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!)



Driving Test Worries

As you might have assumed, I found no duckling orders tucked away in stockings, nor underneath the Christmas tree. I did have a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas surrounded by family and thoughtful gifts, and I hope your holidays (whatever they may be) were just as lovely.

My winter break is drawing to a close, but I am still clinging to the lazy days by the pellet stove, wrapped in my shawl and buried in a book. I’m not ready to give those up quite yet. Unfortunately, my days have an ugly aspect of anxiety to them- my “Driver’s Test” in in just one week, and I do not feel prepared at all. I have had my “Learner’s Permit” since late May, but my parents didn’t actually take me out driving until Fall (much to my frustration). They have been through it once with my sister, where they forced her to drive everywhere, but when I ask to drive they show such discouraging reluctance.

Practice makes perfect. No practice… let’s just say it’s pretty scary to be on the road with me. When I drive, my knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so hard, my breathing gets fast, and my mind floats to all the accidents that could happen. I am, quite simply, terrified. And don’t even get me started on parallel parking. It’s a miracle that I haven’t totaled any other vehicles yet.

Naturally, I’m not expecting to pass my Driving Test. Yes, I’ve had at least twelve hours of “behind-the-wheel” instruction, six hours of “observation”, and forty hours of classroom instruction on the rules of the road, but none of those things have even remotely eased the terror that I face when I think of the test. If I don’t pass, it’s not the end of the world for me. I’ll have to rely on my parents for another month, that’s all. No, it’s the ridicule that I’ll face at school that bothers me. To be blunt, I’m afraid of being judged by my peers for failing at something that comes easy to them.

I had planned to be silent about when I was taking the test, an obvious solution. Except we all went to the same driving school, and the driving test is always the second Saturday of every month. So it’s pretty easy to tell when I’m taking it, since I finished my “driving times” in early December.

I know I should be grateful for the opportunity to drive, and that this is an obvious “first-world problem”. But the anxiety that comes with it feels so debilitating at times. It is a constant pressure on my chest and gut, only made worse by the Seasonal Affective Disorder that accompanies winter.

I didn’t really plan to write about this, my fingers just went to those keys. What I was really going to tell you is that my Three Little Hens are doing great so far this winter. We had our first snow two days ago, and they were mildly annoyed at not being allowed out into the yard. Hopefully it will thaw a bit today so I can scrape the ice out of their larger run.

When I feel anxious, I always seek the comfort of nature. Nothing seems as worrisome among the trees and songbirds. Not to mention I’ve been reading an inspiring book called Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, a true story of a 67 year old woman who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (all 2,168 miles of it). It is the kind of story that makes me want to take a walk in the woods.

When I set out yesterday, I just had my hiking books and a jacket. I walked up to a nearby trail, traversed the icy parking lot, and landed on…more ice. I saw two branches leaning against a tree trunk, so I reached over and grabbed them, and unwisely proceeded into the mountainous iceskating rink. Using the branches as ski poles, and the heels of my shoes as ice picks, I continued onward up the slope, until the slipping got a little too frightening and I sat down to think. Deer tracks wandered down into the woods, perfectly preserved in the ice. Birds resumed their singing. It was serene. Unwilling, however, to continue my precarious trek I returned to the road and walked home, my bottom completely soaked but my mind finally quieted.

Happy New Years, everyone!

Where we are now

It is interesting to think on how we came to be where we are now.

Two years ago, around this time, one of my friends attempted to take her life. Suddenly everything got too real. I was horrified, guilty- how could I have not realized what she was going through? What kind of friend does not realize such a thing. And perhaps the most haunting question of all: what if she had succeeded?

I brought it up at a doctors appointment and suddenly found myself crying, releasing all of the built up emotion in that tiny room, my legs hanging over the side of the gurney. They gave me a list of therapists to try. I have always had anxiety and depression, especially during the cold months, when I am trapped by the frigid darkness of winter. Thus, this suggestion was welcome by me.

So when I sat on that couch across from a stranger, clutching a box of tissues while watching her scrawl on her clipboard, the relief I felt upon blurting out all of my troubles was immediate. If you have ever tried acupuncture, or yoga, it was that type of sensation. When I walked out, I was able to stand a little taller, smile a little fuller. I would tell her my dreams of farming, how I was so frustrated that I couldn’t live this dream in my head, and one day she tilted her head and queried:

What about raising chickens?

My skeptical reaction quickly transformed into cautious excitement. She mentioned it to my mother, who was obliging out of politeness, but quickly assured me that no more animals would be joining our household. I nodded, and when we arrived home I ran to my room, pulled out my farming books, and began my research. A few months later I was ready. I had read two or three reference books, countless articles, blog posts, forums. I had compiled this into one presentation explaining every aspect of my plan- from what to tell the neighbors, to the cost of feed, to a full list of poultry veterinarians within thirty miles. Every night I would ask my parents for a half hour of their time, and every night they gave me an excuse. I was indescribably frustrated but persevered and eventually caught them sitting on the couch and planted myself beside them, my presentation at the ready.

I went through the slides slowly, answering any questions they had with confidence. By the end of it they seemed bewildered that they were actually starting to consider the idea. When I reached the last slide, I gave my closing statement and scurried up the stairs, straining to here what they were saying from my bedroom.

It took a week. I had just finished brushing my teeth, walked into the TV room to say goodnight to them, and my mother looked at me and said

“Dad ordered your heat lamp”

“My what??” I asked, not believing my ears, and then in a joyful, life changing moment I hugged them both and began babbling excitedly about how they wouldn’t regret it and thank you so much. My mother reiterated her displeasure at the idea, but grudgingly said that her and dad had agreed to buy a few chicks for me.

A month later I was holding them in the palms of my hands, the start of a glorious journey that began with what could have been an awful tragedy.

Here I sit, raising chickens and blogging for one and a half years. My friend: back to health and enjoying life. Just yesterday I drove on the road for the first time. It’s amazing, where we are now.

Training Myself To Not Worry About Feathered Creatures

I am sitting here, on my family’s leather couch, leaning over my lit computer screen biting my fingernails. Or what used to be my fingernails. In nine days I will be boarding a plane and flying to London, then Scotland, for almost three weeks. I am ecstatic that I get to go on this awesome vacation, an adventure that I am not likely to ever forget. I am so incredibly luck to get the opportunity to visit my aunt and uncle living over there, and cannot put my excitement into coherent words. AHhhhhhhhdhahahahahhagaaaaaaaaah!! That’s all that comes out, honestly.

But what I am worried about, surprise, surprise, is the chickens. It always comes back to them, doesn’t it?

The fact that I will be entrusting their care to someone else for three weeks terrifies me. My father is a very capable and responsible person, but he doesn’t know what sour crop is, or how to look for bumble foot, or what kind of worms cause diarrhea. He doesn’t know how to do the special call that brings them home every time they escape. Everything could go wrong.

You see, this attitude is why it’s a good thing I am leaving them for three weeks. Its borderline obsessive.

I just finished typing a six page guide to their care taking, even though I could tell him in six sentences. Six words, probably.

  1. Feed them
  2. Water them
  3. Clean their poop from the coop and run
  4. Make sure they aren’t eaten
  5. Make sure they aren’t acting weird
  6. If they’re acting weird call the vet

There you go. Six easy steps. I should probably just give him that list instead of the novel-in-progress I am creating in the next tab.

I must teach myself to set aside my fears and enjoy myself. I will. not. let. those little feathered creatures ruin my vacation.

Everything will be fine.

If I say that enough times, hopefully I will believe it.