Sick chicken update

Posted on September 14, 2018

It’s been a few weeks since one of the chickens fell sick.  Seth and I noticed that she was sitting on the ground all of the time, either unable or unwilling to move around all that much.  She got herself from the henhouse to the feeder in the mornings, and back again at night. Once it became clear that she wasn’t doing so hot, we isolated her in the spare bunny hutch and christened her Buttercup.  Because after all, you can’t call an animal Sick Chicken all the time and expect her to get better.  As one of the animal-feeding volunteers said, “Let’s put that good energy out into the universe!”

Buttercup couldn’t walk without propping herself up using her wings on the ground. It looked like she was dizzy, or maybe her feet hurt, almost like she was walking on tiptoes.  The vet suggested Marek’s Disease, a viral infection that causes neurologic symptoms in chickens.  Some research told me that the normal course of treatment is to euthanize the chicken. There are no treatments. There is no known cure.

Well!  We’ve had enough death this year to last me a long time.  The vet told me to try some aspirin for Buttercup to counteract any pain, and to go ahead with any herbs I want to try. Music to my ears, friends.

I had just finished infusing a batch of St. John’s Wort in vinegar and thought I would give it a go.  St. John’s Wort is known for its muscle-relaxant, pain-relieving properties.  It’s also a potent anti-viral (which, by the way, doesn’t exist in modern medicine).  Sounds like a good shot.

Twice a day, Buttercup got a piece of bread onto which I added five drops of St. John’s Wort.  And slowly, slowly she started to improve.  At first, she began perking up energy-wise.  Then she was more willing to walk, still using her wings as props but walking.  Then she progressed to walking mostly without using her wings.  And finally, she’s begun laying eggs once again.

She seems pretty steady on her feet.  She’s still isolated so that I can make sure she gets her medicine, and I’m going to keep her separate until I’m sure she can fend off the other chickens pecking her.  Chickens are notorious for pecking outsiders, and Buttercup has been isolated for so long that she’s now an outsider.  But when it comes time, I’ll wait until all the healthy chickens are in the henhouse and pop Buttercup in with them.  Then in the morning when they all come out, it will be like she’s been there all along.

Home is best

Posted on September 1, 2018

I guess we planned our August a little too well because we were away nearly every weekend.  We went to see a dear friend in Maine for three nights in the beginning of August.  The following weekend we spent our day off at a family reunion in Connecticut, and then the third weekend we went to Martha’s Vineyard to see another friend for a whirlwind visit and tour of beautiful scenery.  This weekend we’re making yet another visit.  And while I feel blessed to have friends and family who want to see us, it’s definitely taking a toll.  All three of us have come down with a head cold of the drippy sort, and all at the same time.  Normally it’s staggered a little bit so at least one of us can take care of the other two.  Oh well.

We’re still on the go today.  I just had an itch to write for a few minutes before getting the day going, I think due to the fall-like weather that’s swept over us. Today involves the normal house chores, a bit of extra cleaning to make up for everything I’ve missed in the last month but minus animal care (thank you volunteers!).  Seth is working of course.  There’s also babysitting, and then much-needed garden work before the farm’s fancy event next weekend.  And now that I think about it, there’s a more low-key but still happening event the following weekend.  Oh dear.

I see herbs in our future: elderberry and nettle, fire cider and St. John’s wort.  Syrup, tea, infused vinegar, and the herb garden.  And soon, sometime in this beautiful month of September, we will be home together on a Sunday with nothing before us but crisp air and changing leaves, and a day of restful quiet.

Animal matters

Posted on August 24, 2018

Addie and I spend a lot of time with the animals here on the farm, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. In fact, thanks to the amount of time we spend out there, my not-quite-2-year-old baby is now capable of refilling the bunny waterer and feeding the bunnies a bowl of pellets. She also knows how to scoop goat poop with the goat poop scooper. She’s amazing. Every day I am in awe of how much she learns.

The goats are the delights of my heart. They have become very near and dear to me. I’m hatching ways to convince people that we should take them with us when we leave, whenever we leave, in however many years that is. That’s how much I love the goats. We spend several hours per week together, usually me walking them around the property while they nibble. It’s fun — I try to keep them from nibbling the seedlings, they do whatever the heck they want. Addie runs off and the goats follow her. Actually, the goats follow pretty much any human who walks in their peripheral vision. Herd instinct, I guess.

