Sunday, January 22, 2017

"I Can't Believe I Am Risking My Life For A Chicken!"

Note To Self: Do not surf on Kijiji when you are high on cold meds and depressed that you are missing out on all of your days off!

That is how this adventure started - a well timed ad on Kijiji, when I may have been feeling a little sorry for myself, led to a hair raising trip, with a healthy side dish of black ice. When I saw the ad for 16 week old laying hens for $8.50 per bird, brown or white egg layers, take your pick, I could not resist. Having just purchased a Seacan that had been double insulated and converted to a chicken house (complete with wired in timer, hanging feeders, waterers etc.) I realized that I could fill the building with ready-to-lay hens, at a reasonable cost. Trouble was, it was COLD outside and the hens were about three to three and half hours away and between here and there, a lot of icy roads!

It may have been wiser to wait for another batch (when it was not so bitter outside), but where would have been the adventure in that? Mike spend a day building a large plywood pen, divided in half, for the inside of our stock trailer. We filled it with pine shavings and set off for Acme, Alberta. Along the way, we got slightly  lost, saw numerous cars fly off the highway, observed semi trailer trucks jackknifed in the ditch and slipped and slid our way to our destination.

At one point, when I gasped and bit my fingernails in the arm rest of the truck, Mike looked,  possibly glared at me and exclaimed, "I can't believe that I am risking my life for a chicken!"

We picked up the 50 birds that I had ordered (and a few more than I ordered - chicken math, you know) and headed back on those treacherous roads, which were slightly better than the first trip, but still not peachy! Due to the getting lost and the slow travel, we reached home MUCH later than anticipated and darkness had fallen and it was cold! The thought of catching all those chickens in the dark and putting them into their cozy new home was not too appealing. We opted for a different solution. By backing the stock trailer into the heated machinery shed, we were able to drop the trailer and keep the hens safe and warm for the night. We put water and feed into both sides of the compartment that Mike had built and closed the overhead door. The last time we looked, my hens were nestled down in the shavings and looking sleepy.

In the morning, we peeked into the trailer and there were eggs everywhere!

In broad daylight,  were able to catch all of the layers and put them in their new home! All 60 of them!! (Which now brings my chicken total to about 95, not counting ducks and quail). That is quite a few eggs a day! Luckily, I have a steady stream of friends that come every week and there have been no issues finding homes for all of the beautiful eggs.

One of my goals, this year,  for Project Life 365 is to have a picture of myself every week of the year, doing something that I normally do on the farm - so Mike is having to help out by taking my photo.
Now I just have to turn him into a photographer with a good eye for shadows! I love this picture of Rosie and I, but the shadow from her cattle shelter is bothering me. I can not wait to get into my own albums at least 52 times this year! Not a bad goal for 2017!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Wishing you Peace, Love and Chickens!

    I don't know how to relate just how cold it has been lately - maybe, in reality, I have just been spoiled by the last two winters. This winter has had a different feel about it. A lot of the days are overcast and the sun just does not seem to be able to reach down far enough to shine on us. The mornings are grey, the afternoons are dreary and the darkness presses on us far before our list of chores is done for the day.
   Today, the striking comparison of this winter versus last winter really hit home. Today was the day that I tidied up all the loose ends in my Project Life album, before smugly putting it on the shelf. Project Life or Project 365 is a commitment to take a photo a day for an entire year and place the photos in an album, along with all the stories. (My album every year looks like a cross between a seed catalogue and a poultry show!) It is the perfect place to showcase all those beautiful farm photos, my garden and pets and to document the farming year. I use it to settle arguments when our memory fails... "When did we seed last year? How many ton of hay did we take off that quarter?" Everything is documented in my "photo diary", aka Project Life. As I was finishing up my  2016 version, it became very clear that this winter was setting up to be a real old fashioned, Canadian winter!

   Last winter, I had the peas planted before the end of March! I noticed photos of myself, cleaning out flowerbeds in February! We only dropped the blade on the snowplow one time in the entire winter! But, not this winter! We have been digging ourselves out for weeks!
    I have been trapped in the house much more than I care to be. There is something exhilarating about working out in the fresh air, but it has been CRAZY WINDY here in Pincher Creek this holiday season. Like, knock you over, kinda windy. I am pretty sure that I saw a chicken blow away the other day! It has been making things really exciting around here, not in a good way. The girls have been hanging out in the barn, to get out of the wind, but they are cozy and warm and laying eggs like crazy!

    I am pretty sure that the builder of this barn would be impressed if he knew that his beautiful log barn was still being used to this day! It was one of the original buildings on this farm when we bought it and we had to do a lot of work to save the old girl! The bottom logs were rotted out, you could not even get into the barn, for the depth of manure that had built up. Five to six feet down, we found the original wooden floor. A lot of jacking, tons of cement (for a new, solid foundation) and weeks of setting the building straight, a new roof and exterior to protect the hand hewn logs - voila! A barn that is stunningly beautiful and oh, so appreciated by our animals! On a cold winter day, there is nothing like spending some time in the barn with the gang.

