The chickens have become escape artists. I don’t know how they figured out the elaborate trap of chicken wire and plastic that comprises the door to the run, but they’ve managed to get out for two days straight.
I don’t mind letting them roam around when I’m around. But as the weather gets colder and the predators get more desperate for calories, I’m thinking that the door to the run may have to be reconfigured. It’s sad to admit, but my half-assed door can’t even contain a bunch of literal bird brains.
It is nice to see them out and about in the yard though. They have thoroughly picked over the spots where the run had been, and have even seemed to have found some food left over in those spots. I like seeing them come running up to the front door when I walk out, or see them flying for twenty or thirty feet. They appear to be happy and content, and their tail feathers are sticking up higher than ever. I’m not sure how much I should read into the angle of their feathers, but I heard somewhere that if their tail feathers are up, then they’re happy.
At least they have been putting themselves to bed every night. Usually just past dark I’ll go out and all four of them are huddled up on the perch inside the coop. They snuggle and cuddle and have so far kept themselves warm, but we haven’t had any of those bitterly cold nights. Yet.
Since the solar panel has been working well, I figured I should buy a heat lamp for the chickens. It won’t be long before it gets really cold, and since I don’t want to have four more roommates for the night, I have to heat the coop somehow.
I bought one of those cheap clip-on lamps, an extension cord, and a pack of light bulbs. I honestly cannot remember the last time I bought light bulbs. It felt weird. But I came home and set to installing the heat lamp.
Now, for most people this would entail screwing in the light bulb and then plugging in the cord. That would be the end of it. But for me, it involved almost two hours worth of work which included two hand drills, a hammer, chisel, a new hole in my house and an eye pecked by a chicken.
The only drills I have are two hand-crank augers that I picked up at the junk store in Saranac Lake. For five bucks each, they were a good deal. That price however, does not include time used in actually cranking those things. With an electric drill it may have taken me fifteen minutes for the entire project. But with the low speed of a hand-cranked drill, I could not spin the size bit I needed to be able to fit an outlet through it.
I did manage to make a nice circular mark in the linoleum floor indicating where exactly I needed to remove material. But that big bit was not spinning anymore. So, I pull out a small bit and start drilling. All the way around the hole marked by one bit, I had to make twelve very small holes. After that, I used the chisel to knock out the hole.
I then had to go outside, remove some of the stones that line the base of the cabin, and reach up to feed the extension cord up through the newly made hole. Of course, me crawling around on the ground attracted the attention of the escapee chickens. Midget, who is now full sized, has no fear of me and runs up to me all the time. This time however, she decided that she would be content to just peck at my face while I was on the ground with both hands occupied searching blindly for a one inch hole in the floor.
As I closed my eyes and turned my head to avoid the love taps from Midget, I finally found the hole. But of course, the cord did not fit easily through the hole. I jammed it in there and went inside to pull it through the rest of the way.
I pulled the cord up into the cabin and plugged it in to the inverter. I had left the lamp in the “on” position so that I could turn it on and off from inside just by pulling the cord from the inverter. I proudly plugged it in to see if it was working, and sure enough, it was. I then proceeded to watch two hours of TV on my computer using the battery. As dusk turned into darkness, I thought maybe I should turn on the light for its first night of use. But I had drained the battery watching TV. Luckily, it wasn’t that cold out last night.
Winter is approaching, and rather more quickly than I would really like. Sure, I’ve got the new stove and a shed chock full of dry hardwood, but I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed our summer-like fall.
“They” are calling for snow next week, but we’ll see what happens.
I had an inkling that this was coming anyway. Yes, I know that it’s October and that it’s a reasonable assumption to think that we’ll be getting snow soon. But last Friday, I got home from work and opened the front door. I let Pico and the cats out to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. But when I went inside the cabin, I found a sight that told me winter was right around the corner.
The big window was literally covered in ladybugs. The little ladies and gents like to winter in houses, and since my place is the only building around for quite a distance, it only makes sense that they would seek shelter with me. But the amount of ladybugs trying to get into my house told me that there would be cold and snow before the forecasters ever did.
