On My Favorite Things: Dutch Hex Signs

It’s a week before Thanksgiving, and I am sticking to my plan to share some of my favorite things for the chicken mamas or the homesteaders or the makers out there who read my blog.

This week, I’m featuring Dutch Hex Signs because these signs are fantastic. You can order them for any barn or coop and with any animal on them.

Dutch Hex Sign

When I was looking for the perfect sign for our duck house house last year, I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. Then, I got a recommendation to check out Dutch Hex Signs, and I am over the moon with the little sign for our duck house.

These signs are homemade to order and come in all sizes and feature all farm animals, including chickens, goats, cows, and more. Most importantly, they come with blessings and instructions on how to give your sign your own blessing. I put my duck sign on the duck house last year, and following the directions that came with my sign brought a tear to my eye. I love our ducks so much, and I love that they have a Dutch Hex Sign of protection now. So far, so good! We even adopted an injured duck this summer, and she is doing so well!

You don’t even have to leave your house to get one of these and can order online here. The artist for these signs is a Maine artisan local to me, JJ Starwalker, but she ships all over the country.

If you take a peek at these, you will definitely see why they are among my most favorite things!

And don’t forget to enter to win the chicken tote from my favorite things collection!

On My Favorite Things: A Chicken Tote

It’s not a tote for chickens (but it could be); it’s a tote with a chicken on it–along with a clever phrase. And I love it! It’s one of my most favorite things!

I have always meant to share little bits about my favorite things related to chickens, farming, making, and such, but I could never seem to get this part of my blog going.

But I am determined this holiday season to get it going because I want to promote some fantastic small businesses and makers.

And I’m no Oprah, but I want to share my favorite things this holiday season!

Please note I was not paid in any way to advertise any product you see in my blog. I am too small of a blog, but I just want to share some sweet chicken and homesteading items from small business owners that either make my life easier or just make me smile.

To get things started this year, I am sharing my favorite bag, and it only costs about 15 bucks. This fantastic chicken tote is huge! It’s oversized and in a warm cotton canvas with navy blue writing that I just love. It’s perfect for groceries, books, and just about anything else. It’s so big, I can carry my laptop, snacks for the kiddo, winter hats, and books–and I still have room!

chicken bag

If you live in Maine, you can get your own at my most favorite local grocer, Tiller & Rye. Tiller & Rye is located in Brewer, Maine, and sells organic and local food straight from Maine farms. It is also a woman-owned business, and I love this place.

If you do not live in Maine, you are in luck! I am doing a give-a-way with this lovely bag. You can enter a drawing up to three times. All you have to do is follow this blog (one entry), share this blog on Facebook (one entry), or follow my new Instagram page, @farmerishmaine (one entry). You can enter up to three times!

I’m going to run the contest until the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 2019, at which time I will hold an drawing and announce the winner on my Facebook page Pajamas, Books & Chickens and my new Instagram page!

The winner will also be contacted directly, and I will ship out the bag with free shipping, of course, the next day!

I am hoping to kick off my Favorite Things season in style! And if you are a maker or a small business and are interested in being featured, just drop me a line. I’ll order a sample of what you have, and we’ll see!

On Life and Death on the Farm

My farmer’s tan is fading, so I know fall is upon us. I love fall in Maine, it’s the most special time of year to me, but I don’t know if I feel it in the same way others may. I love Halloween and everything orange. I love apple cider and pumpkin cookies. I love the leaves and the beautiful colors. Oh, how I love the colors in Maine in the fall!

But there’s something even more meaningful to me about fall. Perhaps it’s because I struggle a bit with depression in the long Maine winters or perhaps it’s because the fall is just a reminder to me of another cycle of life—the life, the death, the rebirth of Nature—but I always feel deeply poignant about this time of year.

This year I feel that even more so. This was very tough summer for me on the farm. We experienced a lot of death. The first chickens we got five years ago are aging and from a hatchery (before I understood what that really meant), and we lost several of our original flock this year.

Those were my original chickens, each one so special to me and each one responsible for changing my life. I became a farmer when those baby chicks arrived at the post office. I spoke into the box to tell them I was their mama, and I have never looked back. I honestly can’t imagine myself ever not being a small farmer of some kind. Even when I’m 80, I’m going to have at least a couple of chickens.

