Back to Work

old Sears ad

I have taken a long hiatus from blog writing, partly to get caught up on some paid writing online, and partly because of illness. What appeared to be a year-long struggle with an allergic reaction has, perhaps, resolved as a thyroid issue, and I am just beginning Synthroid. I haven’t felt so exhausted in years, without really doing anything strenuous. Low thyroid function would certainly account for that.

Today I am optimistic. With health issues getting under control (God willing), other issues will also get resolved. Finances. Work. Scrubbing down the house, which while not terribly out of sorts, is starting to show neglect around the edges.

Nicholas has been very good at keeping the barn running without me. The hens are still laying, the goats are snug, and we have hay and grain aplenty. We are down to one silky, who is promoted to pet status. I suspect the lame one finally died one afternoon of heart failure from the stress. The last one is improving from her eye infection, and eats like a horse. Nicholas asked for a name for her, so I called her Tootie. He claims that silkies sound like they are blowing little trumpets. When spring comes, we will get a few pullets to add to the laying flock.

It is deep winter here. We haven’t a lot of snow cover, but we have had hard cold, cold enough to drive the dog inside after a few minutes. She considers it her duty to prowl the barnyard while Nicholas works, guarding against wolves and eagles. Usually this means she gives the compost pile a bit of a snuffle, runs down into the hedgerow to see if the rabbits are about, and may even venture up the dirt road to check on the last whereabouts of the neighbours’ dogs. But when it was -25C, she would make a quick patrol, and sit on the doorstoop until Nicholas came back.

The Amish-made wood-stove is keeping the house warm. We have had to go back and forth to the landlady’s yard for firewood, as I don’t have the stamina to make more than one trip a week. The wood is stacked against their workshop, and we have had some freezing rain at odd times. So the wood is frozen together, and a little saturated. To pack it into the bed of the truck we have to take a small loose branch piece, and tap along the top of the stacked cord. Sometimes we have to drop a frozen lump of cordwood to shatter the ice binding it. This is slow; it is cold. I climb into the bed and stack as tight as I can, keeping the level of the wood below the window level. I don’t like the idea of braking suddenly and having a couple of hundred pounds of cordwood coming in through the rear window. Just stacking level with the bed edges is a heavy load, and the truck bounces and wallows as we head back. It is up one hill, down a curved hill, some sharp turns, across the wooden one-lane bridge, and another curve uphill and then back down after a very tight acute angle onto our dirt road. It is a challenging drive well-burdened. And since all locals drive in the middle of the road in winter, where the sand truck has sifted its stingy load, it is also a bit of an obstacle course.

Our truck has four wheel drive and good tires, but I am still quite cautious on our icy roads, after last year’s guard-rail accident. We’ve had three incidents in a year – guard-rail close encounter, lightning strike (see my article on that at and the flue fire. I am hoping that 2012, despite the popular tabloid predictions, will be much less eventful.

chalet via All Things Xmas

Silkies Update

Of the six silkie chicks we bought back in July, only two survived. They are not doing all that well, either. One is lame; she pulls herself around with a wing, pushing with one leg. The other has eye infections. They are now living in a hay-lined dog crate in the heated shed attached to the kitchen.

Eye infections are not unusual in chickens, so I have trimmed back her feathers around her face and we are applying a triple antibiotic ointment. She has both eyes open, but the lids and skin are inflamed.

The other may have frostbitten her legs or feet. I asked my old parish warden when I saw him lately about silkies. They have raised all kinds of barnyard birds, from bantams to emus. He said that the breeds with feathered legs sometimes will get the lower feathers saturated with water from their dish or run-off, and the feathers freeze against the leg, damaging skin or muscle. This may be what happened to our little lame bird. She isn’t in pain, but sits with one leg back and one forward. She tumbled into a low place in the hay the other day, and had to be lifted out. Her dignity was badly injured. Today I held her in my hands, with her feet properly set under her, and I could feel the warmth of her legs and feet. She could balance all right; the leg muscles flexed and twitched, so I knew that she had enough blood flow and there is no sign of necrosis. I will try to give her that little exercise daily.