Shortly after that, I made a trip to the outhouse. I don’t talk about my outhouse a lot because I figured that not many (if any) of you would really want to hear about it. But don’t worry, this story will not be rich in detail.
My outhouse is a piece of junk. It was apparently built for people even shorter than me, and has at different times been used for target practice. So despite the small door and low ceiling, there is actually quite a bit of cross-ventilation created by the small holes where the twenty-two caliber shells went through the walls.
As I was sitting there, I heard a familiar sound. It was the scratchy scramble of a mouse. There are a couple of mice that call the cabin home, but so far they stay in the walls and don’t really bother me. But a mouse in the outhouse, that’s something new.
I glanced around and noticed some small pieces of paper trapped in a spider web near the upper corner. I had accidentally left the toilet paper holder open, and the mouse had helped itself to some of the wrapper. As I looked around, I also noticed that one of the pieces of plywood that make up the ceiling was peeling apart. I caught a glimpse of something moving up there and decided that this was a better setup than having them move into the cabin.
A few days later, I was again entering the outhouse and movement caught my eye. Three very little mice were scrambling up from the seat to the ceiling. They were in no hurry, and mama mouse leisurely followed them up the wall and into their little nest.
I have to admit, those little mice were awfully cute. I had no intention of evicting them from their spot, and just need to remember to close the toilet paper holder. And at this point, I honestly hope they have enough shelter to get them through the winter. I mean, they did pick a crappy place to live.
Every once in a while, I reach for the faucet to turn on the water. This usually happens when I’m brushing my teeth, but even though there’s a dish rag hanging on the spout and I haven’t had running water in almost two years, this old habit dies hard.
Summer, on the other hand, is dying a very easy and quick death. As I walked out into the front yard this morning, I noticed a small maple that was almost entirely red. The birches are beginning to turn yellow and even the big cherry tree in the yard was not so green anymore.
The days have been warm and the nights cool, feeling more like the heart of fall than the end of August. This is my favorite type of weather, but I’m not quite ready for it yet. I still want some summer.
Even though we had a late start to summer and what looks like an early end to it as well, I have gotten a lot done, and had a lot of fun. The wood shed is built and half full, I got the house shed cleaned up and organized, and the chickens are happy in their coop and run.
But really they might not be that happy. I put them out in the run every day so they can eat bugs and plants and stuff like that. Every morning I open the coop door and they all fly right in to the run, and in the evening they hop back up the ramp and into the coop to roost for the night.
Since they’re only out during the day, the run is not built as a completely predator-proof structure. It’s very safe with chicken wire and metal roofing, but the end that I let them in and out of is just a mix of some wire, a piece of wood and some old plastic insulation. Like I said, this is built to keep them, not keep predators out. Still, every day when I get home I look into the run on my way up the driveway just to make sure all the girls are still there.
We had a pretty nasty thunderstorm come through yesterday while I was at work. I thought of the chickens, but was not too worried about them. However, when I got home, I noticed the insulation flapping in the wind. I had tacked it shut like always, but the wind had blown it wide open. There were no chickens in the run.
Pico was barking and Ed was crying at the window, and it had been a long day for Pico and the cats. I had gotten a flat tire on the way home and so they had been cooped up for ten hours or so. But I knew that if I let them out, there’s no way I would be able to catch the missing chickens. That is, assuming the girls hadn’t been eaten yet.
Even though I had kind of self-vowed not to get too attached to the girls, I was worried about them. There are so many wild animals out here that could easily snatch up a chicken and trot off into the woods. Chances are all I would find would be a couple piles of feathers to tell where the girls had been eaten.
Then it dawned on me. All along, when I fed the chicks, I had always called out “Hey Ladies!” ala the Beastie Boys. I was hoping that Pavlov was right and the girls would associate my call with the presence of food. I called out and within a few seconds, Midget and Brownie came out of the tall grass and trotted right up to me. I smiled and grabbed them and tossed them in the coop. I called out again and both Blondie and Whitey came out as well. I had to chase Whitey as usual but I finally caught her and put her in the coop as well. Blondie jumped in on her own when I opened the door. I tossed in a handful of bird seed to keep them happy. After all, my distinct chicken call had worked well, so I guess I want to keep them coming to it.