We have a few volunteer popcorn plants growing off our back deck that the goats love to munch. Seth does not love the goats munching on the plants, and so I hustle to keep the goats from mowing them down. Cinnamon and Nibbles give it a halfhearted attempt and back off after I push them away. But Sunny, who is the herd queen, goes after those popcorn plants with a vengeance. She does it just to annoy me. She thinks it’s funny. I know this because I push her away several times and she walks away, pretending to be interested in something 10 feet on. Then I turn my back and she’s right there again. I push her away again and she jumps down from the back deck and does the goat equivalent of kicking her feet in the air. She’s frolicking. At me! Then she runs for the goat yard and impatiently waits for the handful of grain I toss in their bowl to distract them as I close the gate.

I could love the hens as much, if that darn rooster would let me. Spirit the rooster is a big, angry dude. He doesn’t like me. Well, he doesn’t like anyone, so I try not to take it personally. But it’s hard. He stares me down with one of his beady little eyes anytime I walk by the chicken yard. I stare back at him, and lately I can be found waving my arms in the air and crowing at him. The baby thinks this is great, and now she crows at the rooster too. “Er-erer-erROOOO!” Thankfully, the baby has not also begun to trash talk Spirit the rooster the way I have. I put on my best tough-gal voice and say things like, “That’s RIGHT I’m talking about you.” And “You better shape up because I can cook you.”

It’s ok if you’re laughing. I feel ridiculous every time I do it… right up until the moment he flies at me with his talons out and tries to claw my legs. Then I get super angry. If you’re curious, Spirit started it first. I was minding my own business feeding the chickens when he attacked me from behind. And when I turned, he kept coming. He’s persistent. He also attacked the baby one day when she snuck in the yard. This is why I’m looking for a new home for him, and despite my misgivings, one that does not end with him headless in the freezer. I promised him I’d keep him alive way back when we first found out he was a rooster and debated keeping him.

One of the animal sanctuaries near me said they couldn’t take him, and to try and clip his wings because it’s mating season and maybe he’ll settle down afterwards. I feel a bit iffy about that. Isn’t every day mating season for a rooster? Whatever. Spirit the rooster will live here until I find a home that is satisfactory. The little booger.

The rest of the chickens are all terrified of Spirit because he leaps on them every chance he can get. (He also doesn’t share his food, which is supposed to be one of his main jobs). So I don’t know the other chickens too well. I don’t get a chance to do anything in the chicken pen, aside from fighting with Spirit or occasionally holding him and trying to embarrass him in front of the hens. This is a chicken psychology thing, you can look it up.

Anyhow, one of the hens has been laying down for the last two days or so. I was concerned she might be egg-bound, which means having an egg stuck in her vent. And since chickens only have one hole for peeing, pooping, and egg-laying, this is kind of a big deal. The internet says to give her an epsom salt bath, which I did, and to feed her some calcium and see if she can pass the egg. One lady said it took three days. But there are other chicken issues, and they all sound not great: bumblefoot, marek’s disease, prolapsed vent, or just plain old broken leg. Don’t worry, I’m texting with the vet and the hen is in her own pen for now. We’ll see how she looks in the morning.

I don’t have much to say about the rabbits who are big and fluffy and quiet. I began making the chicken yard rabbit-proof so I could let them run around in there, but then Spirit started attacking, and it’s just not my idea of fun digging a fence 4-6″ down while fending off rooster attacks from behind. So the bunnies will have to wait. They’re pretty patient, and as long as we toss them some greens every day they’re happy.

It’s evening now, time for one last look at the animals before night falls. Maybe there’ll be a few eggs. I’ll give the goats a good rub and check everyone’s water, and then come back inside to enjoy the crisp air blowing in our windows. Autumn is just around the corner. Amazing, isn’t it? This world is just so full.

Farm tour

Posted on July 19, 2018

If you’ve ever wondered what life looks like living on a small diversified farm, wonder no more my friend. I thought you might like to see what I see every day. It’s not always picturesque but it’s always interesting watching things change.

First up we have the view from the back deck of the apartment. This is what Addie and I see every day when we step outside to check on the animals.

All the way to the left is the animal area. Then the propagation greenhouse where we start our seeds. Just to the right of that is the cold frame where we harden off the seedlings before transplanting. Then the house’s driveway and the garage which serves as tool and equipment storage. We’re hoping to build a storage area eventually, but that’s a long term goal at this point.

And of course my deck planters. They’re very important.

Above is the rabbit hutch in front of the chicken yard. And below are the goats. That’s Cinnamon in the back and Sunny peeking through the gate.

If you go back to the driveway and walk behind the garage you come to our main fields. Looking left there are fields and a big field house of tomatoes. Looking right are community garden plots and more fields, and behind the plots are a couple of hot houses. And if you turn completely around, you’ll catch a glimpse of the tiny house, which is off to the side of the driveway.

