One Month Too Long

I haven’t hugged a chicken in more than a month.

So much has happened since my last blog post, I have no idea where to start! I trudged through college applications and standardized tests, spent days running back and forth to the mailbox looking for college acceptance (or rejection) letters, and experienced the subsequent joy– and disappointment– upon ripping open said envelopes while standing at the foot of my driveway. I turned 18 in a different country, chose my college on the day of the decision deadline, graduated from high school, interned at a sheep farm, and spent a summer in a strange purgatory of dread and excitement awaiting my first semester of college.

Which brings me here, perched on my Twin XL bed, thinking of my chickens and scrolling through old blog posts.

So many of the unknowns that I was dreading have been solved– I know my roommate, my suite mates, where my classes are, and how to avoid being demolished by skateboarding ruffians. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult transitioning from a school of 500 students to a university twenty times that size. But the more I become accustomed to life here, the more excited I get for my future.

A small farm-camp that I attended in fifth grade began this farm obsession– this desire, and need, to be a part of the farming community in some way. It got me hooked on the local food movement, and gardening, and– most importantly– chicken-keeping. Through my chickens I’ve learned about the responsibilities of animal husbandry. Their injuries and illnesses over the years introduced me to the world of veterinary medicine, and the joy of solving the puzzle to heal the animal.

These past few weeks have been about attempting to solve my own puzzle. What got me started on this passion, that ultimately shaped my college choice? And how do I want to incorporate it into my career?

To be more specific, I’m trying to decide between two pathways to my passion for farming. Ironically, neither of them are to become a farmer!

I am currently on an Animal Science track, with a pre-veterinary concentration. For a long time now I have thought seriously about pursuing large animal veterinary medicine. In theory, it sounds perfect– I’ll get to work within a farming community, traveling to various establishments healing animals and helping farmers raise their creatures responsibly and sustainably. A modern James Herriot, you might say.

But my gaze keeps wandering over to Food Systems, which incorporates several disciplines to study the problems of– and solutions to– the way food is farmed and distributed to society. Within the major there are various concentrations– from animal science, to food insecurity and injustice, to policy. It would allow me to study a little bit of everything that I love. I’d be able to work with farmers to help steer our food system away from industrial agriculture, and towards finding a way to grow food sustainably (and making sure everyone has access to it). In many ways this major is a direct application of all my passions. But I have no clue what I’d do with it.

Animal Science and the Pre-Vet track is neatly laid out for me. I’ll struggle through heavily science-based curriculum, apply to vet school, and– if I get in– get my doctorate in veterinary medicine, with a clear career upon graduation. Food Systems seems more murky, and less practical.

And so these things go back and forth in my head all day. I listen to my parents assure me that it’s only the first semester of freshman year, but I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going, and what I’m working towards.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll know what I’m meant to be studying until I’m shoulder deep in a cow stomach (next week’s lab topic).

 

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Every Night is Spa Night

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone ❤

I have once again emerged from my hibernation! As I write this I am perched on my couch as close as possible to the pellet stove. I keep stealing resentful glances at Far From the Madding Crowd, a copy of which is next to my elbow, daring me to read another chapter. Per usual, I waited until the very last minute to read it- and now it mocks me with its yellowed pages and old-book-smell.

I thought I should give you an update about life here on the micro-farm, since I haven’t written in far too long. Nearing the end of August I read an article online about dealing with bumblefoot in chickens. For my non-chicken-keeping peeps, bumblefoot is an infection below the skin on a chicken’s foot. It is marked by lots of hot swelling and a dark, circular scab. I dread it so because, left unattended, it could cause sepsis (as with any infection left untended), but to fix it you have to surgically remove the scab and the “kernel” of infection deep in the pad of the foot. Look it up on Google images if you want to be thoroughly disturbed. I tend to avoid this type of article, since it makes me feel guilty and neglectful when it recommends giving daily foot checks to prevent the infection from occurring- which I have never done. Before you make a tsk-tsk noise, it’s hard to catch a chicken that would rather not be caught. It involves lots of running in a bent over position, lots of feathers, lots of screeching, and lots of stress. Then, once one has the chicken, I had no idea how to go about looking at its feet. It is no small matter to turn a struggling chicken upside down.

But this particular night I felt inspired by that insidious anxiety that only comes with the realization of neglect. I snatched Mabel off of the roost after dark, and flipped her over before she could squeak out a squawk. My headlight shined onto the bottom of her foot and- sure enough- a circular black scab adorned the center of her footpad. Numbly I replaced her on the roost, and returned inside to strategize.

