Were you thinking? Don’t just dawdle, get a move on!

Guess I’ve been told. As soon as I opened the door, Bossy hopped inside, turned around in the nest and flopped down to lay her egg.

Brrr! It’s Cold Outside

No one said chickens are smart. I built these girls a prime establishment. A yard with small hole chicken wire sides and top with a door that fits snug. The chicken wire sides are in a trench underground, folded into a U shape, filled in with dirt and cinder blocks sitting on top of the dirt to keep digging threats out. The girls have a vinyl sided nest/roost box with two windows and a large door with a smaller door inset so when it’s cold and the big door is shut, they are more enclosed.

When I went out to feed and water the girls the morning after the first frost, I was amazed to see them both covered in white rime. Obviously they chose to sleep out under the stars. I made sure to check on them that night, and there they were, hunkered down in the far corner of the chicken yard away from their house and the tarp roof that gives them protection from the rain. Why?

I sighed, went in the yard, picked up Bossy and unceremoniously pushed her into their house and closed the small door. Then I went over and picked up Pig Sty, opened the small door and shoved her in as well. I waited a few minutes to see if they would come right back out, but they stayed put.

This is an ongoing routine on really cold nights, but when it’s warm enough. I let them star gaze.

Another New Set

With Charlotte deceased, Rosie in a new home and spring arriving, I decided to try this chicken thing again.

I trotted myself, my grandson and my roommate down to Williams to purchase two new pullets the day before Easter. What was I thinking? Of course they didn’t have anything left except two leghorns, which I adamantly refused to buy, even though my grandson and roommate were begging me to. Instead, I put my name on a list for two Rhode Island Reds when the next batch of pullets came in.

It was a sad ride home with all the long faces in the car. My roommate was as disappointed as my grandson.

The chicks finally came in. Usually I pick out the two I want, but this time they were boxed and waiting for me at the check-out counter. I brought them home, sight unseen, and immediately deposited them in the plastic tote I had prepared for their arrival. One of the chicks was just lying there looking half dead. I put the wire top on the tote, installed the heat light and headed straight for the phone.

“Garden Center.”

“This is Nancy Pocklington. I just left your store with two Rhode Island Red pullets and I want to let you know one of them looks like she’s not going to make it. If she dies, I’ll want a replacement.”

“Sorry ma’am, once the chick leaves the store we aren’t liable for its survival. There’s no telling what happens to an animal once it leaves the store.”

“I brought it straight home and put it in the prepared box with food and water. I left the store fifteen minutes ago. The other chick is pecking at the sick one like they do if there’s an issue of survival.”

“All I can say is, separate the chicks so the strong one doesn’t hurt the weak one and see what happens.”

“Ugh.”

Miraculously, the weak chick was fit as a fiddle the next day. She earned the name Pig Sty because she loves covering herself with dirt. The other chick was dubbed Bossy Biddy. She is bossy!

Stuffed

Charlotte bit the dust yesterday. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. She ate a whole pound of ground turkey along with a butt load of corn and choked herself to death! Apparently her mother never taught her to share.

How is that possible? I have to say I don’t ever plan to have Americana chickens again. In my experience, they have to be the stupidest chickens on the planet.

I went out to pick up eggs yesterday afternoon and noticed Charlotte was sitting on the ground in normal chicken repose. The problem was she didn’t stand up when I came near her, which is abnormal behavior for Charlotte, to be sure.

When I walked over to see what the problem was, she keeled over and went into spasms. I tried doing Reiki on her and petted her. She gagged, continued to spasm, laid her head back and died.

At first I thought, maybe she got tangled in some netting and broke her neck, so I removed the netting from over the roost so Rosie couldn’t get tangled in it. As I picked Charlotte up, I thought her chest felt weird, like she had two breast bones. That’s when I realized her craw was huge and distended- beyond full. She ate so much food it blocked her trachea and she suffocated.