Still, I struggled this summer. It was losing Poe that just knocked me down, but it was Poe’s death on top of so much death that took a toll on me that I just didn’t even fully understand.

A few weeks ago, I had a health scare. I was so stressed about life and also still feeling quite down from Poe’s death. It seems the stress got to me a little too much.

My health scare was powerful enough to make me begin to reevaluate everything. I thought I was having a mini stroke; I thought I might be leaving my boys without a mama. Thankfully, it seems the episode was due to some severe stress and some possible dehydration after too many days picking from the garden in the hot sun and was not a mini stroke. Still, ultimately, I think it was a life changer for me.

Living on a farm often has me thinking about my own place in the cycle of life. I used to be an agnostic, maybe even an atheist. I had grown up with a version of Christianity that was scary, stressful, and judgmental, and if that was God, I didn’t want any part of it. But living on a little farm and living so close to Nature, coupled with a deep study of science, helped me find God on my own terms and in my own way, and what a wonderful thing that has been for me.

But my little health scare and the death toll this summer had me thinking extra long and hard about my mortality and my place in the world. One of things I do as a farmer is raise our own chickens. I am with these chickens from the time they are chosen as an egg to the time of their death. It’s a powerful thing to experience, and it becomes difficult for me to separate myself emotionally from these amazing animals. When each one is a miracle to you, how do you keep eating meat? How do you not mourn them when they pass?

After so much loss this summer and my struggle with it, I began thinking that maybe I would need to stop being a farmer. I have been having a hard time eating meat and have struggled with some vitamin deficiencies because of it. I wondered if I was tough enough to do this job. What kind of toll was all of this taking on me?

Still, part of me can’t imagine my life without these animals, and there’s so much joy and learning as well. There’s nothing more magnificent to me than observing a new mama hen with her brand-new babies. She’s so nurturing, so focused on doing her job and doing it well. And what a little miracle those babies are, struggling to pip their way out of that shell. It’s beautiful to see Nature in action like this.

I have learned so much about the cycles of life and death that I have no doubt I am a better human. In the grand scheme of things, our journey on this planet is so short. I have learned that I want to devote my life to being kind to both people and animals in as much capacity as I have at any given moment. With that kindness comes great rewards but also great pain, and some of that pain comes when I lose one of our animals.

So I have decided that the pain is worth it, that I am a good chicken keeper, that our chickens have really good lives where they are deeply respected, and that they deserve to be mourned.

If I have to be the one to mourn them, so be it.

Plus, I feel I grow wiser with each passing year, and that’s so important to me. Living on a farm can pack your life quite full of life lessons if you are willing to learn them. I think I am.

One night, my little boy, who just turned ten, was asking me about my death. He was worried about what would happen when I died. First, I told him to try not to worry too much because I planned to live a long time.

“I have much to learn from this life, so I have to stay awhile,” I told him.

Then, he asked me if I wanted to be buried and if I wanted a headstone. I told him I would like to be buried in a natural way, so my body would go back to the Earth and that I didn’t need a stone. But if he needed me to have a stone, then he should get one.

He asked if I wanted to be a tree, and I told him that would be great.

“What if we bury you on a hill at the base of a tree with lots of grass with no casket and a view of the sunset?” he asked.

“That would be awesome,” I said.

“Then, I am going to put this quote on your headstone: ‘Love yourself no matter who you are. Signed, the Chicken Lady.'”

On Ana Maria or How to Heal a Grumpy Duck

After Poe died, I wanted to give myself time to grieve. I wanted to not take on anything more for awhile, but the universe, as it often seems to, had a plan for me. There are times I feel like I would be thankful to take a break from all of the lessons life has to teach me.

I’m slow. Let me process these lessons. But, sometimes, there is just no time.

I have an amazing farmer friend who wrote me shortly after Poe died asking if we would be interested in taking on an Indian Runner duck who had been injured by the flock. We have six Indian Runner ducks, and I love them to the moon and back. In fact, our one male, Antonio, is very much like a dog to me. He will come running from anywhere and everywhere when he hears my voice and loves to be pet and just sit at my feet.