You have to walk a little ways to come to the flower garden , but it makes a nice loop when you circle back and find yourself at the CSA pickup shed. I won’t even show you the herb garden, which is sadly overrun with weeds through the paths. The beds look pretty good, but it’s hard to tell what’s what in photos.

And there you have it! Final stop in the pickup shed, aka the farmstand, where you can buy veggies and chat with nice people. Thanks for stopping by!

Catching up

Posted on July 11, 2018

It was winter, the last time I wrote, and now summer’s in full swing. It was 91° today. Yesterday morning I had to fill 5-gallon buckets with water and lug them out to the gardens for some of the more tender plants I’m growing. We don’t have irrigation yet in my gardens, but it’s coming. I’ll be glad once it arrives.

I haven’t much felt like writing here, to be honest. I’ve been working on some fiction, which is my true writing love, or rather I was working on some fiction right up until the point that our dear dog Lily died. She was hit by a car. It was very quick, though its effects have lingered long in our hearts. It was one of those most likely preventable, totally unforeseen accidents, and we cried time and time again thinking that if we had changed just one thing that day, she would still be with us. I’m told that’s the way it goes with all accidents where you lose a loved one. We’re still feeling the aftershocks, though of course it’s much easier a few months on. And really this blog post is not about Lily, good girl that she was.

Summer living on a community farm is much different than summer just working on a farm. There are lots of people around all the time: workers, volunteers, kids making projects, CSA members with questions and vegetables. Usually all in one day. I like it. It makes me think about Memere and how her brothers and sisters were always dropping in. But we have quiet days too, and there are quiet spots on the farm even on busy days. It makes for a nice change from living in the tiny house, when every visitor carried a risk of bringing the building inspector down on us.

I hang out a lot with the goats. I read about them and spend time thinking about how to make their living situations more comfortable. I bought a book on herbal medicine for farm animals and that’s always in the back of my mind too. One of Seth’s workers tells me that my band name is “Christine and the Goats” because I’m always talking about them or walking with them, giving them a stretch of the legs and a run on some tasty weeds. Well! There are certainly weirder band names.

Addie is in the stage where she wants to help with everything. She helps with the dishes, with animal feeding, with laundry folding, with flushing the toilet. My mom taught her to say “Bye, pee-pees!” the last time we visited. So I hear that regularly. And I had to fish a roll of toilet paper out of the toilet one day last week because Addie’s all about the toilet too. It’s such an endearing, aggravating, adorable stage, this helping thing. And when I’m not tripping over the unfolded clean clothes on the floor again, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m home with this baby. Yes, I’d guess that my days are half sighing in frustration, half laughing in thanks. Some days one more than the other.

There’s been a bit of crafting tucked in between everything else. I finished up a knitted wool cowl for my mom, and gave it to her on the hottest day of the year. As you do. And one of my friends just got back from a trip to Iceland with four skeins of Lopi yarn tucked in their suitcase for me, so that’s next on my plate.

It’s funny how even after all these words, this blog post doesn’t manage to touch the depth of what I’m doing. It doesn’t convey the evenings spent weeding with the dirt splashing over my wrists and the sweat dripping down under my hatband. Or the flush of pleasure from hearing someone talk about their chickens with a slightly apologetic look on their face, only for them to realize that I’m a chicken and goat lady too. Or the gut punch of losing one of the farm’s animals during the heat wave last week in another most likely preventable, unforeseen accident. Or the joy of connecting with herb folks at a conference, and setting up my own herb classes later this summer. These are just words. And I’m happy to write them, but I’m even happier to live them (except for the death. I could do without more of that this year).

It’s this: The words here are not enough. Or conversely, maybe the words here are just enough. Maybe they are the finishing touch on what is turning out to be a full season, so rich that it overflows the boundaries and spills onto the virtual page. I wish I could share with you the thrilled, exhausted feeling I feel at dusk when I stand up straight, stretching my back. The air is balmy and my skin is gritty. There’s time for a handful of blackberries before coming in to wash the dust off my feet. But all I have are these words, and the occasional picture of the goats.


Posted on February 22, 2018

It was 71 degrees here yesterday, sunny and mild and springlike a good two months early. I felt the blood moving in my veins. I know Seth felt it too because when I came upon him and our assistant farm manager at lunchtime, Seth was full of giddy humor, in his t-shirt, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet in his happiness to be outside.