Both birds are eating and drinking, make happy chirpy noises when handled or when they are expecting food. Quite a few farmers would have put them down, but since they cost next to nothing to keep and are happy enough, we are letting them go on, giving them a chance.

Maybe we are too tender-hearted, but while I don’t like to see an animal suffer needlessly, they seem to enjoy their protected winter quarters. If they survive to summer, they will get an enclosed pen and little house outdoors. We are all right with having them as pets. They are bright and engaging, so the joy of holding and nursing them along is worth the trouble.


not one of my silkies!

Things Accomplished

Amish Doll Clothes from Missouri

I am making Amish dolls. I have orders for four and I am now more than half way done. It would go faster if I didn’t have so many other things to do at this time of the year.

The garden is slowly getting put to bed. I still have pumpkins and squash coming, with the hope that they will not rot in all this rain. I have pulled most of the bean plants, feeding them as fodder to the goats, after removing the dried pods. They would eat the pods, but I am trying to save the seed.

Wood is getting stacked and split; the barn has been mucked out. We either have a small leak in the roof or the goats have amused themselves by drinking lots of water. I’m sure bean plants aren’t that diuretic. I usually muck out every couple of days, but when we have four or five rainy days, it is less than a pleasant task – and it is no one’s favourite. There is also the problem of mooring the goats to something while working in the barn on a rainy day.

We are getting one or two eggs a day, but never three. I suspect the girls are taking turns laying, and they all like the same nest box. The chickens had a bit of a scare the other day. They were out scratching around in the garden while I watched from an upper floor window. Suddenly they all ran for cover behind the trash bin, the rooster sounding an alarm. A bald eagle passed above, headed for the river. I had wondered if they had enough instinct about eagles and hawks to get out of the way. They don’t panic over crows, though, although some of our crows are almost eagle sized. they stayed in hiding for several minutes, too.

We lost the last of the little silkies, leaving us with three bantam sized birds who are doing well. She just didn’t grow; Nicholas found her hunkered down and drowsy in the barn, so he put her in the hay box under the lamp. When I went in an hour later to feed them, she was dead. All I can think of is that the little ones that died had some sort of deficiency similar to what calves and lambs have when they develop white muscle disease.

I have discovered that I am reacting to a large number of foods, especially high-histamine foods like tomatoes. So I am on a low-histamine, low salicylate diet, which means a very limited repertoire. It is largely vegetarian, low on fruit (except peeled apples) and fairly bland. I am tapering off coffee and have given up tea. I miss the tea more than anything. Lightly toasted bread and butter are now my favourite snack, as not much else is left!

So I am in the midst of making applesauce, starting by peeling the apples, a tedious job. I bought a huge bag, about 30 pounds, of apples for $10. They are called deer apples here. I buy them, make applesauce or apple butter, feed the cores and peels to the goats and chickens, and feel satisfied that I did not spend $1.30 a pound on apples in the store.

Crofting: Chickens

Nicholas is very pleased with the chicken addition. We have never had a rooster, and for an unexpected gift, the big boy has been fine, and such fun. He was calling to Nicholas today, who was cleaning out the silkies’ crate. I think Dublin has already begun to associate Nicholas with food. He could see him and a bucket, but Nicholas had his back to the pen, and Dublin called him for a good five minutes, crowing

Dublin, the Rocky Road

loudly enough to be heard in the house. He has a good voice, and for such a large bird with three hens in his harem, he is well-mannered. He lets me pick up the girls and is very gentle when he is handled, as well. I was expecting more arrogance.

Pachysandra, a Barred Rock hen

This little lady makes up for him, though, in the hauteur  department. She has a Barred Rock attitude, a bit too pleased with her elegant plumage and fine figure. She had no interest in returning to her stall tonight when we shut the barn, and I had to chase her. Then all her snobbery disappeared, as she looks just like a chubby old lady holding her skirts above her knees when she runs. Hens have this funny, waddly run, with the wings flapping, just like matrons at the church fete in field competitions.

What are you doing?

This is Myrtle or Mignonette. This was what I was trying to get, but she took a lot of interest in the camera, and kept moving in closer:

She prefers this profile.