Last winter, we had rehabilitated one of our female ducks, Ana Sophia, from a broken leg injury. It was no easy task. It took two months and lots of care for her to heal. During that two months, we found out that Ana Sophia loves cello, and during those two months, Ana Sophia became my friend. At first, she was upset about living in the guest bathroom, but it didn’t take long for her to find her groove. She would hang out with us almost all day, listening to classical music and listening while our son played cello. When she started laying eggs each morning in her little nest basket, I would make a fuss over her, and she would be so proud. She purred. I knew chickens could purr. I didn’t know ducks could.

Ana Sophia was just that kind of experience.

When my friend told me about her injured duck, I thought I could surely do it again. We had worked a miracle healing little Ana Sophia, and since Ana Sophia had moved on and let me go when she moved out to live with her people again, I thought I could go for that feeling of closeness with an animal again, especially after losing Poe.

The day I was set to pick up the injured duck, my friend wrote me to prepare me for the duck’s condition. She was not in good shape. She had been extremely over-mated, and though she was doing better overall, she had been through some extreme trauma. She had lost most of her scalp, and her eyes had been buried behind injury and scabs.

I’m not going to lie. I was feeling nervous. I have cared for many chickens over the years, but I had only ever healed one duck. I was worried I was in over my head but was determined about this, especially when I found out the duck’s name—Ana Maria. This had to be meant to be.

When I went to my friend’s farm to meet Ana Maria, I was a little taken aback at what I saw. My friend had tried to prepare me, but it was still a lot to take in. Ana Maria’s skin was growing back, but her eyes were tight and pulled up too high on her head. They didn’t sit where duck eyes should sit due to the shortage of skin on the scalp. Her feathers were missing and broken in many places, and when I picked her up, I could feel her bones. She was thin, very thin, just like Poe at the end, and I cried holding Ana Maria in my arms.

I think I cried out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to help her, but I also cried out of sadness that this maybe felt too much like Poe. The pain from losing Poe was still very raw. Surprisingly, it still is.

But her name was Ana Maria, and she seemed to feel safe in my arms. I could only move forward.

I stayed awhile on my friend’s farm, and Ana Maria rested in my arms the whole time. It’s like she felt safe with me, and I thought we could do this. We could do this together.

And I would love to tell you that I took Ana Maria home and she continued to love me and trust me and let me help her heal, but this is not that kind of story.

Ana Maria was weak and seemed to appreciate the cool bath and fresh food on the first day. She ate some treats, and though she was cautious about me, she seemed to trust me, which felt like a kind of miracle since Indian Runners are so suspicious and cautious. However, as soon as Ana Maria got some strength from eating well for a couple of days, she decided it was time to give me hell.

Of course, I didn’t blame her. She had been through so much trauma, and here I was expecting her to move into our house and go along with everything I was doing to her—cleaning her eyes, checking her skin, moving her from our bathtub to her nest basket. She came to hate all of it.

She hissed and bit and made as much of a scene as should could any time she could. Thankfully, duck bites do not hurt too badly, but they do not feel good. My right arm was covered in bruises from Ana Maria bites, and I was worn. Of course, I would never give up on her, and, of course, I understood all of it, but it was taking a toll.

Still, even though she was letting me have it, she was healing very well.

We put her on high protein food, and after about a week of cleaning her eyes, her bubble eye healed. One of her eyes dropped down to its normal position and then the other. Her little strip of feathers and skin on her head were spreading, and most importantly, she was gaining weight. When I picked her up, she felt thin but not boney. We were making progress, despite Ana Maria’s protests, but I had to figure out something that was going to be emotionally less stressful for Ana Maria. She has a wild spirit, and the guest bathroom just wasn’t cutting it for her.

Ana Maria
This is Ana Maria after her eyes dropped down into better positions. When we first got her, I said to my husband, “When she heals, she will be beautiful.” And he said, “she already is.”

So I wrote my friend and asked to borrow the giant dog crate Ana Maria had been living in. My friend is wonderful and said yes. When I went to pick up the crate, she had filled it with fresh straw, and I had a fresh plan.

My husband had built a temporary fence next to our fenced duck area, and we put Ana Maria and her crate out there. Part of me felt nervous. Our chickens and ducks live in nice, sturdy houses because we worry about predators. We live on the edge of the Maine woods, so I was worried about putting Ana Maria in the crate at night. But she would be inside a fence, and the crate was big, plastic, and sturdy. Plus, Ana Maria would be able to safely play outside all day on the grass, under the trees, and inside that fence. It seemed like the best plan—for both me, who was wearing down, and Ana Maria, who hated being in the house.