    Little Sunflower is still hanging out in the greenhouse - where she is known to nibble on the fodder that I am growing in there. After every strong wind storm, I travel the country roads around our farm and collect all the "lick tubs" that have blown away from other farms. The heavy duty plastic tubs come with a mineral block inside and obviously are popular with our fellow ranchers, but they don't ever go looking for them after they blow away - score!!! I just drive around and roll them to the truck, add a little dirt and some seed oats or wheat, a sprinkle of water and line them up in rows in the greenhouse. By rotating the harvest, I have a steady supply of greens for the quail, ducks and chickens. I may also have stole  scored the grain from some spillage around a certain grain auger, back during the harvest. (I admit nothing). Totally free food for the gang and they are paying me back with loads of eggs, for a little work and no cost! When I am ready to use a tub for feed, I pull out the grain (roots and all) and feed it to the animals- in less than five minutes, I can have the tub planted again and I sprinkle some fresh soil on top to make up for what was lost. The only downside of the whole operation is the look that I get when my husband has to pull over so that I can "pick the ditch". My way of thinking of it is that I am saving the environment - one lick tub at a time! LOL
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year of peace, love and chickens!

P.S. Do you know what I just noticed? My plaid flannel pajamas poking out from the bottom of my ski pants! There is nothing better than flannel pyjamas and chickens! ROTFL

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Week In Photos

      This cold weather is kicking my ass!! The ever present worry about the welfare of my little flock   has got me doing chores several times a day and still I am not there in time to save the eggs from freezing. Mike is enjoying the extra baking that I am doing, to use them up. My favourite cold weather activity has got to be spending the day making bread and buns and all sorts of goodies. It has been too cold to venture out and deliver some to friends and neighbours, so a lot of the baking is going into the freezer. I don't see any end to the frozen eggs, so pretty soon we are going to have to think of something else to do with them - or go buy another freezer.

  On Friday, I had the great pleasure of being Peyton's "special person" and attending school with her.
The class was studying the letter "h" and Peyton wanted to bring our little pet hen, Sunflower. I tried to talk her out of taking the chicken, but she was adamant - so Sunflower went to school! I think that she was so frozen - being plucked from the barn and placed in a warm chair, she just sat there and thawed out. I was a little nervous about how she would react to a dozen children trying to pet her - but she just sat there and went to sleep in the warmth of the classroom. Peyton got her microphone hooked up and gave a very good presentation on chicken care.

  There was a little panic and giggling when the chicken pooped on the chair.

  Okay, maybe a lot of giggling! Mostly the boys.

  Go figure!

    Then it was time to head home and take our pictures for Peyton's Christmas card gifts. Ever since she was old enough to realize that she wanted to give a gift to everyone on Christmas Eve, we have made a special point to set up a holiday photo shoot. She approves the pictures that are going to be printed and she hand writes a card for everyone on her list, encloses a couple of photos and hands them out in person. Peyton is very serious about the whole process.

    Serious to the point that she made sure the photos were cropped to hide the fact that she had gotten grease from the Bobcat on her new red coat and she didn't want it to show. Her attention to detail scares me slightly. She is only five!

    Heaven help us when she is a teenager....

Saturday, December 10, 2016

It Has To Be A Man!

   Who decides to move cattle on a day that is not fit for man nor beast? It has to be a man!

   Who was asked to put a "patch" over a hole in the west side of a barn (at 2:30 in the afternoon, with only about two and half hours of daylight left) and ends up tearing off all the exterior siding and begins to reset the interior log beams to straighten out the wall of the log barn... when a blizzard is supposed to blow in within 24 hours? It has to be a man! 

   Around these parts, men were not popular last week! LOL

   Then the cold hit and I had to eat a little crow. I guess that when we were trying to put the barn wall up and I couldn't feel my fingers, I didn't really know what cold was... because, HOLY SHIT BATMAN, now it is COLD! And I have to admit that I do not know what I would do if the cold and snow were able to come through that west wall!

   The last few days have just been peachy. It takes me five minutes to put on enough layers to be able to be comfortable while doing chores. As soon as I round the corner of the house and head into the wind, I am starting to feel the cold creeping up between the layers. I have a freaking amazing pair of chore boots - my feet have never been cold and I have some Costco version, leather gloves that I can not live without, but somehow I just can't seem to get enough layers on to keep my body warm. Or maybe I am just a wimp. 

   This week has been a week of changing things around to make (my) life easier. Basically, that means that I screwed up with Plan A and had to switch to Plan B before - 1) something died or 2) Mike killed me! LOL. First thing on the agenda was to catch my poor little Dutch bantam and bring her into the safety of the greenhouse. (She stayed one night in the house before my husband told me that I had lost my mind and "no chicken was living in our house for the winter!" ) So, poor Sunflower was banished to the greenhouse with the quail. I am pretty sure that she must feel like she left Siberia and went on vacation and ended up in the Bahamas. It is a pretty sweet deal to end up in the greenhouse - with the beautiful light and the green plants, it even looks downright tropical.