I love early Spring warmth. It makes me feel like cleaning out my closets — although admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me want to clean things out. I tried a bit of knitting in the afternoon and though the yarn was fine and smooth beneath my fingers, my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted dirt in my hands. It was too warm to knit!

Mother Nature listened, I guess, because it’s snowing now. And settling down in a chair with my knitting for company sounds about my speed. If only the baby wanted to settle down too.

Late winter

Posted on February 16, 2018

Goodness, late winter on a farm is an ungraceful time of year what with slushy mud puddles, dirt-crusted snow berms, and bare trees.  Our main color right now comes from the seed catalogs piling up in the farm office, and in our imaginations as we plan out the flowers, vegetables, and herbs that we’ll grow this year. Every morning when I feed the animals, crunching along icy paths, I try to picture the farm from an outsider’s eyes and the words “undeniably glum” pop into my head. It certainly doesn’t look promising as you drive by, but Seth and I know the land holds growth soon to come. It’s not quite mud season, messy harbinger of spring, more like mud season’s mud season. Thaw, maybe? Whatever it’s called, it’s a bit more time to prepare.

We’ve moved into the little one bedroom apartment that comes with our new farm.  We’re still sourcing some furniture, as we got rid of most of it when we moved into the tiny house, and we’re also sourcing farm crew (I use “we” loosely here, I’m an unpaid enthusiast), so maybe that’s why I keep looking at the land and house with fresh eyes.  I see so much to do, so much to grow and to update.  So much to hope for.

I’ve been learning about feng shui these last few weeks. The transfer of energy from house to person.  Houses hold cell memories, I feel, just the same way plants do, the way our bodies do and that’s why you hear of organ transplant recipients after surgery suddenly liking the same things their donor liked.  Houses are the same, except the house influences the people.  I like to think about creating flows of energy that feel good for me and for the people who live and work here.  I have no big changes, nothing mystical to report.  Just thinking, thinking as usual.

In all of this, a very dear-to-me man died this week: my great uncle, Uncle Bubba. It’s not quite right to call him a surrogate grandfather. We were friends and family together, unrelated except by marriage, and we didn’t often speak in person. However, I wrote him a letter every week or so for the past 6-ish years. How do you describe a person who has been in your thoughts so consistently? Beats me, all I have is emotion. And typically I withdraw into myself when I’m feeling low, but I don’t want to do that right now, for the most part. I have that fleeting clarity that comes with the loss of a loved one: What am I doing with my life? What do I need to do to feel full? Is it worth writing letters about?

Uncle Bubba was a good man, ready with jokes and stories. To his last day he was devoted to his wife of 59 years, though she passed away in 2014. I believe they were true best friends and partners. Bubba loved music and woodworking and ice cream, and he had room in his heart for a bond with a wayward great-niece, though he had kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids of his own, and though I’m one of maybe a hundred cousins (I think. Mom, help me out here?).

Seth and I have a Bubba of our own. It’s Addie’s nickname, and when the two Bubbas met over Christmas, I held my tiny human up to Uncle’s bed. The older Bubba observed to the younger, “You’re on your way in and I’m on my way out.” It was true of course, he had been declining steadily for more than a year. But it didn’t stop me from saying, “Oh no, Bubba, not for a while yet.” I wasn’t trying to give him false hope. Just pleading with him to stay for a while longer. Perhaps it would have been better to acknowledge it, or to have said, “Maybe, but you’ll never be out of our hearts.” Still, the heart doesn’t always know what to say at the prospect of imminent loss, and anyway Uncle Bubba gave me a small smile in response.

I like to think that we understood a great many things about each other, though really I don’t know a lot of what he thought. His letters were few and far between; Parkinson’s made it difficult to write. But he was a master conversationalist and excelled at making me feel at home when we talked. I will miss his steady presence in my life.

It’s late winter now, and I have a compost bin to build and a flower plot to plan. There are perennial herbs that need a new garden space — somewhere, I’m not quite sure where. I still have goats and rabbits to feed. And in spite of moving out of a tiny house, I have a load of things to declutter and organize. Natural ebbs and flows I guess, as winter draws to a close and growing season comes around again.

A tiny house update

Posted on January 25, 2018

This winter, we’re much warmer in the tiny house compared to last year thanks to our work filling in the air gaps and adding more insulation. We’re still heating with the electric box heater because the walls aren’t up enough to install the wood stove, and anyway the chimney parts we need were on backorder for the last few months. We’ve finally ordered our parts and we’re now waiting for them to arrive. These things are all fine, except for one thing: we have a condensation problem. Our roof drips.