Thankfully, it worked! Ana Maria has continued to heal, and most days, I get one of our females to hang out with Ana Maria. Ana Maria loves the duck company. And, importantly, through seeing how our ducks act toward me, I think Ana Maria is learning to trust me some. I still have to pick her up every night to go to bed in her crate, and there have been no more bites. Hopefully, in about a month, she will be well enough to move in with the rest of the ducks. In the meantime, we are learning each other’s ways.

Sometimes, you have to love on someone else’s terms, to let them be who they are, not who you need them to be. Ana Maria is a good reminder of that for me.

But here’s the best part: One day last week, when I took one of our females over to visit with Ana Maria, the female duck got into Ana Maria’s pool and just played and splashed and enjoyed herself in the sunlight. Ana Maria had never done this. She drank the water from the pool but never got in. I saw Ana Maria watching the scene closely.

Then, not ten minutes later, I looked outside to see Ana Maria in her little pool. She was ducking her head in and out of the water, and I watched the water roll off of her back in the sunlight. It was the first time I had seen Ana Maria enjoying herself. Ana Maria was playing, and, I thought to myself, “boy, doesn’t she deserve that?”

The moment filled me with joy and hope. And don’t I deserve that?

On Grief for My Poe

Today, it has been seven days since I lost my Poe. It’s not been easy, but I cry a little less each day. It’s the little things that get to me, like finding the rest of her grapes (Poe loved grapes) in the back of the refrigerator last night. When I saw the grapes, I closed the refrigerator door, sat down in the kitchen floor, and decided to cry my eyes out all over again.

Part of me feels strange and kind of guilty for indulging in my grief over Poe. Many people would say, “It’s just a chicken,” but, of course, I’m not “many people.” I’ve always been a highly empathetic person (which is no fun I am telling you), and I’ve always been able to connect to animals.

Somehow, however, I had one of the deepest connections I have ever felt with an animal to Poe. Losing her feels very much like when I lost my best dog and best friend of 13 years in 2009. I was inconsolable. I feel similarly now.

I thought the mornings would be the hardest part, but they are not. I was in the habit during the last two weeks of Poe’s care of waking up each morning to see if she was still alive. It was stressful. I would always find her alive, sometimes surprised about that fact, but it was stressful and took a toll on me over the two weeks she was in the house with us. I do not miss that, that fear.

It’s the evenings that are the hardest for me. Each night, after I finished my work, I would scoop Poe up from her little basket and snuggle her until her bed time. I just tried to bond with her as much as I could with the time I had. In the first nights, I read her poem to her, several times, and each time I would get to the ending about Poe flying with the raven, through my tears, I would tell Poe it was okay to let go.

But a few days before she passed, I thought she might actually be making some progress. My husband mentioned that Poe’s theme poem should be “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight,” so I read that one to her. The night before she died, I had the audacity to ask her not to let go, to try to stay with me. But, as we all know, the universe can be both wonderful and cruel.

Our little family had a small service for Poe the day she passed. My husband dug a grave for her and found a good stone. I painted and lacquered the stone, and my kind neighbor brought a bouquet of flowers for Poe from her garden. My husband read Poe’s poem, and we said goodbye to her amidst the mosquitoes (it’s been a really tough year for mosquitoes here in Maine).

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Part of me had this urge to figure out some way to make the pain of the loss go away. My husband was experiencing it too, so that helped. Yet I still wanted to just feel better. The grief was running deep, more than I have ever felt for any of our chickens. Poe was super special to me. We just connected.

I have been devastated the last three summers because every Poe egg we hatched under a broody hen or in an incubator was a boy, and we don’t have a large enough flock for two roosters. Thankfully, I found all of the boys good homes because Poe’s babies were just so special. Still, I really, really wanted a hen from her, to keep her line going. Each summer, I would be hopeful for the longest time because Easter Eggers as a breed (Poe was an Easter Egger chicken) are difficult to sex. With our other chickens, I can tell at about a week or so if we have hens or roos, but I couldn’t sex Poe’s babies until later. Maybe some of it was denial, now than I think about it.