Step one was to calm myself down- she clearly had lived with this infection for quite a while and was unlikely to drop dead in the middle of the night. But what I found on the internet was not promising. Every solution pointed to cutting into her little foot to remove the scab and pus (gross, I’m sorry if you just ate. Maybe don’t look it up on Google Images after all)- needless to say, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of having an upside-down and bloody chicken in my sink with her foot cut open and lacking anesthesia. Nope.

In the morning, I called and made an appointment with my chicken vet for the last day of summer (what a way to end vacation!). When the day came I wrangled poor Mabel into Boris’s old dog crate, put her in the trunk of my car, and drove us to the clinic myself (an interesting experience, considering I’m not the most confident person behind the wheel). But with help of Mabel’s occasional squawk we were able to make our way there and back without gliding into a ditch or into an unfortunate tree.

I entered the office with some trepidation, worried that my bank account would be swiped clean with an expensive foot surgery. Instead, however, The Chicken Doctor told me to change my roost. Apparently the little 2×4 we had them on was giving her a pressure-sore that wouldn’t get better unless we gave her a roost with more surface variability. He also said to check my other hens, guaranteeing that they, too, would have the infection. Then he gave me a tube of foot cream (for the hen, not me). My instructions: rub this into her feet every night for eight weeks.

I’m pretty sure my widened eyes clearly expressed my thoughts, which generally consisted of: Whaaaaaaattttt???? And then: How?????

And so, my friends, every night I picked each hen off of their new roost (because you know all three of them had it) and gave them a nice foot massage. For the first six weeks, it seemed like nothing was happening- but then, one night, I picked up Mabel and Mary and their scabs were no where to be seen. I’m still working on Cora, though.

The lesson you should take away from this, chicken-keeping friends, is that picking up your hen for weekly foot checks might be a hassle- but it’s certainly less of a hassle than giving them a foot massage every night for two months. And if you do have hens that suffer from bumblefoot, and aren’t comfortable with cutting into their feet, I will happily share with you the name of the foot cream my vet sold me (because it actually works!)

 

The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

The Dreaded Job Search

Today marks the first week of summer vacation. The dreary days ruled by school bells and textbooks are over for a few months, giving my brain some respite. However, replacing these days are grueling mornings chasing after my miscreant pug puppy, trying to keep the little devil from killing my elderly pug. What fun!

Regardless of this, I really do enjoy my summer. Unfortunately I am at the age where my parents are waiting for me to start producing my own money, via employment. I did have a job last summer/fall, but my naive self decided that instead of working at a job that didn’t really align with my interests, I could find a job that actually made me happy. I want to do something I’m passionate about, is that so wrong? And since I spent a year volunteering at a local co-op/grocery store, and a season working at a farm stand, I figured I would make the ideal candidate for any job I desired.

With this in mind I confidently selected the submit button of my first application. Its been three weeks… I think I can probably assume they don’t want me. After the first week of silence, I applied to another place, still brimming with confidence. Nope. Third place. Nope. Fourth place. Nope. The worst part is the ignoring. I wish they would just tell me “You can’t work here” rather than having me desperately checking my email for acceptance. It seems rather disrespectful to prospective employees.

Its unfortunate, because I know I would be an excellent worker. I have a great work ethic, I’m responsible, friendly, experienced. I suppose my next realistic step is to apply to just a regular high-schooler job, and to be grateful for any opportunity given. Its a good lesson for me, and a surprising one as well. Adults always told me I could do anything, and now I realize that that idea is sort of a fallacy.

I should really just open my own farm stand 🙂

Waiting for that First Egg

…proves to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, come on Mary! I think its time you contributed! Sing the egg song at least please

They are 21 weeks old and two days as of today. Which means it’s about time for the egg laying to begin! Every morning I search around the coop and inside it for a hidden egg. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m getting a little tired of this un-yielding easter egg hunt. Her little face is quite red, but I haven’t heard the raucous egg song, nor have I seen her squatting. She hasn’t even ventured inside the new nest box I got her. That’s right. I bought her a nice little wooden nest box, and filled it with straw so its nice and cozy. Now she has no excuse. What’s frustrating is that the egg could come any time from now to three weeks from now. That’s a big range.

So that’s what’s going on in my life right now. That, and a whole lot of homework, and working. But, I have finally mastered the art of making a soft-serve ice cream cone. At least, they don’t look as terrible anymore…

Also, before I forget, I visited my neighboring farm two weeks ago to look at available chickens. They were scuttling around everywhere hidden under fencing and maple trees, dust bathing in the pig pen or roosting on some milk-stands. I asked for a Rhode Island Red pullet, an Easter Egger pullet, and a little fluffy bantam hen mix. I’m so excited, I can barely talk about it without jumping up and down. She hasn’t been in touch since, but she will have to sneak into the coop at night and grab them, placing them in a different coop until I can come and get them. As I passed the baby goats and snorting pigs, I saw a tiny little bantam with a lavender tinge to her feathers walking along the fence line. I looked again and saw five-day old chicks running behind her, cheeping and hopping, tumbling through the dirt after their mother. Leading the pack of chicks was an older chick, about a week or two. She explained to me that the older chick’s mother had abandoned it, and this little bantam accepted her into her brood. My heart almost melted.