The tragic accident happened in the middle of a busy day. All I could do was lay her in the garden until day’s end, which turned out to be eleven pm. So there I was, once again, out in the garden at night with a flashlight digging a burial hole.

The whole scenario made me think about my backyard neighbor Mary Anne and some of the stories she told me about the folks who used to live in my house. Apparently they would dig holes in the backyard in the middle of the night, which created some suspicion in Mary Anne’s mind. The house was owned by a purported drug dealer and a bunch of Marines sharing the house with him. As I shoveled out the dirt, I wondered if instead of illegal drugs or money, they were burying dead animals too.

Now Rosie is all alone and I feel like I should get a couple more chickens to rear so she’ll have company. They won’t be Americana’s though. I think I’ll go back to Rhode Island Reds. They, at least, seem to have half a brain.

It has come to my attention in the week since Charlotte ate herself into oblivion, it’s not all that uncommon for chickens to eat themselves to death. Several old timers who were “reared on the farm” have told me tales about going out in the chicken pen, seeing a chicken in distress and taking measures to save its life.

These measures aren’t pretty. It entails cutting open the craw of the distressed chicken, pulling out the partially masticated, lodged food and sewing it back up with a sewing needle and thread.

I keep hearing the words tough old bird in my head and wondering how hard it is to perform this rescue. Exactly how tough is chicken skin? It certainly holds onto feathers with a tenacious grip. Do you sew the skin only, or down into the craw layer too after removing the obstructing food? What do you use to cut the craw open, scissors or a knife? Do you remove the stitches in a week to ten days? Are the chickens so out of it they just lie there and let you work on them, or do you need an extra pair of hands? Don’t they get upset and start flapping around once they can breathe again? I’ll have to see if there’s a U-tube video of this procedure for further edification.

Rosie is in a new home with lots of chickens for company. My hope is she’s happy and laying eggs with gusto.

Carol’s Demise

The movie was over, my crocheting project put away and I had started creating a necklace at eleven-thirty pm. There’s nothing like burning the candle at both ends. As I sat there trying to decide what beads to add next, the sound of a chicken alerted me to danger in the hen-house. I jumped quickly up, grabbed a flashlight and dashed outside. You never hear a chicken at night unless there’s a problem. Even a weak, quiet bwhat chicken noise like I heard spells trouble.

As I peered through the fence beside the garage, I spied  a mound of Carol’s feathers on the ground. I had to run around the garage, through the yard and out to the gate behind the garage to get into the chicken run. Just inside the gate was the culprit a big, fat possum eating Carol’s shoulders. He looked up at me, his eyes glowing green in the beam of the flashlight, blood smearing the corners of his mouth. I threw the netting off the gate, quickly opening it, praying I wasn’t too late. Carol didn’t move as the possum dropped her and scampered off to the corner of the run with me in pursuit. If I’d had a shovel, this would be the end of the story for the possum, I was that mad. I knew I needed to see how he managed to get in through the netting so I kept scaring him until he climbed the fence and exited through a hole he’d chewed.

Sadly, I turned and looked Carol over. She was dead. I carried her out of the run as chickens are cannibalistic and will eat a dead chicken, which will create an onslaught of pecking and drawing blood until eventually, they kill the weaker chicken.

I laid Carol down in the old collard patch where I planned to bury her, went to the garage, retrieved a shovel and buried Carol in a deep hole I dug under the newspaper and mulch I’d covered the bed with just the week before. Next I found some blue baling twine and went back to the run and stitched up the hole in the netting.

The Have-A-Heart trap was currently being used as part of the barrier on top of the roost box. I untangled it from the netting and set it up by the gate to the chicken run baited with some dog food.

The next day, I bought some really smelly cat food to bait the trap with and placed the trap outside the run by the notorious corner where the possum had made the hole in the netting. So far, no possum.

Amazingly, Rosie and Charlotte each laid and egg the next day. I would have thought the trauma of losing a buddy would have shaken them up more than that. What do I know?