But I would be so sad every time I would realize we had a little Poe boy, and I would have to find him a home. So I had this urge to contact one of people who took Poe’s boy and ask them for a fertilized egg. I figured it might make me feel less sad if I had one of Poe’s grandbabies.

I realized, however, that I just needed to let myself grieve for Poe. It was painful losing her, and I needed to feel the pain in order to more properly heal. I have dealt with pain in the past by pretending it wasn’t there and doing things to divert my attention from it. It never works out well in the long run.

And then I read this quote by author Martin Precthel, which affirmed my thinking on my grief: “Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.”

In this way, I could see that my grief for Poe was important, necessary, and beautiful.

Additionally, after sharing the obituary I wrote for Poe on my site, I was surprised by the outpouring of support I received. It did my heart so much good to know so many people were reading about Poe. My post went a little viral, and I am more thankful than I can express that thousands of people from all over the world were able to read Poe’s story and know her a little.

I received so many messages and comments that have helped me so much. I had people write to tell me they see chickens differently now. That’s the best I could hope for with my writing, I think.

But my favorite comment came on my blog post. One person wrote that I should look for Poe, that I would see her. I wrote back that I told Poe I would do this. I told Poe to find me, that I would be looking for her.

The day after Poe died, I was taking my son to cellos lessons. As we pulled out of our long, gravel driveway, I looked up at the trees and said to myself, “If Poe is with me, I will see a raven.”

I should explain the raven. In Poe’s poem, at the end, our Poe, the chicken who wants to fly so badly, ends up flying with a raven. I should add that we have only rarely seen a raven in our neighborhood. I think four times in the last three to four years.

As I drove down the road with my son, we made it about a quarter mile when a huge, magnificent raven flew out of the trees, flew above the car, back to one side and then back over the car to the trees on the other side of the road. I was so shocked and moved that I had to pull over.

My son wondered what was going on. “What’s wrong, mama?” he asked while I cried. So I told him what I had just said to myself.

He said, “Mama, either that’s the biggest coincidence in the world, or Poe is with you.”

 

On Poe: An Obituary

Poe Sands

 

April 2016 – July 2019

Easter Egger Chicken, Grape Eater, Intelligent and Curious Soul, Dear Friend

Poe passed away today from complications related to ovarian cancer, a cancer common in laying hens who have been bred to be heavy layers, but Poe was much more than a good layer of beautiful light-green eggs; she was a highly intelligent, proud chicken who marched to the beat of her own drum; she was an independent thinker; she was a helper in the garden; she was a care taker for all misfit chickens on Sands End farm; and she was a good friend to our family.

Poe came to live with us via the United States Postal Service. She came to our family early in 2016 as a “surprise” chicken in an order of Ranger chickens. She was a little black fuzzball in a sea of brown and cream, so she was special from the first day we met her.

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For many months after she arrived, Poe’s breed was unknown, but she stood out as an unusual hen early on. When other chickens came along who needed someone with them, as chickens shouldn’t be raised alone, Poe was our go-to hen for babysitting new babies or anyone who was injured and had to be temporarily separated from the coop. In fact, Poe helped raise our Welsummer rooster, Rooster, who just so happens to be awesome as well. In the moments of Poe’s death, Rooster crowed and crowed, loudly and sorrowfully, though he could not see her.

Poe came to be known for her quest for flight. She could fly higher and longer than any other chickens on the farm, and, as such, she came and went as she pleased for most of her life. Poe could be found in the garden helping dad by eating the grubs, in the backyard scoping out grubs and bugs, or in the duck area, eating the ducks’ food while they quacked and complained. Sometimes, Poe would fly out of her very large chicken yard, just to visit and hang out–or ask for some grapes, her favorite food. Poe would never say no to a grape, even in the end. Interestingly, even though Poe could have, she never left our farm. She seemed too intelligent to leave the safety of her home.

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In the last year of her life, as flying became more difficult, I would let her out of the chicken area in the morning, so she could have her alone time. Poe would fly back to the chicken area when she was ready. But Poe was always a bit different and a bit of a loner in the flock.

Poe’s major accomplishments included eating almost the entire row of broccoli plants in our garden in 2018, being the mother of four baby boys, who have turned out to be good roosters, and having a poem written about her, which was published in 2017. It is the best poem in the history of chicken poems, and I would argue one of the best children’s poems ever written. It captured the spirit of our Poe, and what a monumental task that was!

