Friday, February 1, 2019

Jason may be out of a job!

Setting the scene: As I type Jason and the older two girls are (hopefully) finish up the carpentry on our back kitchen cabinets and doing the final sanding and clean up. That means I'm home alone with Terah as my afternoon sidekick and she is currently making me play-dough eggs to eat. That will be the level of concentration and reflection that this piece will afford me today!

So January was the month for Jason to build our back kitchen cabinets. As many days as we could free him up to do so, he would head over the Emily and Jonas' garage space in Keezletown where he was able to spread out for such a large project. This has meant that many days he is gone from morning until evening (sometimes after dark) and so it was a good opportunity to shake things up around here a bit in terms of our daily homesteading tasks. I had been getting the hankering to do chores again, as it had been nearly 2 years since I had while Jason was on his 40th birthday trip to see the sandhill crane migration. At that time, I was determined to make it a regular occurrence, but life happened...

But I've been feeling the need for it - the need to feel grounded in the outside world, in what we are doing on this little piece of land, in our partnership with our animals and plants here. So Jason gave me the run down and I did it once...then twice...then three times...and now I'm wanting to do it most days that I'm not headed off to the office. I can see why Jason loves it and why my dad is often eager for a turn at chores when he and mom are upstairs. It's such a wonderful way to start the day!

My daily routine when home now includes the morning chores, the midday letting chickens run with Terah tagging along on my back and then the evening pig supper and collecting eggs, followed by shutting in at dusk. Terah and Alida are always eager to join me for the evening rounds and they are both helping me collect eggs, unless the hens are guarding the nests (then I have to be, or try to be, the brave one!). It feels so good to have three times each day that I definitely get outside and get some movement in. In between those bursts of fresh air is much of the same - cheesemaking, attending to kiddo needs, office/computer work, cleaning, laundry, food preparation, etc...

But here's a glimpse at the morning chore routine as it stands winter 2019. It's much simpler right now as we are at our long point on numbers of chickens (and several pens out of commission until the spring hatching begins) and the cold weather means we aren't fermenting feed so it is just dry feed. Oh, and we only have 2 pigs not 6!

First stop is the garage, where I stir the slop barrels and fill a bucket for the pigs. Recently we have been upping there feed little by little as they communicate with us through urgent grunts their increased levels of hunger - are they pregnant? Or just using more calories keeping warm? Of course, I'm hoping for the first of the two options!! I'm so eager to know if we'll be enjoying piglets in April that I wondered the other day if a human pregnancy test would work on pigs. Thinking about trying to get the test under a stream of pig urine was enough to put that idea out of my mind quickly!

What a pleasure to head out of the garage all bundled up to face the elements and head towards the pigpen with a bucket of "waste products" that are about to be relished! I like to see how near the pigpen I can get before they hear (or smell) me. I can never get all the way there. They are always at the fence grunting expectantly and normally the red one will be salivating by the time I can get the slop in their pans. I have finally gotten smart and I take a dipper so I can put a small amount in the pan to occupy them and then I can pour the rest over the fence. Otherwise, inevitably the red one gets a head covered in slop because she is NOT patient. She doesn't seem to mind but it seems unpleasant!

I normally need to stand there and savor the moment for a bit before heading to the garden shed for the coop mover. They seem so content and to be thriving so well on things that would otherwise be headed for a compost pile at best or a manure pit or the trash at worst. 
Normally the next step is to move the duck coop forward and let the ducks out. I'm letting the ducks out in recent days but there is no chance of moving their coop. It is frozen solid to the ground. I feel kind of bad as the ducks eagerly quack their way into the outdoor world, only to find the ground and their swimming water icy and hard. But they seem to relish that first wing flap of the day - I envision it feels something like a really great full body stretch! Kali will trade places with me once I'm done chores and take care of her ducks so all I do is let them in their outer pen until she comes to feed and water them.

The range pens in the drainfield get moved forward about half a length and the chickens let out into the run. So far, I have never seen a hen come out first. It seems that the rooster of each coop is the designated bird to come into the run first and assess the lay of the land. Then the hens get brave enough to join him, though sometimes his enthusiasm (at times appearing as aggression) at greetings them is a little too much and they retreat until they are ready to come out in numbers. Even at this time of year, they will eagerly find the clumps of grass that still have green growing tips and enjoy their first course of the day.

After moving the coops, I head back to the shed to get the feed and water bucket. With a full bucket of feed (and some cracked corn as a special treat), I head to the water hydrant. Many mornings I'll look out to see Jason standing at the hydrant looking out across our land while the water fills the bucket. It seemed so peaceful and indeed it must have been - as it is for me. Standing there with cold rain water coming into the bucket in abundance, I look out over the mountain in front of me and it is hard to not feel the gratitude coursing through me. I can't say that this is the life I always dreamed of - I didn't necessarily know how much I needed it. But here I am out there feeding our animals and am feeling so fed in the process.
This is my favorite part - opening up the coops and being eagerly received with chicken gratefulness. In a few cases there is an overly eager rooster who can't wait until the food is in the receptacle and snatches some from my scoop on the way in. But for the most part there are murmurs and clucks of anticipation and before long they are normally lined up at the feeder or around the water pan. On these mornings the pans are frozen solid so in a number of coops the birds seem almost more eager for the first drink of the day than they are for the food. I can relate - I often think feeling really thirsty is worse than feeling hungry, and I happily watch them satisfy their thirst!
 Hands down my favorite coop is saved for last - the A-frame compost coop in the woods. What a wonderful place - Jason often laughs that it seems that I might like to live there. That is probably taking things a bit too far but I think I could sit in there and watch the birds for a good long while. Maybe it would not be too bad to be a broody hen in there after all! And we've got one! She's been a great mother hen a few times over and will likely brood the first clutch of eggs of 2019. I'm proud of her restraint as I throw cracked corn around and all the birds flock to it and she just sits tight. I'm not quite as impressed with her when it is time to extract the eggs out from under her. I only do it with gloves - I'm pretty sure she could draw blood.

Yesterday morning I wasn't quite careful enough with the door and when I was going in a hen slipped out the back. Then when I was leaving a rooster got out to join her. I ended up figuring out that was the best scenario as the rooster could protect the hen until I let the rest of the flock out midday. Here's the mischievous pair - I thought it was cute how the hen was peeking around the corner. There was no chance I was even going to try to catch her!

I have no idea how many birds are in that coop but it's so peaceful. What a great place for a chicken to live. These are the Massanuttens, so these are the birds that Jason is breeding for our particular location and my do they fit in well! 
On my way back over to put the buckets away, I visit the pigs one more time to give them some water. Sometimes they are already napping in the sunshine by their house and other days they are still rooting around for the last of their breakfast.
Then it is back to the house to take off some layers and rejoin the girls! I normally leave them at the table eating breakfast and playing a game (and Kali often curled up in the recliner reading to "help her wake up").
When I come back in, breakfast is normally over and they have moved on to any number of other activities! It's a routine that I could get into!!

Speaking of routines, it is after 4 p.m. and I've used up Terah's patience for now and the pigs are waiting for us. So off we go for our afternoon rounds! I'll end here with two videos of my morning rounds. The sounds of contentment in the compost coop and the enthusiastic slurping of the pigs is more than enough thanks from them!

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