We had a bit of a milestone out here at the cabin this week. The chickens are no longer residing in a large box on the porch, but instead are enjoying their new digs and much larger coop. While it’s not quite done, it is habitable and since there are no building codes or inspections for small wooden boxes, I figured the girls could use the room to stretch their wings.
It must be a big improvement, going from a box that almost always had a cat sleeping on top of it to a detached coop complete with nesting boxes and a perch. Not that they’re going to be laying eggs anytime soon, but I have some idea of how they feel. I too live in a small, cramped area with three other living beings. Hey, at least the chicks never had to step in cat puke at two in the morning. They just had to deal with seeing Herbie and Ed’s bellies all the time.
I used an old cart to build the coop, and again, the total cost of the project was only a box of screws. Much like the woodshed, the coop is not square, but it is functional and will keep the birds dry. I’m really happy with the way it’s coming so far, even though I still have a fair amount of work to do on it. I need another door, latches and some small windows still, but it is a big step up for the girls.
I was very happy with myself when I was finally able to move the chicks into the coop. I should have done this a while ago, but they seem happy in their new home now. As I stood there in the sun, smugly enjoying the non-masterpiece of carpentry I had just completed, I thought how nice it would be when I get the one wheel fixed and can move the coop so it butts up against the chicken run we built a while ago.
The thought occurred to me that the girls will be very happy when they have a nice safe outdoor area right next to their home when I realized that I had never actually measured the coop and the run with the point of seeing whether they would fit together. My shoulders drooped and I ran inside to grab the tape measure.
Obviously I had measured each structure while I was building them. But building them so they would fit together just never entered my mind, even though that was the plan all along. Maybe I shouldn’t have built the run two weeks before I got chickens and then built the coop two months after I got them. I should have built them together.
I measured from the ground to the roof of the coop on the back side and got forty-two inches. I literally ran around the cabin to the run and measured from the ground up to the lower edge of the top of the run. Forty-three inches! I couldn’t believe my luck and I was ecstatic. My shoulder’s drooped again as I had another realization. The run was tall enough, but was it wide enough? I measured the width and ran back to the coop.
I knew on my way that it would not fit, because the coop was forty inches wide without the roof, and the run was only forty-one inches wide. Sure enough, the roof width was about forty-four inches. With the overhang of the roof, I was not going to be able to fit the coop snuggly inside of the open end of the run. Thoughts ran though my head as I pondered rigging chicken wire around the sides to keep the girls safe. There was a quick mental image of a new door built into the run so I could access it. But I want to be able to move the coop and run. This was getting complicated quickly.
I stood there, slightly dejected staring at the coop as if an answer would suddenly pop out of thin air. I ran through multiple scenarios, each more work than the last, and far more complicated than I really want to get with this whole setup. Suddenly it dawned on me: I own a hack saw. I can just trim the back of the roof so that it still fully covers the coop but allows me to slide it into the end of the run. Problem solved!
I grabbed the hack saw and walked back out to the coop. Then I remembered that the girls were in the coop, and using a hack saw on the roof probably would not be good for their psyche or their hearing. I’ve held off on trimming the roof, justifying it by saying that the girls need to stay in there for a while to get used to it. Plus, I can’t move the coop right now anyway because of the busted wheel. That’s what I’ve been telling myself anyway. It’s a lie, and I could do the roof right now. But I spent a lot of time on this coop, and I kind of need a break. If anyone asks though, it’s because of the girls’ hearing. Yeah, their ears, that’s it.
I really enjoy fall weather, just not in July. The last few nights have been beautiful, though cold. I really struggled on Wednesday on whether or not I would get a fire going in the stove. I decided not to, based solely on principle. I will not be using my woodstove in July. I just won’t do it.
But it has made the evenings pleasant. The water is warm when we go swimming, and the heat isn’t as oppressive as last week. On top of the coolness of the nights, they have also been really clear. With a big moon in the sky and the stars shining, it’s been great. As the moon moves to one side of the sky, the stars come out on the other, making a whole-sky panorama with the Milky Way visible on one end, and nothing but the slate gray sky around the moon on the other.