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In the last week of her life, Poe decided she didn’t want to be alone. She moved into the garage where she decided to be a squatter in the crate with our broody hen, Nugget, who didn’t seem to mind having a roommate while she sat on her eggs. When the babies hatched, Poe came to live in the house permanently.

In the last few days of her life, Poe fought valiantly to live, having some good days and bad days but, overall, doing all that was in her power to live longer. Three days before she died, she ate and drank almost normally and got to spend some time in the garden. But she could walk just a little, scratch just a little, and tired quickly. Still, that night, as she was being put to bed, she held her beautiful tail up straight and proud, something she had not been able to do in quite some time. For a moment, I had some hope that Poe may recover, but it was not meant to be. Despite her powerful will to live, her little body was sick and very tired.

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Poe passed away this morning, July 21, in my arms, showered in my tears, and surrounded by our family, who also shed many tears for such a special chicken. In the end, she knew she was deeply loved.

Poe will be forever remembered for making only rooster babies (not one single baby girl), for her flying, for inspiring poetry, and for teaching this human just how very intelligent chickens are. In my years of keeping chickens, I have met many intelligent birds, and they all have their own ways of being intelligent. But there was something special about Poe with her curiosity that seemed, to this human, to be so very human like. We were able to connect with one another. She was like my familiar, and I loved her.

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Poe will always be remembered by me as the one who taught me more than, perhaps, I wanted to know. Poe changed things, and I will never be the same. Poe was also, then, a great teacher.

Poe will be laid to rest with a stone marker on the Sands End farm. A small service will be held in her honor, and poetry will be read for her.

In lieu of flowers and donations, to honor Poe, please buy humanely-raised eggs. “Cage free” means nothing, so please look for the humanely-raised label on your eggs. Better yet, if possible, buy your eggs from a local farmer. You will pay a little more, for sure, but chickens are beautiful, intelligent, complex little beings and deserve good lives while they are here. Poe would want you to know that.

                                                 She wasn’t quite just a chicken,

                                                and maybe more than a crow,

                                                but it’s said she’s been seen with a raven,

                                                the flying black chicken named Poe.

~from “The Black Chicken Named Poe”

by R. James Sands

in Why the Moon Tumbled Out of Sky

 

On Duck Eggs–Or the Best Boiled Eggs Ever

If you’ve never had a boiled duck egg, the only way I can describe it is that it’s like a regular egg and butter got together and made the most decadent egg in the world.

Last year, we got six Indian Runner ducks for our homestead, five girls and a boy, and they recently started laying. It was a long, icy winter, so they didn’t lay for awhile. After one duck, Ana Sophia, hurt her leg and had become our house guest for a couple of months, she started to lay. When she recently went back outside, I thought we would surely lose our duck eggs–and for a few days we did.

But, then, something awesome happened. Ana Sophia started to lay again–and then everyone else followed suit! We are now getting five duck eggs almost every day.

While duck eggs are fantastic for baking, we have discovered that a boiled duck egg is a treat that should be enjoyed. If you have access to duck eggs, here are the instructions for the most fantastic boiled egg ever!

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Ingredients

duck eggs

water

salt

pepper

Instructions

Place your duck eggs in a pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, and as soon as the water begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat. Cover and let stand for 12 minutes. You will want to adjust your time depending on how you like your boiled eggs, but 12 minutes seems to provide a medium to well-done boiled egg.

Drain the hot water and add water and ice to cool the eggs. Wait until the eggs are cool enough to touch.

Peel the eggs. You will find that fresh duck eggs peel easier than fresh chicken eggs, which is a nice perk. Peeling boiled fresh chicken eggs is a challenge for sure!

Cut your eggs in half, and salt and pepper to your taste. Using course salt and freshly-ground pepper makes this special treat even more special, in my opinion.

Enjoy this decadent treat.

Then, be thankful for ducks!

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This is Ana Sophia while she was our temporary house guest/patient.

*Please note that duck eggs are truly decadent. They have more fat and protein that chicken eggs, so I recommend them in moderation. Still, if you haven’t tried one and love eggs, they’re a must!

On a Tale of Two Great Pyrenees

On our little farmer-ish homestead, we have two Great Pyrenees that we love to the moon and back. These dogs are just beyond amazing, so intelligent, so stubborn, so loyal, such good friends. We have a female and a male.

