On Tragedy, Tom Petty, and a Chicken Named Mary Jane

I’ve tried many times in my life to be a vegetarian. I’ve failed every time. One time, I did make it about 9 months, but I gave into the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten.

But I don’t like the way our food industry treats animals, so my husband and I started our own little backyard homestead, where we raise the biggest vegetable garden we can manage, chickens for eggs, and, yes, chickens for meat. That last part is hard on our hearts–always.

October 2, 2017 was the biggest day of chicken processing we’ve ever had. It takes a lot to get ready for it, and you have get ready for it mentally as well. For me, it’s a day when I start thinking a whole lot about death, what it means to be human, the ethics of eating meat, and my own mortality.

So when we woke up early that morning to the news about the tragedy in Las Vegas, I wondered if I would be able to hold up. For me, the worst part of the mass shooting is I have no hope that our country is ever going to do anything to try to stop this, so that hopelessness, which hurts so badly, kicks in and wears me out.

But there’s so much prep that goes into chicken processing I knew we had to proceed and that I would have to suck it up and be tough. I feel everything so deeply (not something that I like about myself because life is not fun this way for sure), but I can be tough when I have to be. I knew I would need to be tough. It would be much worse to put off processing the chickens.

It always starts the same. It’s easier at first. My husband, Ron, is careful, quick, and kind, and the chickens don’t know what’s going on. But, as their numbers start to dwindle, the chickens get suspicious. It gets harder to catch them. They fight against being caught–and rightly so. And, so my mind turns to heavy thoughts, and I start wanting to keep some chickens, even though I completely understand that the chickens we’re processing are a type of chicken that may not have a long normal chicken life.

But, still, it’s always the same. I start hinting around about saving some of the last ones, keeping some, the ones who have made it. People can say what they want, but I know the chickens know what’s going on, at least on some level, even though we try to hide it from them. My husband always makes me be practical. We don’t have the room. Meat birds don’t live very long lives anyway, usually.

But October 2 would be different.

While my husband worked on the next chicken, I had a few minutes for a break, so I went to my computer and checked Facebook. It was then I discovered Tom Petty had passed away. I just stared for a long time, and then the tears came. It was too much for one day, I thought. I loved Tom Petty. My husband did too. I went out to tell him.

“Tom Petty died today,” I said.

“What?!” he asked.

“I just read online that Tom Petty died today.”

There was a long silence as my husband continued his work. I knew he was sad, and I felt heartbroken, but we continued our work. I can’t even tell you how much I loved my husband in that moment. My heart was so broken, and I could tell he was really sad too. He got it. He got how important Tom Petty was, and my husband would become even more awesome to me that afternoon.

After a while, the conversation came up. We had just a couple of chickens left, and the last one was a little girl. She had eluded capture all day, and she was worried for sure. I hinted that we could really use another layer, and, that day, my husband agreed. I heard him ask our son, should we save this last one to be a layer? He’s eight, so, of course, he said yes. I was happy. And I really needed some happy that day.

Mary Jane
This is our Mary Jane hanging out with our sweet rooster, Rooster. She’s doing a pretty good job of fitting into the flock, even though she’s still kind of an outsider. I think Rooster loves her though.

Her name is Mary Jane, and she’s a beautiful, wild, mistrustful little hen. It’s been a little over two weeks, and just this week, she started coming for treats with the rest of the chickens. I love her already, and I am so thankful for Mary Jane and that little bit of happiness that came at the end of such a tough day.

Mary Jane doesn’t know it (But maybe she does. After all, who am I to say?), but she’s going to have the best little chicken life a chicken can have. She doesn’t let me pet her yet, but I’ll keep working on that.

Mary Jane’s last dance will, hopefully, be many years from now. Tom Petty’s music touched so many people’s lives in so many ways, and on the day he died, he touched our family so much that Mary Jane lived.

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On Preparing Your Chickens for Winter

It’s that time of year. This chicken water froze last night, and our hens are laying fewer eggs than before. There’s some molting going on, and the days are getting shorter. I saw a post on a chicken Facebook forum that read “Let the freeloading begin.”

I had to giggle. Thinking about our girls as little freeloaders. I mean, they’re certainly spoiled and very demanding. I can’t even walk out the front door without them running up and whining for a treat. But they do give us a delicious breakfast every morning, and with all the research about how beneficial eggs are to our diets, I think it’s okay if we have to support our girls a little as they molt and adjust to light changes. They can be little freeloaders if they need to be.