Now that the wood shed is done and partially stocked, I’ve been able to relax a little bit after work. Ed and Herbie get to go outside for a while and the chickens have been enjoying eating bugs and grass in their run.
I was sitting on the boulder that serves as my front step the other evening, letting the day’s accumulated warmth keep me comfortable. Pico and Herbie were lying in the dirt by the car, but Ed was not immediately in sight. I then noticed something moving off to my left in the taller grass. A lifetime of toys and free food have left Ed lacking in the hunting skills department, but he still gives it a good effort.
I watched as he not-so-subtly snuck down through the grass and toward the chicken run. It took him a while to get up the nerve, but he finally launched an attack and ran smack into the fencing. He seemed to have taken the girls by surprise, but they were safe the whole time. They squawked and ran around a bit, but settled back into the rhythm of being chickens. Ed settled in at the end of the run and hung out for a while to watch them, no doubt dreaming of hunting glory. Soon, they’ll be bigger than he is, and I’m not sure how Ed will handle that, psychologically.
After watching Ed for a few minutes, I glanced over at the new shed. I have a full cord of wood in there, and will need probably another two full cords to get through the winter. I like the way the shed turned out, and with a grand total cost of about fifteen bucks, I think it was a good project to get done.
My dad had come up to help me build it, and along with my friend, we built the whole thing in about four hours. I used a bunch of old lumber from underneath Upper Camp and only had to buy a box of wood screws. The old metal roofing has holes in it, but they’re small and it will keep the vast majority of rain and snow off my wood. It’s comforting to have it built, though now I really feel the pressure to get it filled. Unfortunately, I’ll have to buy some fire wood this winter, but it won’t be as much as last year.
When my neighbor came up to brush hog the lower field, he noticed the new shed. He said that he’s built a few sheds, and the biggest problem is that when you build a new shed, you fill it up, leaving you no choice but to build another shed at some point. I like building things, so this wouldn’t be so bad, but luckily this new shed will be filled and emptied by the time next summer roles around.
Now I just need to figure out what else can go into a shed, so I can build another one.
I love it when a few moments of laziness lead to something good. I had weed whacked all around the big fire pit and hammock a couple weeks ago, but there was one section of lawn that I just buzzed through quickly, and I did a poor job on about a ten square foot area. Last night as I was moving some junk wood into the new wood rack, I caught a glimpse of some bright red in the slightly overgrown region: two wild strawberries.
Only one of the very small strawberries was ripe, so after taking a couple pictures of the first strawberries of the season, I popped the ripe one in my mouth. That was the first strawberry I’ve had in quite a while, and man was it delicious. There was enough flavor packed in that little pea-sized berry to make all the rain worthwhile.
After I stacked the wood, I sat back on the porch with a beer and put my feet up on the chicken cage. The little girls are getting bigger, and spend about a third of their time stretching their wings and preening the down feathers they’re losing. The other two thirds of their days are split evenly between eating and sleeping. They are having a good life so far.
When I brought them home earlier this week, I introduced Ed and Herbie to the chicks. I held Herbie over their cage and let him sniff and watch for a few minutes. He seemed to lose interest and eventually just wanted to get down out of my arms. Ed, on the other hand, when confronted with the chicks for the first time, recoiled and was wary of the chicks. They are tiny, but Ed was a little freaked out. For all his posing as a killer, he’s still just my little man who would have no idea what to do if he saw the girls outside of their cage.
As I sat on the porch letting the beer wash away the taste of the strawberry, I glanced out over the yard. The apple trees are starting to get heavy with small apples, and I can see the lime green berries starting to form on the blueberry bushes. With the drought last year, I got no fruit off of the property, but this year is shaping up to be a banner year for all the strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry plants. I know it’s early and anything could happen, but I have a feeling that I will have more wild food than I know what to do with.