Boudica, named for the Celtic warrior queen, is truly a warrior–and also a nana. Yes, that’s her. She is a warrior nana. She is fierce in a way I can’t explain but so sweet and loving at the same time. She protects everyone inside and outside of the house, from chickens to children. She even helped teach Gus how to behave with the chickens and ducks. She is a remarkable being.

Gus, short for Prosatagus, named for Queen Boudica’s husband, really enjoys life. I don’t know how else to put it. He really enjoys life. He smells the flowers, looks at the clouds, and loves to snuggle.

An incident happened last week that that just crystallized for me the beauty of these two dogs and the way they approach their lives.

Our ducks had a hawk visitor last week, and it was scary. The ducks live right near our house, but this hawk still swooped in. I was sitting at the breakfast table when I saw something swoop in right in front of our window. I ran to the back door just in time to see a hawk land in a low branch, not 15 feet from our house.

My Beautiful Antonio
This is our male duck, Antonio. He is a fantastic duck, and I really had no idea just how awesome ducks are. I love these ducks way too much!

The ducks were terrified, and I turned to them, quickly counting to make sure we had six still. We did, thankfully. When I turned back toward the hawk, it was gone. I was relieved but so worried about its possible return.

As I stepped back into the house, I was met at the door by Boudica. She was upset and anxious to get outside. She ran out barking, doing her perimeter check immediately. Then, she came around to where the ducks were and sat herself right in front of the duck house. She sat there forever. I finished breakfast, graded some papers; she was still there.

Boudica Guards
This is Boudica guarding. She’s very focused, always so alert.

She sat there for close to many hours, until well into the afternoon, protecting the ducks.

At some point, I had to go upstairs for something, and that’s where I found Gus. He was snuggled up in our quilt, settled into to a lovely nap, with not a care in world, just a squinty smile that he always gives, the one that says, “mama, come snuggle me.”

Gus's Nap
And this is Gus how I found him that morning. Life is good.

I sat down with him and snuggled. I could relax with Gus. I have Boudica.

On Helping Homesteaders: How You Can Help People and Animals Impacted by the California Fires This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, my husband and I decided to do something a little different. We are homesteaders, and we had a really good year in our harvest overall. So we decided our Thanksgiving dinner this year would be a celebration of our harvest.

We haven’t raised turkeys, so we’re having one of the chickens we raised instead. And instead of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, we’re having potatoes, corn, beans, homemade bread, and berry pies frozen during summer’s harvest. It’s a celebration of what we grew and raised.

I am amazingly blessed our family is able to raise chickens, ducks, and a bountiful organic garden that helps to feed our family for much of the year. We eat well above our station thanks to the amazing work of my husband and a lot of work from myself as well. We eat healthy, delicious food, and our little homestead helps support our family all year.

I have been feeling especially blessed because I have been reading in online homesteading groups about the people who have lost their chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, horses, dogs, and more in the wildfires that have destroyed so many people’s homes in California. Their stories are powerful and devastating. I’ve seen posts of women who are distraught and in tears because she had to leave her chickens. She is thankful to be alive but devastated by her loss. I read another story about a woman who was trying shove as many animals as she could in her car as she quickly worked to escape the fire. I read the story of a woman mourning her horse so deeply. I read about a woman who was mourning her land. If your land sustains you, it is especially devastating to lose it, I would think. You can read an overview of some of the impact this fire is having on people and their animals in this news article from CNN.

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Photo Credit: Vadim Fomenok, Unsplash

These stories are heart wrenching, and reading them made me think I would like to try to help my fellow homesteaders in California in addition to donating to a general help fund.

I’ve been reading in the news about places we can go to make general donations to help those affected by the fires in California, and I have some links I can share below. I have done my best to make sure these are reliable sources, but please do your due diligence as well and only donate to organizations you feel you can trust.

But, if you can donate some, it’s a good thing to do. I have read stories of a lot of people asking for help to support local rescues operations.

I have sometimes worried that maybe I just can’t donate enough to help, but I think we all have to remember that every little bit counts. It’s what my husband and I say to each every day.

Every little bit counts.

Even if we all just did a little bit, you know it would add up fast.

