Adventures with Chickens Part Deux – Timing

Timing of things is always important: if you don’t time something that you’re baking, it won’t end well; if you have a sassy comeback to a stupid comment, you usually don’t think of it in time; catching your dog in the act of wrongdoing so that you can scold them properly is always difficult. All these things require proper timing.

Something that didn’t occur to me was timing in regards to our chickens and their chicks practicing their flying skills.

Recently, they have decided that their enclosure is just not good enough, and have been “flying the coop,” so to speak. The coop itself is fully enclosed with a door that we prop open during the day so that they can go in and out and have a bit of yard to explore. That yard area, in turn, is fenced off with a short-ish fence (designed and executed by myself), simply to keep the dog from eating their poop (dogs are gross). Now however, they have learned that they can fly over it. Time to raise the height. Of course our timing is off.

The past weekend, our area was hit with major wind storms. Warmer air, little to no rain but wind that makes you feel like you’re trying to stand on a flatbed truck doing figure eights down the freeway! Okay, maybe not, but the weather reports said gusts up to 60 miles per hour but our home is in a valley between two mountains so the wind gets accelerated when it blows so we always get stronger winds.

We are fairly faithful at letting the chickens out every day. It’s good for them and keeps them happy. So last weekend, we did as we always do and let them out and propped the coop door open. Then went about our business. Twilight falls and it’s time to put them away, so that we avoid another run-in with raccoons. My dear, sweet hubby took pity on me and went out in the wind storm to take care of this, only to come back and tell me that two are missing.

What??? I sigh and launch into action. “I’ll go look,” I say figuring he had somehow just missed them. I know better but, somehow, I feel like things always fall on me to find, even if it’s right in front of someone’s face.

So out I go with a flashlight in one hand and mealworms in another. I’ve already sort of trained them to come when I shake the bag of mealworms. It’s their treat of choice. I wander around the entire yard – all 1.5 acres of it; even inspecting the kid’s playset. Nothing. No evidence of an attack. No feathers. Just “poof!” they’re gone.

We have concluded that they decided to practice flying over the fence to explore the “greener grass on the other side” and got caught in a wind gust. They may have survived and are doing quite well or, they could already have been someone’s meal. We will likely never know.

Now we’re down to three chickens, all because of bad timing.

Bye-Bye Sunlight and Mama Hen.

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Mama and Sunlight
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It’s Not Autism.

To a parent of a “Quirky Kid,” those words can be a huge relief, knowing that something has been taken out of the equation. A weight has lifted off your shoulders because you know that it’s not this one thing. By contrast, it can bring another type of stress and emotion to the table. It’s great that it’s not this but, it’s something else. Now you have a bunch of referrals to other specialists so that you can narrow down just what you are dealing with. By this point you are emotional. You want to cry because you are happy that it’s not autism or, maybe, you want to cry because, wouldn’t it be easier if it was? At least you’d know the enemy that you’re facing. “Better the enemy you know, than the one you don’t.”

As mentioned before, we have two beautiful, brilliant children. Our oldest son deals with High Functioning Autism (ASD), which unfortunately took until he was six or seven years of age to diagnose. Now at almost nine years-old, we are managing things better than ever before, despite the “downs” that always come with the “ups,” and continue on our educational journey with him.

Our youngest son has been high-maintenance for a while, but not out of the scope of “normal.” We did our research, knew that there was a chance he could be facing similar issues as his brother, and so we wait and watch. We (myself more than the hubby) watch like hawks for signs, symptoms, indications that might mean something. Does he have autism? Should we worry? What struggles is he going to face?

I know every parent spends more than a little time worrying about their children’s health. Maybe it’s before they are born, worrying that they develop properly. Maybe they’ve gotten sick for the first time with something really bad. You worry; it’s in the job description. I tend to be “blessed” with an overabundance of worry. I am a worry-wart. I know better but, there it is. My mother-in-law, many years ago, gave her husband a little cross-stitched plaque that says, “Worry is like a fast getaway on a wooden horse.” I love that. It’s brilliant and simple. Worry gets you nowhere while using up your energy. Still, I tend to worry more than I should. That being said, I think that when a parent’s child has an issue of any sort (ours having ASD for example), that makes you prone to worry about the other children you have.

