Saturday, September 22, 2012

Raising chickens and needing math

Last weekend we had a conference on grandparenting. One of the speakers was from the local school district addressing the importance of education. One thing she said was to avoid saying you cannot do math as it will give your children an excuse to not even try. The reason I bring this up will be evident later in this story.

September in Texas has been as hot as the hottest part of the summer with many days either over 100 or close to it. Right at the beginning of the month, I got sick with allergies? Sinus infection? Dengue? I don't know but the combination of the heat and being sick made just getting through the work day difficult, much less what some evenings presented.

One such day, as I came in the front door, Annabel was running in from the back door notifying me that Stinky Pants was missing. Yes, we have a chicken named Stinky Pants. This was her other chicken and after Selena had committed suicide or whatever happened to her, I knew I could not risk Annabel losing her other chicken.

Barely taking time to set down my purse, I joined in the search, in the heat, with my dress clothes and shoes on. We started with a complete search of the backyard and at least did not find Stinky Pants dead, so I decide we need to expand the search.

Now if you are looking for a dog or cat, you normally call their name, right? Well, I'm not really sure that chickens know their names, as there is not a lot of calling them by name and responding. Truly the best way to get chickens to respond is by feeding them treats. So I head up and down calling, "Here Chick, chick, chick", "here chick, chick, chick", which did seem better than yelling "Stinky Pants!".

We tried to decide exactly how and where she escaped to determine where she might have gone. We had found her sitting on the fence between our house and my parents' house earlier in the week, so we checked out their yard, then the next neighbor's yard, who also has chickens, and I finally end up going down the alley, even though I promised as a child to never go into alleys after being caught riding my bike through them. I stopped at the end of the block and even kind of acted out what I was looking for to two women who did not speak English. I wondered if Stinky Pants was in their kitchen in a pot of boiling water.

As I finally headed back home worrying about how to tell Annabel, she runs to tell me that she has found Stinky Pants! He was in the underbrush right next door. Stinky Pants did get her wings clipped immediately! Teach her to try to fly away again!

Today was our first day to ever get 7 eggs in one day, which means one of our two youngest, Swanlea or Piper, also known as the Twins, the youngest of the group, laid their first egg today.

I kind of felt like I should have "the talk" with her since now she is a woman, but opted to do like a lot of mothers and just leave the literature for her to read.

Any way, with the recent increase in egg production we suddenly had more than we could possibly use. So we were to the original hope (intent?) of owning the chickens, actually selling the eggs. I posted on Facebook that I had eggs for sale and very quickly sold the first two dozen.

The Chinese government has invited back the adoptees to tour China, and they will pay for all in China expenses, you just have to cover the international airfare and the cost for the parents. OK, that "just" equals about $8000.

So this is where my math really stinks, whether I say that in front of my daughters or not, I am admitting it to you.

When the first two dozen sold, I actually starting thinking that selling eggs might pay for our trip.

Needless to say my math was not too good considering we have 8 chicks who, who on even the best weeks, probably produce 5 eggs each. That would be a total of 40 eggs a week. Subtracting out the ones that Annabel eats each morning, since she rarely eats one each day, not that I don't know how to subtract 7 from 40, so that leaves us with 35. That leaves us with 2.91 dozen per week.

So even if we round it up to 3 dozen eggs a week and there are 12 weeks before we would leave on this trip, I just need to make $222.22 per dozen to cover the cost of the trip.

I am pretty sure, even with them being free range, that proves to be a little too high for a dozen eggs. And even though I can't do math, I don't think that adds up!

Friday, September 21, 2012

8 years ago today

This is the first picture I saw of Hong Hao Yuan Jie. How can you not fall in love with that face? I knew immediately when I saw this picture that we were meant to be together.
Eight years ago my world changed forever when this tiny girl carrying a HUGE stuffed dog entered the room and my life began.
She became Grace Yuan Jie Locke that day and I became mom.
I could never have known just how wonderful my life was about to become.

Grace today.
Thank you Grace for all the love and wonderment you have brought in our lives as mother and daughter.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The life and times of chicken farming

This has been an eventful week with our chickens. We have 9 bought at 2 different times but with 3 age ranges. The three oldest chickens have always kept to themselves and pretty much ruled the roost. The next four were all hatched at the same time and bought when they were about 5 weeks old. The last two were little baby chicks with all the yellow fluff when we bought them. Chickens stay in clans or cliques or whatever is the right word and while they might finally grow tolerant of others invading their space, they maintain their own group, especially at night when they roost.

Chickens roost at night. They must have a safe, well ventilated place to spend the night where they can be off the ground which helps keep them safe from night predators. About sunset, they will automatically go to their beds/roosts, which is so completely different than kids. You cannot force them to roost early but you must let them get into their roosting place at night when it is time.

Because they will freely return to their roost at night, we have been letting them free range in our back yard, beginning in early evening, propping open the gate that keeps them safe from our dogs, who could pose a terrible risk to them. Then at night, we go back, close the gate, close the door to their chicken coop, and another part of our yard has been cleared by pecking. It seems to be a win/win situation because they LOVE the fresh grass and we don't want to mow it.

One night this week we got home from softball practice after sunset. Annabel did as she was told and headed straight to the shower while I let the dogs out. I was trying to close the back door to avoid any West Nile carrying mosquitoes and did not notice at first that the dogs were not going down the stairs from the deck. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the light and realize the reason the dogs would not go down the stairs is because they could not, they were blocked by big old chickens who had decided that would be where they would roost for the night, since the gate to their coop had swung shut so they did not have access to their usual bedtime routine. Although we only have nine chickens, it seemed like they were everywhere; on the deck, on the stairs, on the pole holding, the gate, and one that found a stray board to sleep on.

I screamed for help because Nina's mouth had begun to water when she got a good smell of the obstruction and as her teeth were just about to get a bite, Grace arrived to seize the dogs and get them back in the house. Then I was left with trying to get the chickens in. Annabel is my chicken wrangler but she was missing all the excitement since she was in the shower.

The last chicken was the most stubborn and I had to pick up the board she was roosting on and tilt it enough to make her lose her balance. Annoyed with me, she squawked a few times, then strolled into the coop, and with her in, all were accounted for and disaster was diverted.

Then yesterday afternoon, Annabel came in from checking on the chickens and announced that she thought her chicken, Selena, was dead. I'm still in my work clothes and it was 101 degrees outside so I quickly changed, asking questions the whole time about why she thought she was dead.


I really hoped she was wrong in her assessment as she was when she thought one had disappeared but was actually on the roof instead. Dreading that she was right, I head into the coop for the place she has described and sure enough, Selena was laying there, like she had slipped, fallen, and broke her neck. Dad insists they can't but this was not the smartest chicken and I think anything was possible for her.

Thank goodness for Dad.

While I am retrieving shovels, Dad, bless his heart, bends down, picks her up, puts her in a feed bag, and then we head to our new christened animal cemetery and proceed to dig a hole big enough for Selena.

I had read many accounts of people writing about their chicken's unique personalities and I had not believed it until we had our own. Selena was an individual who marched to her own drum. She roosted with her two older sisters at night, but generally she wandered around as if she were humming to herself. Even if we brought out a special treat, Selena would stay by herself and only when everyone else was finished, then she would casually stroll over to see what all the fuss was about.

At the funeral, I asked Annabel if she wanted to have a brief service.

Her eulogy, "She was alive, and now she is dead."

OK, so if you ever need someone to provide the world's shortest eulogy, ask Annabel.

I did not think I would ever think one of those silly chickens meant anything, but I have to admit to feeling rather sad at her untimely demise. Silly, huh?