Here are some links to places you can help those with animals or people working to rescue and support animals in the wild fire area:

Hold Your Horses Livestock Emergency Evacuation *This is a link to a Facebook page, so you would need a Facebook account to see this organization and their fundraisers. If you have trouble following this link, you can just search for the organization by name on Facebook.

North Valley Animal Disaster Group *As of last week, they had taken in over 1,400 animals, including alpacas, turkeys, ducks, and more.

Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control *As of last week, they had taken in 815 animals, and 550 of them were horses.

Butte County Humane Society *This organization is working to reunite people with the animals and has started a pet food and supply pantry.

And if you want to make donations to general help, this link takes you to a donation page for Public Good where you can choose from several reputable and important organizations to donate to.

 

On Molting: Tips to Help You and Your Chickens Make It Through the Molt

It’s that time of year when chicken owners of older flocks are telling sad stories about how they aren’t getting any eggs because their hens are molting.

I am one of those people.

Most of my girls are going on four years old, are molting like crazy—and not laying eggs. We have 27 hens, 20 who are laying age, and, some days, we get 3 eggs. It’s enough to make this chicken mama cry.

Photo credit: Christina Siracusa, Unsplash

Before I got chickens, I didn’t even know that chickens molted. Many new chicken owners may not know that during the fall months, most chickens, who are over a year old, will molt. This means they lose many of their feathers and replace their feathers with fresh new ones.

Although a good hard molt can look both comical and sad and the same time, molting is actually a healthy and important part of a chicken’s life cycle. Your chickens get new, sturdy feathers just in time for winter. And the break they take from egg laying may be good for them as well.

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This is my majestic Poe coming out of a hard molt. She looks a little rough still. Thankfully, she has her tail back at this point. She looked so sad without her tail feathers!

But if you’re like me and love to eat and share farm fresh eggs, you may find yourself giving your girls pep talks at night when you close them up—and, eventually, those pep talks will turn into begging. “Girls, let’s please aim for just six eggs tomorrow. Six. You can do it!”

When the begging doesn’t work, take heart. You are not alone, and there are some things you can do to help make the molt a little easier on your hens and yourself.

1. Keep in mind that your hens will not lay during the molt, and this is perfectly normal. Their little bodies are too busy making feathers to lay eggs. Be prepared for fewer eggs for some time. The time it takes for a hen to molt will vary. Sources say it can take anywhere between 10 and 16 weeks. I have found that most of my girls take closer to the longer end of that range. Fun!

2. Your chickens will first lose their feathers and then grow new ones. When the new ones are coming in, these pin feathers can be uncomfortable to the touch for your chickens. If you are a chicken snuggler, it’s best to give your chickens a break from snuggling when those pin feathers are coming in. You may even find that your chickens are grumpier when their pin feathers are coming in. I know this has been the case with our chickens.

3. Do not put chicken sweaters on your chickens when they are molting. You may feel so worried about how cold they are, but you do not want to put pressure on the feathers when those pin feathers come in. Sweaters at this stage would be painful for your chickens.

4. If you have a hen who went broody, raised chicks, and molted, she will not do another molt in the fall.

5. Although you do not want to keep your chickens on feed that is too high in protein for too long, switching to a good quality, high protein feed during the molt can help with the feather regrowth. We choose not to do this and just opt for high-protein treats instead, as our chickens never seem to molt at the same times.

6. In terms of treats, think high protein. Meal worms are great, as are black oil sunflower seeds.

7. Some people add some light to their coops to during the short days of winter, which will impact molting and overall egg production. Some, however, argue against adding light and that the rest for your hens is best. If you do choose to add light, do it gradually and in the morning. You should set your lights on a timer and should add just 15 minutes of light per week. Just be sure that your chickens still get some dark and rest at night. We used to add light but do not anymore. You can read about our decision to stop adding light in my post from last year.

Ultimately, I have found that the molt seems harder on us than it is on our chickens. It’s a normal, healthy process for them, though those pin feathers do not look fun. But our chickens end up with new, strong feathers, which will help them through the cold winter.

The shortage of eggs, however, makes me sad every day. I’m way too spoiled! Thankfully, so far this year, I have been able to avoid the “walk of shame” when chicken keepers have to purchase eggs at the grocery store and stare sadly at the carton of eggs all the way to the check out.

But I’ve been there!