We have a lot of moisture in our tiny house because of all the cooking we do and the fact that we reduced most of the air gaps in the house.  And, you know, we breathe, the four of us. Mold is an ever-present concern because of my health history, so having a drippy roof is alarming.  Is our roof sheathing rotting above the insulation?  This is a big unknown, one that we really need answered.

We thought we’d muddle through the winter, install the wood stove which will definitely help dry things out, and use the two vents we have installed (which we’ve been using minimally because they vent out all the warm air, and while the electric heater does the job, it does the just just barely). Then some time in the spring or summer, we’d pull down the roof insulation, check the status of the roof sheathing, remediate any mold, re-install the insulation, and install the final ceiling pieces of wood.  Kind of a big task when you have a young baby, you’re living in the 200 square foot space where you’re working, AND you’re a full time farmer.

Well, we’ve come up with an unexpected solution to fix these problems.  It’s certainly not something we were considering so soon, but we’re going to move out of the tiny house.  Seth was offered a job that comes with housing on the farm where he’ll be working.  So we’ll be moving into a one-bedroom apartment that’s about twice the size of the tiny house.  Then Seth will be able to do the work at his leisure instead of cleaning up the tiny house between tasks and trying to do the work around the baby’s schedule in the middle of the farming season.

It’s not an ideal situation.  We love the tiny house and we’ve put a lot of work into it to get the design and finishes just right for us.  But it’s unrealistic to live in the tiny house with the baby while it still needs work, and the stress of it is wearing. However, it’s very nice to know that we’ll be living on the farm where Seth works. Such a big change, one that will be most welcome in the summer when Daddy is at work all day and Addie misses seeing him.

We’ll be moving at some point in the next few weeks. Once the snow melts and the ground is firm, we’ll park the tiny house at the farm as well. I don’t know what the future holds for us and the tiny house, but I am glad we’re not giving up on it. We’ll just have to take it as it comes.

The homemade gift roundup

Posted on January 19, 2018

Now that we’re well beyond the winter holidays and I (gulp) finally finished all of the homemade gifts, I can write about them here. It’s an accomplishment to have made at least one thing for every person on my list, I remind myself whenever I get down to crunch time and I’m frantically weaving in ends or whatever. And if you don’t think you can frantically weave ends, then you should hang around a knitter the day before a holiday gathering. Somehow, despite my best planning, there is always some project undone at the last minute.

First up, the hats. I knitted eight hats for my eight nieces and nephews for Christmas. Did I take pictures? No, of course not. I forgot before I wrapped them which was, surprisingly, quite early. They were assorted colors, patterns, and yarn weights, and everyone seemed to like theirs. They all popped them on their heads after opening them, anyway. That’s the way to a knitter’s heart.

For Addie I made a pair of leg warmers for her birthday, and a lined hat for a belated solstice present. My dreams of a sweater for her didn’t come to fruition, and I’m kind of bummed. She’s got no idea though, and I had no time for it anyway so it’s worked out. Turns out Seth’s sweater took more time than I thought it would. And his wasn’t done until the new year! But it’s done and blocked and quite cozy, so he says. I also knitted a lined hat for Seth’s solstice, which he asked for and which I was thrilled to make. He doesn’t often ask for knitted things so this was kind of a special year.

I sewed up a little scissors case for Seth’s mom’s Christmas, and then whipped up a squooshy knitted hat for my youngest brother, who hosted us over the holiday. There was also a bit of homegrown popcorn and homemade snacks in his stocking.

Am I missing anything? Oh, herb bundles for a few dear friends, which I was almost more excited to share than the knitting. Goodness knows I love pretty things, and playing with my plant materials in the dark of winter is an excellent remedy for feeling a little glum.

On the needles now is a shawl for me! And shortly to follow, a scarf for my mom in some beautiful yarn she supplied. I must say, switching to continental knitting this year has improved my knitting speed. These projects don’t take nearly as long, so I have more time to knit all the things.

Spoons up! revisited

Posted on January 8, 2018

IMG_6963IMG_4112Well it’s taken a while, but I finally pulled together the pattern for Spoons up! revisited, the knitted wrist warmers that I was working on last year.  I was hoping to knit up some samples in a local farm yarn, but I had to set that dream aside once the baby started getting mobile, and it never happened.  The perfect is the enemy of the good, you know?  These bad boys are knit in fingering weight yarn, with a gauge of 6 stitches to the inch, and they are warm and cozy.  I had a good time coming up with this pattern, which you can download here: Spoons Up 2.  And here is the link to the Ravelry page.  Enjoy!