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Monday, April 25, 2011

A Glimpse of Spring

Finally, finally yesterday we had a nice spring day. Temps were in the 60s, there was a slight breeze, and the sun was shining brightly. Carrots got planted, gardens got tilled, and chickens got exhausted!
Our plants got a bit of fresh air.
Janis and Spindy explored the new coop.
Spindy and Janis explored the tree limb pile (after taking a nap in it).
The bee hive continued waiting patiently for its inhabitants.
The "babies" got out too!
Rita/Rocky perched on Andy's shoulder.
Sadie relaxed.
Lucy-Poo and Prudence enjoyed bugs and grass.
Even Benson and Tucker enjoyed a sunny siesta.
The humans got Chardonnay and yummy Easter leftovers. What a wonderful Sunday.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Snow? The Chicks are Not Fans

Our little peeping fuzzballs are transforming into awkward (but cute) pullets! By the time our previous batches of chicks were at this age, we had been able to take the little buggers outside each day for a bit. This year's poor chicks have only been out once! They must  think they've come to live in some horrible jail-like farmhouse. This week (on my spring break, I might add), the highs have been in the upper 30s-lower 40s, and it actually was snowing at one point! No chance these babies got to go outside during spring break.

For those of you thinking of getting chicks or for those just interested in the process, day-old chicks must start at 95 degree temperatures. With each passing week, the general rule of thumb is that the temperature can be decreased by 5 degrees. These little peepers arrived on March 23, so they are around 4 weeks old. They should be able to happily tolerate temperatures around 75. Although I didn't anticipate the temps being that high this week, I did hope they'd be in the 60s once or twice. I would have taken them to a sunny patch in the yard for an hour or so and let them frolic!

Instead, each night, we've been taking them out and letting them run around our exercise room. They like pecking at dark spots on the hard wood floor and using our heads and arms as roosting spots.
Prudence, starting on the leg
 We're fearful that "Rita" is a "Rocky." Her comb is much thicker, she's a bit aggressive, and when we let Benson, the cat, hang out with us, she rushes after him, almost posturing. We're giving "her" lots of love, petting, and time on our laps in an effort to form a good interpersonal relationship. We hope he/she will be a silly, affectionate rooster/hen like Zappa.

Rita (or Rocky?) and Lucy-Poo
Rita the Rooster? (four weeks old)
 Sadie is a Barred Rock. She LOVES climbing. Two nights ago, she spent a good 15-minutes on Andy's head. Thank God she didn't decorate his shirt (or hair!). I've recently read that the climbing is to be expected of most Barred Rocks. For now, it's endearing. I wonder if she'll still be trying this when she's a full-grown hen!

She hopped on his head, where she firmly planted herself, moments later.
Sadie is the most affectionate of all these fuzzballs. Is it her breed or just her specific personality?

  Hopefully soon, these little chicks will get another go at worms and dirt and stuff. For now, they get to hang with the cats inside.

Benson and the chicks have an interesting relationship.
L-R: Prudence, Rita, and Lucy (3 weeks old)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ramps: Spring is Here!

Yesterday it  snowed (?!), but yesterday was also the day of the year's first Dane Country Farmers' Market on the Square. Both of us are lucky enough to have gotten part-time jobs with our CSA, Harmony Valley Farm for the farming season. Andy was scheduled for yesterday. I got to stay home in my warm, cozy farmhouse with my growing chicks and crazy cats. Anyway, one of the perks of working at the Farmer's Market for Harmony Valley is that at the end of the shift, workers get to pick out $15 of fresh produce. Seeing that our gardens are weeks/months away from producing, our pantries/freezers are frighteningly bare, and our CSA boxes don't start arriving until May 7th (counting down!), this bonus is stupendous!

Andy walked in our front door after his shift with a bag of red onions, two large burdock roots, and three bunches of our springtime favorite: ramps! If you haven't had ramps, but enjoy scallions, onions, and/or garlic ~ you must try them! The taste embodies spring ~ subtle, slightly sweet, and a bit spicy. The bulbs and leaves are edible, and both are equally wonderful.

Ramps are also known as wild leeks. They grow in moist, sandy soil - often near a water source and/or on hillsides. Once you know what the leaves look like, it's amazing where you see them growing. The first year I had ramps, I saw a prolific amount at Parfrey's Glen (now closed!) in Wisconsin. Of course, I couldn't pick them from a state park, but I have to admit, I was very tempted.

This morning, we used them in an egg scramble. Our first bunch of ramps is almost traditionally  used this way. We're looking forward to using some of our fellow CSA-ers' suggestions this year as well. Soon, on the menu, we'll see ramp fettuccine and ramp risotto (maybe even tonight!). Working at the Farmers' Market is exciting! A few more weeks of ramps on the menu. We never feel we get enough - the optimal season for ramps seems too short.