I’m hoping that my friends with kids will come around later in the summer to help clear out some of the berries and apples. Besides making jam, apple sauce, cider and hopefully some applejack, I don’t really have any idea what to do with the bounty of fruit coming my way. Add to this the chicken eggs and garden veggies that will be appearing in the next couple of months, and I am facing a glut of food. Obviously, this is not a problem that requires any serious deliberation. I’m ok with apples and berries getting eaten by deer and other animals. I just hope that some of the bears around don’t get too cozy here. I may be facing a surplus of wild food, but a hungry bear could easily wipe out a lot of my apples, berries, and even the chickens. I don’t mind sharing, but a bear coming in here and eating all my stuff is not something that I would forward to.
It’s been the kind of week where I am just awash in babies. This is not a bad thing, although it is a far cry from my normal lifestyle. I’m sitting on the patio of my brother’s house in Orlando, Florida, waiting for my niece and nephew to wake up. Their official greeting of spit-up all over me was warm and gracious, if unconventional. But trust me when I say that the two month old twins are too cute to be upset with.
The other babies I’ve been seeing a lot of lately are my chickens. The four of them are staying in Amy’s garage while I’m out of town, but I got to spend plenty of time with them before I left. Amy took her seven larger chicks plus one very tiny chick and put them in her new coop. That left my four little girls to themselves in a heated cage. Once I’m back, though, the girls will be my responsibility.
It’s amazing to think that just a week or so ago, the chicks were on a farm somewhere, being raised under heat lamps along with what must have been hundreds of other chicks. Then, someone grabbed a couple dozen of them, put them in a cardboard box and mailed them out. Amy had put together the order with a few other friends since none of them actually wanted two dozen baby chickens. Her share was five chicks.
But after getting seven chicks that were hatched at the elementary school in Saranac Lake, she realized that all seven of them were going to be hens. The school hadn’t sexed the chicks and Amy figured a few of them would be male, and that the extra five mail-order chicks would be used to replace the males of the group. And when all of the original seven turned out to be hens, she asked if I wanted the mail-order chicks, and I said yes.
Getting to see and interact with the chicks has been fun and exciting. I hate to admit it, but I already have a favorite. I don’t know what breeds or varieties they are yet but for some reason the brown speckled chick has grabbed my attention. I don’t want to play favorites with the chickens, but I can’t help it. Luckily, they’re chickens and I don’t think they’ll notice.
Well, there’s finally been a bit of a break in the rain, and even though the bugs are bad and the hammock is soaked, I’m really enjoying sitting outside in the sun. After spending the last couple of weeks cleaning up the yard, I’m about ready to move on to another project. Fortunately and unfortunately, my next project has a deadline of two weeks. That’s when I will be getting chickens, and I’ve got a lot to do before they get here.
During my yard cleanup, I actually dragged something additional into the yard. Back behind the woodshed in the brush was an old trailer with a wooden box built on it. One of the tires was flat and the frame of the trailer is not square, but I pulled the trailer out into the open hoping to find a use for it. The wood of the box is largely rotten and covered in moss, but other than not being square, the trailer is in good shape and when Amy asked if I wanted some chickens, I realized what I could do with the trailer.
I’ve taken care of chickens for friends, and they are not a lot of work. My biggest concern out here is that I am just going to be providing a free meal or four for some predator. Bears, foxes, coyotes, eagles, raccoons, and owls are just some of the predators that could cause me problems. But the chickens will be farm animals, not pets, and if they get eaten, then I will move on with my life. I’ll do my best to provide them with food, water and shelter, but am not going to worry too much about them.
The first thing I’m going to do is to build a fenced in and roofed run for the chicks. They will only be about a month old when I get them from another local couple, and to buy myself some time, the run will be where they spend their days, and the wood shed is where they will sleep. I figure since they won’t be laying eggs anytime soon, I’ll have a week or two after I get them to finish up the coop.
I’ve never built a coop before but have seen enough of them to have a good idea of what I want. That old trailer will make them safe, warm, dry, and mobile. Since the coop will be on wheels, I can move it as often as I want. I’m not sure what I’m going to do this winter, as it will be hard for me to keep them warm. Hay bales and hot rocks might get them through, but if not, I’ll put them out of their misery. I’m looking forward to fresh eggs and the chickens eating lots of bugs. I just hope that they don’t get eaten before I get a chance to eat them myself.