Photo Sep 29, 6 42 45 PM Photo Sep 29, 6 41 00 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 18 01 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 17 36 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 16 04 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 14 52 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 14 51 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 14 33 PM Photo Sep 29, 3 15 20 PM

A New Lonely Lifestyle

You’re probably wondering what the heck I mean by that post title. Lonely? New lifestyle? Huh?

Don’t worry, it’s just me being a little dramatic again. Two days ago we dropped my sister off at college for her first semester. She and I are very close, especially because we shared a room from the moment I was born. I told her most of my problems, and she listened and gave me advice. I’d bake her cookies, or muffins, and she’d drive me to a coffee shop. We always watched different shows together, binge watching them over our frozen pizza and iced tea. This summer we spent just about every day together, and suddenly she is ripped from my life completely. Gone, meeting new people in a strange environment, sharing a room with someone else. Everyone tells me “She’ll be a different person when she gets back, it’s amazing the changes that happen!” as if it’s a good thing. As if I would want her to be anything other than what I know her to be.

So when I’m sad about her leaving for college, I’m sad for myself. Because no one is going to bring me to the coffee shop anymore. No one is going to listen to me the way she does. No one is going to bicker with me about who has to turn the lights off at night. No one is going to share the cult TV shows on Netflix with me. When I look across the room, her bed sheets are stripped off, leaving an exposed mattress. Empty, forlorn.

I resolved myself as we drove away from her that afternoon that I would bury myself in whatever I could. Gardening. Work. Perhaps I’d take up jogging. Yoga? Anything to keep my mind off of that fact that she isn’t here. My voice is rusty from not talking all day.

On the topic of work, I trained with the animals on Wednesday. I got there, and the person training me showed me to the wheel barrow, shovel, and rake. He told me to clean up the straw in each of the stalls. I did, and I’m pretty sure I have never seen so much feces in my entire life. In one pen, the alpacas (two shaggy, spitting beasts) live with three friendly little horned goats. In another, a mother goat lives with her kid. In another pen, three Nigerian Dwarf does live together. A third pen has a doe and two adorable twin kids with black fur. Another contains multiple hens and a rooster. Another has ducks. The list continues, but I assume you’re probably done hearing about it.

Anyways, everything went swimmingly until I reached a pen with two brown, huge, Nubian does. I walked in, like I had countless times before, and rolled the wheel barrow to their little hut. The two goats bounded away from me, and only came close enough to sniff my hand. That was okay with me, as I was extremely tired, and to the point of gagging with the smell of goat urine in my nose. I continued shoveling the spoiled hay into the wheel barrow, every once in a while spotting a mischievous goat head peering around the corner at me. A few minutes later, I heard a rattling noise. Familiar with antics of goats, I dropped my rake and ran outside to see a flash of brown fur pass by outside of the fence. Swearing, I undid the gate, accidentally letting the other goat out. They trotted around me, running away whenever I walked near them. Their amber goat eyes gleaming with amusement. I told the person who was training me what happened, and we managed to herd them back into their pen after 40 minutes of stressful scrambling. Not the best first day.

I also had another day of ice cream training as well. Thursday was my final day of training, and I do the real thing tomorrow. I got the text for my hours as I made muffins this morning (they were blueberry lime and absolutely delicious). I’m extremely nervous for various reasons.

  • I can’t make an ice cream cone to save my life
  • I don’t really remember anything I learned because it was so much to process
  • I don’t know who I’ll be working with- I’m not really good at meeting new people

I’m sure there’s more, I just can’t think of it. You may have noticed, I have a terrible memory.

Tired Feet

Today was my first day on my first job. Well, I wasn’t paid for today, and won’t be for tomorrow or the next day because I’m training, but it was essentially what I’ll be doing when I do get paid. Anyways, I stayed there for four hours following around the girl who was training me. Lots of destroyed ice cream cones, and minutes, later I was finally released from the constant cacophony of humming refrigerators. I limped home in my old flats, and lay on the couch. I think wearing poorly supported flats when I knew I was going to be standing four hours straight on concrete was a bad choice. 

Oh, I’m such a lazy teenager. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now. Don’t feel bad. So are my lower back and feet arches. 