Myrtle and Mignonette are identical, except Myrtle is slightly bigger. They are a red/Arucana cross, lay green eggs and are very friendly.

We haven’t named the silkies yet, as all four of them are about the same colour. My previous hens, of different breeds, were Jet, Penny and Ginger, named for their feather colours.


Crofting: New Chickens

silkie, about 6 weeks old

The silkie chicks keep growing, and are started to fledge out in their fancy feathers. The four surviving ones are doing well, although they are still living in the big dog crate.

Now we are planning a new chicken pen project, because we were given four mature birds, which we picked up today. Our friends are closing a house they own in a nearby town, and their son had left behind four grown birds, three hens and a rooster. She emailed me yesterday and asked if I wanted them. I agreed; the hens are all laying daily. We drove over to the house this morning, and met her husband, boxed the chickens in a crate, and took down the poultry wire fence. He also gave us a good sized stack of pressure treated fence boards, from which we will build a goat pen.

The rooster is a lovely big bird, the epitome of roosterhood. We suspect he may be a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Rock, so Nicholas calls him a “Rocky Road.” He weighs about 35 pounds, according to Nicholas. He’s got a good sound as well – he started crowing at me this afternoon when I was working in the barn. Nicholas won’t name the birds, which surprises me. Maybe he is afraid of getting too attached if they are ‘named’ birds. I decided to name him “Dublin,” because of the Chieftains’ old Irish tune, “The Rocky Road to Dublin.”

One of the hens is a good-sized and slightly haughty Barred Rock. She lays buff eggs. I may call her Pachysandra. It is a slightly silly, slightly haughty name.

The other two hens are identical, and I think they are a cross between a Rhode Island Red and an Arucana, as they are gingery in colour, with some white feathers. They are sweet-natured and maternal. They lay green eggs, like Arucanas, but quite large, like a Red. Maybe I’ll name them Myrtle and Mignonette.They are terribly bossed by Dublin, who demands all the nice sitting spots in the hay, and first nibble at the oats.

When the silkies get bigger and start laying, I can try them on some of the other eggs. Silkies are quite broody, and since their own eggs are bantam sized, not quite as useful in the kitchen. I assume Dublin knows his business; he won’t be allowed in with the silkies, as they are so small compared to Mr. Monster. He looks like Godzilla next to them. I intend to keep the silkies in their own nesting box in the barn, and give them their own little run outside. Barred Rocks can be pushy and even bullying.

I need to find a couple of heat lamps, but that will probably mean a trip down to Centreville or Fredericton soon. I also need to get more hay as I can afford it, which will have to be in the next couple of weeks.

It was an uplifting, unexpected blessing for us, and for the birds. The first plan was butchering! I’m glad they were spared, as they are all well-feathered, healthy birds, and I expect we will get a year or more of laying from them. If we get a clutch or two hatched under the silkies, all the better.


Crofting: Not Good News

Scottish crofters ca.1900

It was a day to make one wonder about the whole crofting business. While the garden is finally picking up speed, it is overrun with dandelion and yarrow. I have been pulling pig weed and volunteer timothy and giving it to the goats. My red “merlot” lettuce is giving up the fight, although the green leaf lettuce is fine.

We lost a chick today, not to running away, but to natural death. I thought one looked weak late yesterday, and it seemed peaky this morning. It perked up a bit after a drink of water and some food, but when I went to check the crate a half-hour ago, it was dead. I bought the chick feed that is supposed to stop coccidiosis, and their droppings aren’t loose, and their eyes are bright. I suspect this one chick, the smallest, may have been injured in the move or it was just not strong enough. Sometimes they don’t have well-developed lungs. Since chicks like to mob together, sometimes the small ones get stepped on and it doesn’t take much shock to do them in. Still, I hope nothing bad is starting in the birds. This is our investment in future egg-layers and I hope some silkies to sell next year.

