Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trash talk

It's garbage day today and with recycling, composting, a veggie garden, culinary herb garden (includes herbal teas), backyard chickens, and bringing our own grocery and plastic bags to the store, we had only ONE GROCERY BAG of trash for the week.

It wasn't necessarily a goal, but thankfully an unintended consequence of living more healthy by being connected to our food sources.

Today, this householder is mighty proud.

lettuce and kale

drying thyme

cooking and tea herbs

fresh eggs


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Backyard Chickens

As a part of my ever-increasing desire to create an edible landscape around our home, we acquired egg-laying backyard chickens last year. Although they are the most low-maintenance pet we've owned, our foray into raising chickens has been anything but boring. There is so much to tell - some happy and some sad.

We received a feather-footed Bantam Hen (whom we named Loretta Hen) and her two young ones from some friends of ours who raise chickens. We'd heard about her long before we got her and the couple thought that these 3 would be the perfect family for our backyard hen house that Clark was building.

The hen house had been converted from a dog house that Clark had built but that the dogs had refused to use. We added some elk antlers across the doorway of the chicken house and named it the Elk Lodge for Wayward Hens. That seemed appropriate.

From the moment that we brought the 3 chickens home, our youngest dog, Roxy, a.k.a., Roxy Balboa the Lightweight Champion of the World, terrorized them. She ran back and forth in front of their coop and barked until they jumped up on top of the house. It was not a good situation.

One night we came home late on a 'high' (after being on the stage behind Obama during his acceptance speech to win N.C.'s primary) and walked into a horrific scene in our kitchen. Roxy had killed and torn apart the two young chickens that we had grown to love. Their feathers and innards were all over the house, but Loretta was nowhere to be found. We looked all over the yard and our neighbors yards as well, but no Loretta. Since it was late, we waited until morning to finish our search.

The next morning, after calling her name and looking up in the trees, we finally looked deep under the deck and she was all the way back under the far end of the deck. I slowly started calling her name and asking her to come out. Little by little she started to come out from under the deck. The sun was out and she slowly walked beside me, sat down, and let out the longest, saddest wail you've ever heard. And then lied down and closed her eyes, as if she hadn't slept all night from the fear and saddness. We were devastated.

Afterwards, Loretta would not come out of the hen house. She stopped laying eggs for 6 weeks. And we quickly knew we had to get some company for her, so we found 4 young bantams and brought them home to Loretta, who quickly became the school teacher of her classroom. In the meantime, we double-fortified the hen house with double fencing + an electric fence 4 feet from the coop with black cloth behind it so that Roxy could not get close to the chickens, much less see them. They were safe from her chicken-eating eyes.

As life turned out, we had an invitation to travel and live out West on a ranch for 3 months (which later became 6 months). Now that we had 5 chickens, we pondered leaving them with a friend locally who has a horse farm and plenty of free range chickens. We took the 4 little ones and Loretta out to the farm, but Loretta didn't get along with the other adult chickens (we think she's an Alpha), so we took her with us out West by car to the ranch. She laid an egg on the way out in our little car and cackled and the dogs barked and whined and 3 days later we were on the ranch.

The ranch had 50 acres of land for 20 free-range chickens and one bantam rooster. Loretta quickly befriended the rooster, Jose, and they were always together. They even roosted side-by-side. She seemed content with him, but didn't get along with some of the larger older chickens. And, she didn't seem to be laying eggs. Not a good sign.

Not surprisingly, while we were on the ranch Roxy killed a very large black chicken. I knew it was just a matter of time until she would kill again and I had read about someone who tied a killed chicken around their dog's neck and it cured the dog of chasing chickens. So, immediately we tied the large chicken around Roxy's neck. That might seem barbaric, but the owner of the ranch insisted as well. I was willing to try anything, so we did it.

Roxy was completely miserable. She kept stopping and trying to nudge the chicken as if to say - 'ok, get up now. Game's over.'

All the other dogs and cats gave her wierd looks, trying to figure out why she had a chicken tied around her neck, as if to say - 'you're one wierd dog'. Roxy looked embarrassed.

We already had plans to go into town and couldn't leave Roxy outside with the chicken around her neck, as there were coyotes and even wild cats right outside the perimeter of the ranch, so we tied her up in the bathroom around the toilet with the chicken around her neck (we didn't want her walking around the house dragging a chicken around).

A few hours later one of the guys visiting the ranch went to check on Roxy and felt sorry for her because she looked so pitiful and he untied the chicken from her neck and put the chicken out on the land for the coyotes to eat.

Since then, Roxy has wanted nothing to do with chickens. She doesn't avoid them, but she's not in the least bit interested in chasing them or dealing with them at all.

When we got back to Raleigh by car with Loretta, the 2 dogs and a cat we had adopted, we decided to get more chickens for Loretta as the 4 we'd left on the local farm were doing fine where they were. We got an email from a friend of a friend who had two Belgian D'anvers that they wanted to get rid of. They had been show chickens. They were like pets to their family and I took them home with a care package and instructions to feed them bananas and oatmeal for treats.

After a 24-hour period of Loretta establishing her dominance (which is not fun to see, but I guess the way chickens establish their 'pecking order'), they were the best of friends. They walk around free range in the backyard with the dogs and the cat.

It's like night and day with Roxy and chickens. Every once in awhile when one of the chickies comes over to eat her food, Roxy looks at the chickie like something isn't right here - 'aren't I supposed to be chasing you?' She looks a little confused, but then just shrugs it off and looks the other way. I'm so glad she's over that.

We're finally the big, happy, multi-breed family that I always hoped we'd be. ;-)

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Space in Between

All of life is precious - every little thing from the leaves that change to the winds that blow and the chickies in our backyard that lay eggs and then sing. All striving to live, prosper, make their mark on the Earth with what they've been given and doing what is theirs to do.

It is all such a mystery and try as I might, my head cannot wrap around the complexity of all that is happening and why.

Slowing down and appreciating is the only act of humanity I can do to express my gratitude and awe of this pure miracle. It's also the best place to go when I am completely confused and saddened by life. All of life is amazingly strong and yet completely vulnerable. Everything matters.

And so, if I can give attention to the dying and changing, I will also give equal measure to the strong, stable and resilient. This is where I have found my peace today - the space between gratitude and sadness.