An hour ago I gave the chickens their favorite part of the day. Free range time! I let them run/fly/strut while I kept an eye out for the many hawks and house cats that frequent my yard. I even saw a huge bald eagle yesterday, swooping over the house. It was a beautiful, menacing sight. 

I’ve really thought about my dilemma from my last post, about where to get my new chickens. I think I’m going to go with the local chickens, and hope for the best. I love Easter Eggers (she said they were Ameracaunas, but I think she means Easter Eggers. Ameracaunas are a very rare, expensive breed that lays blue eggs, whereas Easter Eggers are a cross between Ameracaunas and something else, and thus are for more common and less expensive). It doesn’t matter, anyways. The fact is, traveling two hours with chickens when I can travel five minutes is just impractical. Or, at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

 

Tomorrow is Day 2 of training. I’ll get to the farm at 7 and help another worker with the feeding/cleaning. I’m hoping it will go okay… Its hard not to feel nervous, as silly as it sounds. 

I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow! 

Decisions, Decisions

The job interview went wonderfully! I walked down to the Market, strolled in, and she greeted me right away. She handed me a form where I wrote my name, references, my address, phone number, etc… Then she talked as if I had already gotten the job! She said that I could work a day or two during the week with the animals, and then serve ice cream and work with the cash register on the weekend. Plus, I have free access whenever I want to go and bond with the animals. So exciting! But after leaving, I had a pretty big decision to make. At least big from my tiny perspective. 

The fact is, I need more chickens. Not only does Mary need a break from all Edith’s attentions, but I need more than just three eggs a week. That part is clear at least. But where to get them from?

On BYC, (BackyardChickens.com) I’ve been conversing all summer with a woman two hours away with 6 or seven Faverolles chickens. I mentioned this in a previous post, but I’ll remind you guys. This type of chicken is so darn cute! I was going to pick them up some time this week. Plus, they are already laying, or very close to it! 

But yesterday at the job interview thing, my new manager offered me pick of any of her chickens. She has Easter Eggers, Buff Brahmas, Rhode Island Reds, and New Hampshires all at around the same age as mine. They’re running around at her house as we speak, and she’d have to catch them at night when they return to their coop. Plus, she is offering them at half the price of the woman two hours away, just as a kind gesture towards me. 

Sorry, but I’m just going to use this to organize my thoughts-

The pros with the woman with the Faverolles:

  1. They are adorable!
  2. They are basically already laying
  3. I’d have to get them THIS WEEK!

The pros with my manager’s deal

  1. They are cheaper
  2. I could get the kind of chicken I wanted in the first place (easter egger)
  3. They are local, I wouldn’t have to travel more than five minutes
  4. She made the offer out of kindness

I just don’t know what to do! To be honest, I’ll probably go with the local ones. I just feel bad bailing out with this nice lady I’ve been talking to all summer. 

Sigh. So that’s what I’m dealing with today. What do you think I should do?  

 

 

 

Farmer’s Market

Today my mother, sister and I got up early and headed into town. We arrived at a coffee shop, ordered our mocha and vanilla lattes, and sat back to enjoy each other’s company. After the bottoms of our cups were visible, we ventured outdoors, passed a row of teenagers smoking goodness knows what. Whatever it was, it smelled strangely like the inside of an office I had been in. Hmm. 

But that’s besides the point. We passed through a little alley way, and walked down the side walk and across the common. There we found the farmer’s market, a long line of farm stands full of heirloom tomatoes, carrots of every color, swiss chard, lettuce, blueberry muffins, watermelon, and any vegetable you can think of. Well, not any vegetable. I love the abundance, the colors, the smells. And every single bit of it is grown right here. The farmers always look so jolly, and everyone there is united in the belief of local, wholesome foods. Sure its expensive, but its worth every penny. 

Photo Aug 16, 11 52 52 AM

 

Today is a big day for me. At 2 o’clock I’m walking down to the local farm stand/store to ask for a job taking care of their animals. I’m hoping to clean stalls, care for the chickens, goats, donkeys, and cows, do some feeding and watering, and all the other chores that they involve. Its a win-win-win-win situation! I’ll get a little bit of money, learn the ropes of farming, spend time with animals that I love, and have something nice on my college application in a few years. I’ll probably have to do some cashiering and store responsibilities, but I think that the pros are just to good to pass up! My stomach is in knots though, and the anxiety is a persistent feeling that won’t go away. I’m so doubtful of myself- who would want a wimpy teenage girl as their farm helper? I’m worried they won’t take me seriously (though I’ve met the two farmers, and they are really kind). Perhaps these worries are completely unfounded. Either way, I need to learn to deal with situations like this. 

Wish me luck!