In our life, E was diagnosed later than most. We have dealt with guilt over not seeing the signs sooner, not getting help sooner, feeling that we did something to cause it… and the list goes on. Now we are facing issues with child #2 and every little detail about their achievements, or lack thereof, is scrutinized. Oh, he knows his alphabet before all the other kids in his preschool class. Should I worry? Look! he’s writing his name but doesn’t want us to know. He hides his intelligence. Is this an indication of a problem? He’s doing advanced math in his head, just like his brother. Should I worry? He’s doing this or that, should I worry? It’s really unfair to both the child and the parents. We are at a disadvantage. We have no knowledge of what having an average child is like so, we have no way to determine if C has issues or not. Everything is filtered through the lens of our experience the needs of our first “quirky” child. However, there are times when the scrutiny pays off. You may catch wind of an issue before it gets out of control.

About a year ago, we decided to see if we should do the ASD assessments to see if C was also affected. At the time, the professionals didn’t feel like he qualified to be assessed but wanted to do a follow-up in a year. Recently, we went in for this follow-up. He, again, didn’t qualify for the autism assessments. However, the doctor did agree that we could use some help in figuring out his “quirks.” She had a “no duh” type comment with considering sensory processing issues and recommended an Occupational Therapy Evaluation. Due to the fact that he almost never answers direct questions, a Speech Therapy Evaluation was recommended. Now we move on to his toe-walking. He has been wearing (or at least he is supposed to be wearing) foot braces at night when he sleeps and a different pair for the daytime. These are supposed to prevent his foot from going up on his toes, and train him to walk flat-footed. He doesn’t wear them often, the nighttime ones make him too hot and the daytime ones prevent him from running, skipping and jumping, which he lives for. He still walks and stands mostly on his toes, so we are referred to a Physical Therapist who will better evaluate if the braces are enough or if we need to try serial castings, or even surgery to help him walk flat and avoid any growth development issues as he gets older. It was also recommended that we see a psychologist to get an official ADHD diagnosis and to learn about the best way to help him cope with that, as well as getting an extensive IQ test done that might help to pull out which processing functions he may be struggling with. There is suspicion that, while he is a very brilliant child, he gets frustrated and confused when trying to voice what he is thinking; which could be why he get frustrated when trying to explain something and gives up, or never wants to answer questions.

It’s almost an overwhelming amount of knowledge to take in. There is a huge ball of emotion that is now in my lap. I’m happy that we don’t have another child having to deal with ASD. Or at least I should be. I almost wish it was ASD. Then we’d have an answer that we know how to provide help for; a step down the right path. Instead, we have more questions, with only one question off the table.

It’s not Autism, but it is something.

Adventures in Chicken Farming

 

A little over a year ago, I finally convinced my hubby to build me a chicken coop and let me raise chickens. “It’s a great teaching experience for the kids,” “We can have fresh eggs.” Finally, we get the coop made, and our neighbors offer us free chickens out of their abundance. Now, I’m familiar with chickens, I mean, I know what they look like, I know they lay eggs of different colors depending on the breeds and I know how to cook and eat chicken bought from the store. That is essentially the extent of my knowledge. I’m basically taking this on like a crash course; Sink or swim. I’m over the moon.

We get our three free hens (at least we’re all pretty sure they are hens, but one may be a rooster. Thankfully, they all were hens). It took 9 months for them to mature enough to start laying eggs. Then after about two months and, maybe, 3 dozen eggs, they start turning “broody.” Basically, what that means is that they stop laying more eggs and just sit in the nest all day trying to hatch the eggs they already have. They do this even if we collect the eggs every morning and afternoon.