But fall and fewer eggs is a good reminder that we have to get our flock ready for the winter, and after making it through three winters so far with our backyard flock, I have some helpful tips from the lessons we learned based on both experience and lots of research online and in books.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 11.07.16 AM

Our Rhode Island Reds were a little worried about their very first snow. They had a lot of hesitation, but, pretty soon, they were having a great time playing. We’ve since learned that putting down leaves from the fall helps so much!

1. Handling molting

If your girls are molting, they will lay fewer eggs, so try not to panic if you see egg production drop down suddenly right now. While they molt, it’s a good idea to give them some extra treats for their health. Protein is good, and sunflower seeds are a nice treat and can help their little bodies as they go through the molt.

2. Thinking about light

You can supplement with light as the days get very short. This will keep your egg production from completely plummeting because chickens do need light to produce eggs. However, be aware that light supplementation means your hens won’t get the rest that their bodies need. We used to supplement with light, but we will not anymore. In my three years of keeping chickens, I’m learning just how hard egg laying is on their little bodies. Sure, chickens were evolved to lay eggs but not so many. That’s human intervention. So our girls are getting a rest, but if you need to supplement with light for food or financial reasons, be sure to use safe lighting, just a 25 watt bulb and keep that bulb away from feathers and bedding.

3. Keeping clean, fresh water

When it starts to get really cold, water will freeze, so you really, really have to stay on top of the water thing. Some people get heaters for the water. That is a great idea. We have an insulated coop, plus the girls put out a lot of heat, so we haven’t had to use a water heater. However, a water heater would work best if you don’t have enough warmth in your coop. And you have to make sure the water is fresh and clean every single day. Even during the winter, clean water really is the most important ingredient to chicken health.

4. Preventing chicken boredom

Be aware of chicken boredom in the winter months because it’s a real thing and will cause your girls to be mean to each other. Your chickens could get hurt. Our girls go from free ranging everywhere to only having their coop, a run, and some paths my husband shovels. We also have a few girls who do not want to go out when it’s snowy at all. So we have to find ways to get them some space and some things to do.

One thing you can do is just make sure they get as much space as possible in the snow. They really do need to get outside to play, even when it’s cold. My husband was great about shoveling our girls’ run, and we read last year about saving the leaves from your trees this fall in bags and spreading them in the snow for your chickens to walk on and peck around in. We did this last year, and it was wonderful. This is actually the best tip I can share. It’s genius. It gives a great use for your leaves and will really help your chicky girls.

But you can also give your chickens different kinds of treats to keep them busy. Just make sure they are healthy treats, and, of course, always keep a balanced diet in mind. But, last winter, we would share fruit and vegetable scraps, and the variety was good. Working on the fruits and veggies also kept the girls busy.

5. Protecting their combs

And, when you let your girls outside to play in the winter, you should keep an eye on their combs. If you have chickens with large combs, it’s a good idea to put some petroleum jelly on them to help keep them safe in the winter cold.

6. Preparing for the deep freeze

Finally, as we head into fall, it’s a good time to start thinking about how to winterize your coop. Just as we work on winterizing our homes here in Maine, it’s important to think about the temperatures for our chickens during the long winter months and what you will do during those long cold nights.

First, it’s important to keep in mind that chickens, depending upon how many you have, do put out heat all on their own, so you may not have much winterizing to do, depending on how many chickens you have.

You may not need to insulate your coop, but, if you do, make sure your coop has proper ventilation. This is really key. You may think that keeping out the cold is the most important thing, but you also have to keep ventilation in mind. Chickens can get serious respiratory illnesses, and no one wants that.

According to my research, chickens can be okay and temps down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit (and maybe a little lower, depending upon breed), so I recommend just keeping a thermometer in your coop to allow you to keep an eye on things.

Our coop is insulated, so we only had to heat our coop a couple of times last winter, though some people will argue you don’t have to heat at all. In fact, unless you are really careful, it may be best not to heat. My husband built a cage to go around a small oil heater, so it didn’t put out much heat and was safe for our girls. It just kept temps above 0 degrees during the worst nights of February.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list but should help you starting thinking about adjusting to the cooler temps. If you have other tips or advice, please share below. It would be great to hear your tips as well!

And, remember, stay warm, my chicken friends!

