Some creatures need to be loved and loved, with perseverance and determination. They need somebody who is willing to overlook the fact that they always run away, or give every indication that they aren’t interested, or actively evade contact, somebody who’s love is so confident as to create a certainty of being loved in return. And when they get that, something remarkable happens and they give up and love back.
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As Little R would say “Queen Anne is a mummy!” Queen Anne is our Silver Laced Wyandotte hen (silver laced – Queen Anne’s Lace, in case you are wondering about her name.) Her brood hatched out last Tuesday/Wednesday. Six out of seven eggs. I’m not sure why but I had been preparing myself for it not to work. When I went in to check on her and heard the tell-tale peeping I was quite excited. Nature! It works!
It’s quite different having a mother hen with chicks than buying chicks on their own. Of course, I’m a little bit more familiar with chickens this time round, but you do worry less since it’s her job to look after them – keep them warm, protect them from danger, find them food. I opened the door to her broody box and gave her access to the outside and she took them all out. It was sunny but certainly way colder than I could have imagined comfortable for chicks, but they were fine, and she stayed out with them for hours. (Guess it helps she was scratching around in front of a south-facing wall, a pretty good micro climate.)
We couldn’t find any chick starter crumbs because I guess these little ones are two early, so we’ve been somewhat cavalier in offering various alternatives; some ground up grower pellets, millet, rice and such. I would have worried much more about this last year but since they have a mother who is busily foraging for them, and showing them to do the same, I feel more confident that they will be alright. And I give them some boiled egg sometimes too.
Queen Anne is an excellent mother. It’s amazing to think it’s all instinct. She will let me handle the chicks but isn’t happy about it, and I’m fairly confident she would defend her brood from a predator, without worrying that she’s going to tear me to shreds! Little R and I were in checking her every day while she was incubating the eggs so that may have helped her feel a bit used to us.
I love watching the chicks with their mother. It really is quite a different beginning than life in a box. It might be a bit harder to hold and play with the chicks when they have a mother, but I think it is made up for by being able to watch them following and learning from Queen Anne. They aren’t even a week old yet,so I suppose I should wait to expound on the ease of raising chicks this way. I know there are various tragedies the could befall these chicks….but I guess I’m trying to remind myself again that nature works, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.
I always try to have Little R outside as much as possible. But it’s never long enough for her. No matter how we try to bring her in, we generally end up carrying her inside kicking and screaming. She has never, ever, asked to go in. In fact, I think I was saying “She could stay out all day…” when I thought maybe I should plan a longer time out, and make a little thing out of it. I’ve been interested in those Forest Kindergartens and I thought I could try making sustained outdoor time a bit more of a routine for us. As I said, Little R is already totally comfortable outside for hours and happily follows the chickens or cat around and when there is a limit to how long we stay out it is always us adults – either because of things that need doing, meals that need making, plans/schedules or actually, I confess, just being bored! (an issue in the winter) So in a way, it is almost more about me committing to more outdoor time. (Ah yes, so often when we think of what we want for our children we come back to ourselves…) Fortunately it is now the season of outdoor work and there is much to be done, so I knew I could keep busy for a few hours.
We started out the morning with a good walk. Back home we tended to the chickens, rambled about and had a snack. Then I set to work building a fire pit and making a fire. I had planned to boil some water for tea but I couldn’t find our camping pots, or a grate for cooking. In the end, hot chocolate was offered and delivered to us from the house. Not quite fitting into my “everything outdoors” plan but let it never be said of me that I don’t know a good idea when I hear it. Or that I would turn down hot chocolate. Anyway, we’ll get ourselves sorted with an outdoor cooking set-up for next time. Exercise, fresh air, happy and independent child; it was pretty good! I wanted to be out for 4 hours, including lunch and heading in for nap at 1, but we came in shortly after 3 hours, again because of the lack of cooking possibilities and the need to make some lunch. Still, I’d call it a success and a promising start.
All thirteen of Little R’s farm animals (a Christmas Present from Granny) lovingly set-up for a late afternoon story time. “Ready guys?”
So, it’s January. And it’s cold. One can get a bit cabin feverish, especially when faced with the fact that it is January and there are several months of winter to go. I was thinking that maybe January could use a little help, so here is a list of things I am loving about this month.
Warm Eggs – Finding a warm egg on a bitterly cold day is one of life’s little pleasures. You should try it. It feels special and “everyday” at the same time. Our black hen Betsy refuses to lay in the nesting boxes, preferring to trek to the barn and lay in the hay. Even through a snow-storm. It can be a bit of a pain, as the barn door must be open for her, and she gets put out if that cat is in her way and the other night she stayed there till dark and I had to pick her up to return her to the henhouse with the others. But it is also endearing and Betsy is quite a character. I love heading to the barn to retrieve her egg.