In our egg scramble this morning, we added:
cream cheese

Spinderella's gorgeous eggs - look at the color of the yolks! These are not pale yolks, folks!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good-bye Buddy: Thoughts on Saying Good-bye to My Pet Rooster

Today, the first person I talked to at work was a random colleague. This happened seconds after I set my pet rooster, Zappa onto the front seat, said good-bye to my husband, and tried to compose myself to walk up the sidewalk, up our high school's front stairs, and into our building. I was nervous about this small journey today because no matter how hard I tried, tears were welling up in my eyes, ready to spill at any second. ...and how was I going to explain to everyone why I was entering work crying, and that the overflow of tears was for my pet...rooster?

My initial plan was to quickly and efficiently just make it to my classroom without talking to anyone or being talked to by anyone, but a kind, fellow teacher stopped me steps away from the front door, and asked what was wrong.

The conversation went something like this:

"Are you okay? Darcy, wait!"

"I'm fine. It's just that husband ...right there (pointing to our Subaru) is taking our pet to the vet to be put to sleep," I said.

"I'm so sorry. That's so hard," she replied.

"I'll be okay. Thanks. It's such an awkward situation being dropped off and work and saying good-bye to a pet," I said trying to explain how irrational I might seem.

"No, it's okay. What kind of pet was it? Dog? Cat?" she asked.

"It was my ... chicken," I said sheepishly.

She didn't know what to say, obviously surprised to find my furry friend was instead my feathered friend. When most people hear chicken, they think "yum!" Unless, of course, they've had the lovely experience of bonding with a day-old chick and watching him/her grow.

I tried avoiding the topic all day, but my puffy eyes and red nose weren't helping me keep this top-secret. I was embarrassed to be sad that my chicken was going to get put to sleep. But why? I had loved my little Zapster the same way I love my feline friends. Granted, he was an outside pet, and my kitties live indoors - but I looked forward to driving into our driveway every single day after work to see Zappa hopping to meet me. I learned what each of his sounds meant ~ I knew when he went, "Ba-caw!" he probably was just protecting his hens from...a butterfly or airplane. I knew his happy sounds. I knew that he preferred cranberries over raisins, but raisins over apples. I learned where to pet his little neck to get him to fall asleep, almost instantly. I knew how to hold my hand so that he could rest his chest comfortably into it and get cozy warm. I cared and loved him like I've cared and loved any pet. Why was I ashamed of that today? He was my little buddy ~ one that would answer with a loud, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" anytime I said, "Hi Buddy!", even from the living room window.

Pondering this tonight, I've realized it might seem silly to most to be sad about a little rooster dying, but to me, it's even sillier to feel sheepish about shedding tears for losing a pet -- any pet. Anytime anyone sends love or compassion into the world, the world is happier. I'm happy to have given Zappa a wonderful life. I'm happy that I treated a rooster with compassion and kindness. I'm happy that he felt love and joy. That's something I can take comfort in tonight, despite my heavy heart, my tight throat, and my sore eyes. Zappa was loved, and for all of my anthropomorphizing tendencies (about which I'm happy to admit), I believe he loved us too.

Zappa died peacefully at the vet. Yes, we actually paid to have our rooster euthanized humanely, just like we would any other pet (after all, he was a pet -- he wasn't laying eggs, and he certainly wasn't ever going to actually protect our hens!). He began limping yesterday, and by this morning, he was unable to walk and had lost interest in eating. We've gone through this Marek's thing before, and so we decided to act quickly. Why prolong his suffering when we knew how this would end?

Regardless, it wasn't easy to say good-bye, and for now, I'm not embarrassed of that at all.
Zappa with Ani, just a few weeks old

A few months old

In all his glory
Look how big a normal hen looks against our little Zapster

Monday, April 11, 2011

Four Frolicking Friends: the Chicks' First Day Out

Is there anything cuter than Lucy-Poo?

On Sunday, the high hit 80 degrees. The chicks should be at 80 degrees by this Wednesday, so we figured we could take them out for a few minutes at least.

If you're thinking about getting chicks, an important fact to know is that their first week of life requires a temperature around 95. Each passing week, the temperature should be lowered 5 degrees. We're hoping our chicks' needs meet the outside temperature more regularly soon. After seeing how much fun they had finding worms, scratching, and flying around, it's a little sad to see them stuck in their brooder. Today, having them play around inside on towels didn't feel quite the same!

Here'a a few pics of their first day in their more natural habitat:
Rita isn't sure about this whole grass thing.

Rita, ready for the roughage now
Four frolicking friends

Lucy and Prudence

Her first mouth full of worm. Ew?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Simple Spring Updates

For our records... all plants were transplanted on Sunday morning before the Film Festival. Our catnip never popped up. Benson will be so sad.

And...tonight, Andy's constructing our top-bar bee hive. Next week, The Backyard Market will be home to 3 lbs. of bees!

Our chicks are two-weeks old today and have really feathered out. All four cuddled onto my stomach tonight and took a nap.

...on a wonderfully springy note: our daffodils, tulips, and other random flowers are reaching towards the sun. Blooms by Easter?