On Dogs, Chickens, and Property Lines: How to Avoid Tragedy

chickens inside fence

I read about this kind of issue all the time in chicken forums online. Chickens and dogs do not understand property boundaries, which makes for some stressful situations for both chicken and dog owners.

Newspapers around the country are reporting today that a man in Massachusetts shot a young Golden Retriever five times after the dog reportedly killed one of his chickens. The owners of the dog were letting their dogs run on their nine acre property when one of their dogs made his way to the neighbors and apparently killed a chicken.

chickens inside fence
Good fences make good neighbors, or so said Frost, especially when dogs and chickens are involved. Photo credit: Rowan S., Unsplash.

Dogs, especially younger dogs, and chickens often do not mix well. We have two Livestock Guardian dogs, and both of them had to be taught very carefully and thoroughly not to chase and hurt the chickens. Our dogs now understand and guard our hens, but, when they were puppies, our chickens running and flapping from them was just too tempting. We had to stay on the dogs every minute for several months, so it’s easy for me to see how a young dog could so easily get caught up in the moment and kill a chicken.

Gus
This is our Great Pyrenees, Gus. It took many months and lots of attention before he could be trusted with our chickens. Young dogs are just drawn to the quick movements of our backyard flock.

It’s no doubt a tragedy of epic proportions for the family who lost their beloved pet, but as a chicken mama, I’ve seen how hard it can be on people when they lose their chickens, especially when they lose them violently. A criminal investigation is under way in the case of the Massachusetts man, but this story has me thinking a lot about what I would do if a young dog were attacking my chickens. Honestly, I can’t imagine killing a dog for killing my chickens, though I love my chickens so much. I would be very angry at the dog owners, but there are so many things I think I would try before I resorted to killing.

But this story also has me thinking about we can all do, as both chicken and dog owners, to help avoid these kinds of tragedies.

As owners of both chickens and dogs, it seems the most obvious answer is for all of us to work so hard to make sure our animals stay on our property.

Of course, I do realize things happen. Chickens get creative and can suddenly fly. Dogs take off. One time, a neighbor little boy left our back door open, and I didn’t see it. Within minutes, our hound was roaming the neighborhood, so I understand things happen. But that’s my first tip. We have to make this our number one goal! If your dog gets out, there is a real possibility it could hurt someone or someone’s chickens. You have to stay on top of your animals, first and foremost!

If you have chickens and free range them, you have to know the risks.

I think most chicken owners do. If it’s not the neighbor’s dog, it could be a fox, a raccoon, a large cat. There are so many potential predators out there. It really is best to keep them inside a fence if you can. Before my husband built our fence, we let our chickens free range, and I knew it was risky. We were outside counting those chickens about 15 times a day!

If a dog does come after your chickens, consider all safe possibilities before resorting to a gun.

Can you safely intervene? Can you get help getting your chickens put away? Can you do something to distract the dog? If you are faced with a pack of dogs, this is something very different. You should never put yourself at risk, even for your chickens you love so much. Call 911 to get some help.

If your dog is responsible for harming chickens on someone else’s property, in addition to offering your apologies and condolences, you should offer to pay for the damages and the chickens.

Chickens are a valuable resource and mean food for families.

If a dog harms or kills your chickens, before you resort to “tit for tat,” try talking to the owners.

See if they are willing to do something about the problem. If that doesn’t work, getting the authorities involved is your best bet.

It’s never easy to deal with something like this. Our animals do not understand our property boundaries unless we put up fences. If you’re unable to put up fencing for your dogs or your chickens, it’s so important to be diligent and make sure your animals stay on your property. It’s the best way to avoid a terrible tragedy like the one in Massachusetts.

On What Happens When a Bear Visits Your Chicken Coop

It finally happened. We live in the woods of Maine and have seen bear poop in our yard many times. I’ve always been worried about bears, and every time one leaves evidence of having visited our yard, I start bringing out the pots and pans and banging them when our dogs go outside.

As a chicken mama, I’ve been especially worried about our chickens. Of course, I worry about all predators, but since our neighbor has been seeing a brave black bear all summer, I figured it was just a matter of time before the bear paid us a visit. Yesterday, we finally had that visit, but it came in a way that I didn’t imagine at all.

We had just finished lunch, and I heard a commotion outside. I heard a strange noise and thought it was the strangest chicken noise I had ever heard. When I looked out the window, at first, all I could see was chickens huddled against the fence in full freak-out mode. And then my eyes moved toward our mobile chicken coop.