Doing some research, I found ways to try to “break” them out of this cycle. Nothing seemed to work, or it would work but, a week later, they’d go right back to being broody. Finally, at the end of summer, we adopted a beautiful rooster and allowed him to do his thing, which in turn would allow the hens’ now- fertilized eggs to hatch and, hopefully, stop this behavior of theirs for good, since they’d be raising chicks. Really it was just one hen that kept doing it, but then the other two copied her.

We allowed our hen to sit on a “clutch” or group of 6 eggs. She hatched one and lost interest in the others. This worked out okay, because one of the other girls turned broody. So we moved the remaining 5 eggs under her. One got broken and was disposed of. Over the next week or so, one disappeared into the aether. It just… vanished. No traces were found. I did some reading on what could have happened. Might have been a rat or, mama stepped on it, broke it and ate it. Nice! Down to 3 eggs and one more hatched. The other 2 turned out to be duds. Meanwhile, hen #3 drops dead out of nowhere. Not sure what happened. She was fine and then, a few hours later, dead. Did some more research (I do a lot of internet searching it seems). It might have been a heart attack but, sometimes, they just die. Sad but, moving on because we have two new chicks to care for. Each hen has a baby.

They are adorable. I love babies. Anything baby and I’m a goner. I’m still learning the ropes but I find it so easy to let nature take its course and let the hens do the work of raising the chicks. It’s a funny dynamic because they are so protective of their young, even pecking at their chick if they spend time too close to the other mama.

Now, we live in a mostly rural area, and have some predators to watch for. We had to enclose the coop on all sides, including a roof and making sure animals couldn’t dig down and under as well. For the first few months, I was religious about spending time with my hens, talking to them, getting them to eat out of my hand and of course locking them up at night in the coop.

After getting our dog, Jack, we ended up enclosing a portion of the yard just for the hens. Jack likes to “play” with the hens but is too rough and loves to snack on the droppings (Dogs can be so gross!). So the hens now have a “run” or play-yard to walk about in during the day and, with the rooster, I got a lot lazier about watching them. I even started leaving the coop door open at night because I knew that the rooster would protect them. One or two nights after his arrival he proved just that and dispatched a rat that came in. So, I get caught up in my kids, dog and daily living and become less of a nut over my “girls.”

Then one night a raccoon discovered the open door. Boy did the rooster make a racket. I ran outside, in the dark, in my nightgown and work boots flashlight in hand, hooting and hollering like a mad woman. It must have been quite the sight! The coon ran off and I found Mr. Roo passed out on his back, feet in the air. I thought he was dead! As I get near and crouch down to examine him, he popped up and ran from me. Scared me to death! I must have jumped a foot. I chased him down and looked him over. A scratch here and there, a bite mark on his comb, but mostly fine. I was so happy to have saved him. Lesson learned! I now close the coop up tight as soon as it gets dark.

Then one-day last week, the hubs was home before me and tasked with closing the door. He of course, distracted by managing dinner and the kids, forgot. Sure enough, the coon came back. Hearing the racket, we both ran outside with flashlights to try to save the day. Feathers are everywhere. We found one hen guarding both chicks and one hen guarding the door. One had slight injuries to one leg but she would be fine. Sadly, no rooster! Heartbroken that we lost him, husband feeling heaps of guilt, we go back inside. At least the hens and chicks were safe and, hey! One of the chicks might be a rooster. I bid my roo a sad farewell and head to bed.

The next morning, on cue, as usual, he is out at the edge of the chicken coop crowing his lungs out. I have never jumped out of bed so fast! “No way that’s him. He’s dead. The raccoon dragged him off.” Just thinking about it, I’m still speechless. I have no idea where he was taken or how he got away, how he survived, but that is one amazing rooster! He lost some tail feathers, looked a bit disheveled and wet but no apparent injuries. Needless to say, we are much more aware of the time and to closing of the door when darkness descends.

We are still waiting on the chicks to grow a bit more before we start getting eggs again, and we have no idea what will happen if we end up with another rooster (or two), but we love our little chickens and we are learning that you don’t have to travel to find adventures. Sometimes they are right in your back yard!