   Secondly, the flock living in the granary had to be moved. Of course, I picked the -30 day to admit that I was wrong and ask for help to move all the paraphernalia and catch the gang. (Can you imagine what Mike had to say about that?) Because, of course, I needed help. And because, of course, he had told me to move them about a month ago... There is only one thing worse than being told that you were wrong and your man was right, except maybe hearing the lecture when you are standing outside on a -30 day - holding onto a flapping rooster that is trying to pick your eyes out! By sundown, all of the gang and their belongings were safely moved into the new chicken house. I still did not like the temperature in there, so I figured that things could not get much worse, I might as well just go ahead and go against Mike's wishes and install a heater. My theory was that if he was going to be mad, I might as well make it count! (Sort of like when my mom would tell me that she would give me something to cry about! LOL)

   All week has been a marathon of hauling warm water, cooking oatmeal and soaking corn - anything and everything that I can do to keep those little guys from freezing. If I don't go to the barns every couple of hours, I have frozen eggs and even if I do go that often, I still get frozen eggs. It has been a nightmare! The only things that have made it bearable is my awesome, kickass boots and my loving husband, who has endured the cold to lend me a hand. 

   What a man!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On Our Own

   This weekend was tough.

   The first art weekend without our mentor.

   No one sitting at the head of the table... no one hogging all the pickled beets at supper time ... no little surprise treats at the table... no pearls of wisdom when things went south...

    But, you know what? We made it through. The first night was pretty rough and raw. The teacher's work area had been set up at the end of the big table, as usual - but no one was sitting there. We all sort of did a double take when we came into the work room. The space just seemed so "empty". It was somber and sad, at first. We missed Christy's big laugh and the hearty greeting that she always gave. I think (without saying it out loud) everyone was a little nervous about attempting the projects without the guidance that we felt we needed.

   Then everyone started in on their project, a little hesitant at first. Before long, people were sharing their talents and supplies and lamenting the fact that Christy was not here, but figuring things out and offering suggestions when someone else needed a hand. The canvases turned out beautifully and we were proud of ourselves! I guess we must have been paying attention to Christy's teachings after all!

   I know that she was with us, I know that she thought we had done well.

   I know she would be proud, too!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My Favourite Photo Of The Week

     You have to get up pretty early to beat these guys! On this particular morning, I was on a mission. It was Saturday morning and I was hurrying to get chores done and get on the road, it was auction sale day and Mike was taking me to Picture Butte for my birthday.

      All night (instead of sleeping) I was fantasizing about what would be in those cardboard boxes at the auction sale. When you drive into the parking lot, you can see rows of boxes... many contain rabbits, there are usually a few boxes of worn out, old brown laying hens - but then, there are always surprises! I get butterflies, just thinking about it!


      It reminds me of child like anticipation on Christmas Eve. I dream about what critters will be brought in - one can never be sure as to what is sitting out in the parking lot or going to come into the ring at the Picture Butte Auction. It literally could be anything!

      Suffice it to say, even though I flew through my chores, showered and was ready at the agreed upon time, my day did not go as planned. Mike was not ready, then we had to trade trucks with Andrew (he needed our truck to pull the stock trailer. He was going to pick up his cows). We hopped into his truck, realizing that we were already running behind. I was getting a little hot under the collar. Why did the truck swap not happen last night?

      Then we looked at the fuel gauge. Andrew did not have any diesel in his truck.


      By this time, I was so hot that there was probably steam coming off my head. Now we were REALLY LATE, because of course (in my mind) we were missing all the good stuff. The "smalls" start selling promptly at 10:00am and the auctioneer is usually done in about a half an hour. I may have said a "few" bad words and made some very unkind remarks about men in general. Confession - I said a lot of bad words and I pretty much cussed out all the men in the world. Twice.

     And that was before we saw the train... wouldn't you know it, we ran right, smack into a very long freight train and we had to wait. Then we had to get fuel. Peyton had to pee. I was almost starting to twitch.

    The rest of the story ... we missed the important part of the sale. There was not a single person left in the parking lot,  they were already walking back to their trucks, carrying their precious boxes. I was frantic as I peered into the ones left out in the gravel sales area. Rabbits. Old laying hens. I was starting not to hyperventilate any more, maybe there had not been any thing that terribly exciting at the sale, after all. Then I saw the BIG BOXES, off to the side.

      There were ducks. There had been ducks at this sale. 

     "My" birthday ducks.

       Not just any old ducks, either.  They were Harlequin ducks, males with vibrant green heads and more drab looking hens. I was choked!  The worst part was that when we took a seat in the building, to watch the rest of the sale, I had a clear sight line to that wriggling box. I sat there through the pigs, sheep, goats and milk cows, thinking about those damn ducks, out there in the driveway - fuming in silence. It took a lovely lunch at my favourite restaurant and a trip to Peavey Mart, before I stopped sulking and put my big girl panties back on.

      I had to admit, it was a wonderful birthday adventure, even sans ducks! I just have to try and figure out how to quiet the voices in my head that keep telling me to buy chickens. LOL.They get me into a lot of trouble!