Right now, the finances are so tight that I can pay the rent (landlords are traveling, back tomorrow) but I am holding off on the phone bill until I have an idea of what else is coming up. I do not have enough money for another tank of gas, and I don’t have the money for Nicholas’s meds due at the middle of the month. He can go a couple of weeks without it, but I hate to do that. I had expected some funds to show up two weeks ago, but I just found out they are delayed until later in the month or even the end of the month. I have enough animal feed and we have food to get through, although the last week looks a lot like a menu of rice, beans and whatever comes out of the garden.

Death is part of the life of a farm. Crop failure is sometimes beyond our control, as is the condition of animals who may arrive with an illness or be injured through no fault of their or our own. I’m not one to say “It happens for a reason,” as if God is some sort of harsh taskmaster, teaching us lessons. Bad things happen, painful moments dot our lives and sometimes form a solid line, not because we aren’t smart enough or don’t know enough, but simply because the universe is like that. Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen. No one walks in a magic bubble.

Someone said to me lately that all our trials (meaning my own, not hers) are so we will learn to turn to God. I was a bit brusque with her over that; she is young and on an evangelical high. And that’s fine – but the hard fact is “that man is born to suffer as the sparks fly upward.” Good Christians sometimes die horrible deaths. Good Christians sometimes lose everything. Because many Protestant denominations do not teach the history of the rest of Christianity, many evangelicals don’t know that at least 22 million Orthodox Christians were martyred in Russia under Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev. These were bishops, priests, deacons and nuns. They didn’t die nice, quiet deaths either. Many died in prison camps. Stalin, once a seminarian himself, sent bishops to a remote Siberian camp to fish. They died in storms, of exposure, injuries, illness and starvation. Stalin thought it amusing to send “fishers of men,” the successors to the apostles, to be fishermen. Other monks were killed by Lenin’s renegades as his “soldiers” looted monasteries. Some were made to dig their graves, and were shot as they sang the “Pascha Nostrum,” – Christ our Passover. This was the evil answer to a great religious revival in Russia just one hundred years ago, and less.

So our setbacks are just that. They are the “go back three spaces” cards on the board game of life.


Crofting: The Places You Will Go!

It had to happen eventually. The chicks went outside in the big crate for the day. This is the safest way to acclimate them at this size. They get fresh air, a little sunshine, and a chance to nibble some of the grass that pokes through the crate door. At the end of the day, Nicholas took a box to put the chicks in while he cleaned out the crate.

Silkies can’t fly very high, but one managed to get enough fluttering altitude that she escaped, ran into the long grass, and disappeared under the lilac bushes. I was summoned. This all happened – of course – while I was cooking supper. I turned off burners and ran outside.

Nicholas could not see the little black bird at all in the shadows under the bushes. Barefoot, I crawled into the lilacs, losing my kapp and muddying my knees. I spotted her and tried to push her toward Nicholas, but no joy there! She scurried deeper into the tangle. I crawled in further. (Mind, I am more zaftig than svelte.) I caught my hair in twigs and burdocks. Little Miss, feeling way too clever, darted into the deeper thicket, only to find she had outsmarted herself, and was trapped. I pounced, caught her one-handed and reached up through the lilac branches to return her to Nicholas. He took her inside while I picked twigs, moss and burdock globes out of my hair.


It only gets better! Nicholas had asked what to do with the pine shavings from the crate. I wanted them on the garden, thinking that since the garden plots will be strawberries next year, pine shavings and chicken droppings won’t hurt a bit. I put it to him just that way. So, while I was busy trying to rescue supper, which wasn’t quite ruined but had become a kind of burgoo of potatoes, carrots, green beans and fish cakes, he emptied the crate onto the garden. It was the tiny 1 foot by 3 foot herb garden by the front door. I asked in that wifey tone of voice, “What are you doing?” He said in that guilty husband voice, “But you didn’t say which garden!” I raked the shavings around the herb plants as a mulch and left it, hoping that nothing there wanted alkaline soil.

The fenced chicken yard is almost done. Nicholas can work maybe two hours at a stretch, but he is doing well with it. It will be a sort of small paddock for letting chickens get out, not exactly free range, but an access point to green stuff, real dirt, and fresh air. We have coyotes, fox and raccoons around, so free range is pretty limited if one wants to actually keep chickens and not just feed the wildlife.

Who can resist those eyes?