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Our Rooster Bogart. He’s a  Welsummer / Sussex mix.
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Mama and chick. Our hens are both Black Cochins and sometimes hard to tell apart.
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Mr. E named this one Moonlight.
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Mr. C named this one Sunshine.

Sick Days

Once your kids start going to school, a flurry of illnesses walk in and out of the home regularly. Maybe we should all live in bubbles so no one would bring home anything. Just put on your bubble suit before heading out the door to school or the grocery store. It’s like an extra body jacket. Wear it in public and go thru a decontamination process before removing the bubble suit upon returning home, and no one would get sick any more, right? Well, until that futuristic day arrives, the kids will bring home all kinds of nasties and it will run through each and every being in your home, sometimes twice!

This year, our youngest, C, started kindergarten and I honestly felt like we had this whole sick thing under control. After all, our little C had spent time in preschool bringing colds home and our Mr. E had already done his time in public school. We should be mostly immune to all the crud that that living petri dish called “school” stirs up. We were so wrong.

Yesterday our Mr. C returned to school after a two-week bout of walking pneumonia which lead to severe asthma, at a time when the first real cold temperatures of the season showed up and everyone turned to wood stoves for heat. A perfect storm. So basically he’s been sick for a while. The walking pneumonia was a result of a cold he had two weeks before that never quite cleared up. The cold from his cousin, who spent one unplanned day at our house while sick (ah, the joys of being the at-home mom in the family!) The poor girl had just got over pneumonia too! So she spent one day at the house, and despite my best efforts, C came down with the cold. Probably exposed from the same location: The School. (Cue ominous music.)

A week into his cold, Dad starts feeling a bit sick too but, of course, we adults just take medicines and keep going. Especially those who have jobs to go to. Dad gets by, not really coming down with anything. Phew! Then E starts feeling sick. Has one morning of nausea and a low fever. He’s down for the count. C keeps coughing and coughing. We head to the doctor and each of these poor boys have a different crud making them feel sick. One, the glorious walking pneumonia and the other, a nasty stomach bug that’s also floating around town. Nurse Mom to the rescue!

I normally love taking care of people, but these kids tried each and every last nerve and bit of patience I have! They can’t go to school— they are too sick; but they refused to rest! Little C is hopping and jumping and playing and talking his heart out only to crash in the evening with spasms of coughing. I seriously considered Duct Tape for keeping him quiet and down! E is a bit better but that’s just his nature. He prefers to lay around doing nothing anyway so, keeping him down just required a bit of extra TV and tablet time.

Next in line is the dog. He vomits and needs to be let out more than normal. He hardly eats for a few days and is lethargic. (Just like a real kid!) So he receives extra attention and care.

By the end of the week, I’m feeling exhausted and run down. Guess who’s next in line? ME. I come down with the “low-grade fever” and exhaustion. I seriously couldn’t get myself to do anything. I’m just dragging, but moms don’t get sick days! We’re the grease that keep the family running smooth. So I push thru for a day or two and then my hubby is home for a few days in a row due to the holiday. He spoiled me. He actually gave me “Sick Days!” It was amazing. He cooked, cleaned and cared for the kids so that I could lounge around in my comfy clothes in bed and read or rest any way I wanted. It was amazing. Granted, kids don’t get it that a parent is sick. They still barge in, asking millions of questions or wanting to be with you. So even on a “sick” day, you still end up being busy.

So, I start feeling more rested— not better mind you, but rested. Then Dad has to head back to work. By the time the day ends, he’s come down with the slight fever and malaise. It’s not enough to keep you down, but enough to make you feel off and you just know you’re sick. So it goes. The crud has run its course through our house. Mom and Dad are still getting thru the day, but just barely, and the kids are back to their normal full-on selves.

Mr. C is back to the petri dish of a school. I added up the days that he’s missed, and he’s been absent about 15 days of school so far this year due to being sick. It’s a good thing he’s a smart kid so that I don’t worry about him falling behind.

I am seriously considering how to bring about those futuristic bubble suits to avoid any other illnesses in our house.

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