Beatrix Potter: I’ve been reading her biography with a flashlight under the covers. Little R has been having wakeful late evenings and simply won’t sleep if I’m not in the room so I curl up with my book and make the most of it. I’m enjoying the book immensely and I find Miss Potter, as she often called herself, very inspiring.
Sketching Chickens: I told you I was inspired! I’ve recently picked up pencil and sketch pad after a break of….too many years, and am having a great time. Sketching both outside from life and from photos. Yesterday Little R and I had a sketching session, in which I drew chickens and she alternately “helped” and worked in her own book, all the while keeping up a narrative chatter.
Salsa and other Fruits of Summer Labour: There is never enough, of course. But really, isn’t it January the time to crack open those jars of salsa, enjoy some frozen berries or spread a little quince jelly? It certainly is.
Wood Heat: Full disclosure, I am not the one who does all the stacking, lugging and chopping of wood. I do make fires, and tend them, but this is nothing compared to the other work. Ah, but there is nothing like a fire in the winter. And since the act of keeping warm requires more from us I feel like the fire warms us even more, if you know what I mean.
Well, right now a lot of the songs we sing, or the songs Little R is singing, are Christmas songs. Jingle Bells, Silent Night and Angels We Have Heard On High are not going away any time soon. Perhaps that’s why I was pleased when I stumbled across a book of children’s songs at the library. It’s a collection of 40 songs, including written music, accompanied by beautiful artwork. We both love sitting down and turning through the pages, admiring the pictures and singing the songs. I realize there may not be that many who can read the music (though of course many of the songs are well-known) but for us it’s great, and it gives us a chance to add to the repertoire. In a way I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before and I’ll be on the lookout for other such books. I also like the idea that just as she sees us reading text and putting together that words on a page can become spoken words, she will begin to learn that notes are realized as music. What better thing to do on a chilly day than cozy up by the fire, or cluster round the piano, and have a little sing-song?
An update on the chickens.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, though I’m still not sure if I’ve figured out how best to approach it. It’s a post about “harvesting” our roosters. Unfortunately, we had to do rather more of this than we thought, as of our ten chicks SEVEN turned out to be roosters. We only ever wanted hens for eggs, but to get heritage breeds we needed to get unsexed chicks… I also told myself that proceeding this way was somehow “honest”, and would help us understand the whole process. And it has, though it’s not always fun.
I’m not going to go into detail about killing the roosters, since if you are looking for info there are experts and they are NOT US. In a nutshell, we caught them, put them in a milk jug “cone”, slit their throats and let them bleed out. They were fairly calm (especially if you can catch them quickly, without fuss) and while I can’t pretend to know what chickens are feeling, I don’t think there was much suffering. Cutting was not always easy and I can appreciate how cutting their heads off with an axe would be quick and final. But lacking experience, neither of us felt we had the confidence for that.
It’s not hard at all the in the way you might imagine, you know, feeling bad for killing a creature, because so much of your energy is focused on trying to kill them quickly and make that whole process as smoothly as possible that you just feel relief when they are gone. But it is hard. We found it hard and are very glad to be done.
And “done” left us with 3 hens and 1 rooster. We killed 5 roosters and one was taken by a hawk. So we bought two Buff Orpington pullets to add to the flock. On another day (in a more upbeat post) I’ll show you some pictures and tell you a little more about them.
Understandably, I don’t like to dwell too much on the actual dispatching of the roosters. As we have been saying to ourselves, you’d have to wonder about somebody who didn’t find the whole thing at least a little difficult. But fortunately we can also remind ourselves that our roosters had a pretty wonderful life, free-ranging about at Good Cheer, and we can feel proud of that.
Little R has been doing a lot of work with beans. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, rice…. Oh, those old sensory standbys. She will work with beans with various measuring containers, spoons, and especially little pots with lids, for ages. After offering them one day, and seeing how much she loved them, I had a weird moment where I thought I should somehow “save it up” and offer this kind of thing only occasionally so she would still be really excited by it. Fortunately, I checked that, and realized that I should be supporting this interest by making it possible for her to continue her exploration. So she has had beans and pots and jars for several days now. Her fine motor skills have developed rapidly. She is pouring beans back and forth from variously sized containers in a way that she could not have done just a few days ago. Even just the sheer amount of time she is happy to spend at this is telling. So we’ll keep up the work with beans!