I have a love-hate relationships with the morning. I am a morning person, and like getting up early and maybe even accomplishing a few things before work. On the other hand, I hate getting up. I like lying in bed with the animals and listening to the birds chirp. I like flipping the pillow over to get the cool side one more time before I roll out of bed.
During the winter, it’s easy for me to get a good night’s sleep. The sun goes down before dinner, so by six or so in the evening, I’m ready for bed. I struggle to stay awake, and light every candle and lantern in the cabin to keep myself up so I don’t end up sleeping twelve hours every day. But now it’s tough to go to bed. The sky is light until after nine and the sun is up so early that I’m usually awake before my alarm goes off.
Sometimes getting up early has its benefits. Last week my days off were actually pretty nice. Cool, but at least not rainy. All of the piles of stuff in the yard that I can ignore all winter because they’re covered in snow were in full view, mocking my laziness in cleaning them up. I don’t really need three huge piles of wood in the yard. The bag of returnable bottles from two years ago should probably have been disposed of a long time ago. And the fifteen or so shingles that were left on the porch roof before I rebuilt it actually had grass starting to grow up through them. It was time for my spring cleaning.
I spend most of the winter inside the cabin. Of course I go skiing and snow shoeing and have a social life, but I don’t hang out outside at my cabin all that much. It’s cold and there’s snow everywhere, so being out in the yard is not that much fun. But this week, I made the outside a little more usable doing what normal people call yard work.
That bag of returnable bottles? Re-bagged and donated to charity. The shingles? Bagged and tossed in a proper disposal bin. I could have dragged them up to one of the old dumps, but adding new stuff to the old dumps seems wrong. And as for the three big piles of wood, I cleaned up one of them. The other two are ok, but the one junk wood pile has been bugging me, and now it’s gone. That makes me happy.
I have a huge stack of wood for outside fires in front of my cabin. I have been looking at the same pieces of wood and blue tarps for two years, but the pile is stacked neatly, and it’s too big to move so, I have no choice but to be content with it where it is. The other pile of good firewood for next winter is now sitting in the middle of a large weed-whacked area. It seems out of place, but I’ll soon be building the new wood shed and this stack will be moved under a roof soon enough. But the third pile was the ugly, unwanted bastard of my wood piles.
Rotting stumps, huge pieces of old driftwood, and even some forty year old plywood made up the third pile. There’s still nails in the plywood and after sitting directly on the ground for the last couple years, the wood in this pile was not so choice. I have an outside fire almost every night. It’s a pleasant way to kill a few hours before bed, and also use some of the junk wood and clean it up a little bit. After weed eating around the fire pits last week, I made a concerted effort to get rid of the bonfire pile. Not by having a bonfire, but by cleaning it up.
There’s an old hitching post in the yard that had some old logs stacked in it. I don’t know when the logs were placed there, but when I went to move them I found that they were more soil than wood. I shoveled them out and wheeled it all into the woods. Then I took a couple of old two-by-tens that I had laying around and attached them to the bottom of the hitching post to make a proper wood rack. I pulled the plywood off the bonfire pile and started stacking the wood in the new rack. I was left with three wheelbarrow loads of wood that was too rotten to burn, so back to the woods it went.
I threw an old chain on my chainsaw and ripped the plywood into burnable-sized pieces. I then found an old sheet of tin roofing that was so bent and mangled that it would never sit flat again. I screwed this to the top of the hitching post and stepped back to admire the new wood rack. There’s a big ugly brown circle in the yard where the wood was, but that will be grown over in a year or two.
As I stood there approving of the job I had done, I realized that I had spent the entire morning moving a little firewood about twenty feet. It seemed like a waste of time until the next night. It rained all the next day but cleared up that night. Instead of digging around for dry wood under the rotten and rusty-nail laden plywood, I casually walked up to the new rack and got a few pieces of dry wood for the fire. The irony is that now that the rack is built and the wood neatly stacked, I don’t want to burn the wood anymore. It just looks too nice where it is.