There, standing in the red coop, up on his hind legs, was a black bear. My brain wasn’t even sure what I was seeing, but when I got the words out that we had a bear in our yard, my husband was up and out the door. I followed him out to find the bear still standing over our coop. It looked like he was trying to pick up chickens, and my heart was broken thinking of those poor chickens being hurt by the bear.

Bear Pic
In all of the chaos, I didn’t get a picture of our bear, but he was pretty cute. Photo credit: Pixabay

It wasn’t a big bear. I mean, it was big enough to make me really worried, but it was a young bear. It was also a brave bear. When my husband ran out toward the coop, the bear just kind of casually got down out of the coop and slowly started walking around the fenced area he had just jumped into.

I have to admit that the bear was really adorable, and even though I was on the phone trying to get in touch with the game warden, I was also wishing I could get a picture of this whole ordeal, especially after I realized all of our chickens were safe.

It turns out the bear was just eating the chicken food and must have been just trying to shoo away the chickens when I saw him waving his arms at the chickens.

After speaking to the game warden, I learned that no one was going to come and relocate the bear. This was a surprise to me, but bear visits this time of year are quite common. It’s been dry, and yearling bears, like the one who visited our coop, are hungry. Apparently, they are also brave.

“I can’t believe the bear was just out there in the chicken coop in the middle of the afternoon,” I said to the game warden.

“If a bear’s hungry, he doesn’t care what time of day it is,” he replied.

Good point, I thought.

The game warden said there was a good chance our bear would be back before the late berry season kicked it. He explained that it has been such a dry summer here in Maine that the poor bears were hungry. Of course, the “poor” in that last sentence was my addition. But our bear never game back. I swear, he totally had this look on his face like “Geez, what’s the big deal here, people?” He probably didn’t want to be bothered by us again.

But what should you do if a bear visits your coop? My talk with the game warden inspired a little research.

The best thing you can do is try to prevent a bear being lured into your yard. It’s been a dry summer, so if you live in bear country, it’s best to remove your bird feeders. You should also keep your trash put away and never leave chicken food out at night or exposed. The smell of the chicken food is a big attractant.

If you do have to feed animals outside, be sure to always clean up throughout the day and especially at night. If you have bird feeder, bring it in at night and rake up any extra seeds on the ground.

Keep your animals and food secured within a fence if you can.

If you still see a bear like we did, make a lot of noise to try to scare it away. Banging pots and pans is supposed to work. Our bear was pretty nonchalant about the noise we were making, but I think black bears are supposed to be pretty shy in general. And, still, even our chill bear wanted away from us and took off across the street and back into the woods as soon as he could.

If a bear keeps coming around or if you encounter an aggressive bear, call 911.

Apparently, it’s very expensive and time consuming—and not even that effective—to try to relocate a bear, so that is done only in extreme cases. And, of course, the hope is to not have to hurt a bear who is “just trying to make a living,” as my husband puts it, so the best way to deal with bears is to do your best to avoid attracting them to your property.

Thankfully, no chickens were harmed in the making of this story.

On Eating Roadkill and Learning a Life Lesson

The first and only time I’ve eaten roadkill was last fall when I ate a deer my husband accidentally hit on our road in rural Maine late one night. The experience was a profound one for me, so, the next day, I told my deer story on Facebook. A dear friend of mine, a born and raised Mainer wrote, “You’ve eaten roadkill. You’re a real Mainer now!”

It was a cool late night last fall when my husband hit that deer in his pickup on our road near our house. He was out late picking up our oldest son from his midnight shift at the LL Bean call center, and, as they were coming home, just a little bit from our house, a young deer jumped right in front of the pickup.

I was at home with your youngest son when my husband and oldest made it home. My husband told me the story, told me he had called the police, and I could tell they were both a little rattled. Our oldest son was pretty pale and wide eyed, and my husband was sad about hitting the deer and also worried about our pickup. It had sustained quite a bit of damage.

By the time the police officer arrived, it had to be close to 1:00 in the morning. The officer gave my husband a tag, and my husband brought home our first deer. I didn’t think about it as such at the time, but we were about to have to process roadkill, as there was no way we were going to let that deer die for nothing. Such a thing seemed like it would be disrespectful to me.

roadkill picture
Photo credit: Erik Olsen, Unsplash

I grew up outside of Dallas and didn’t know the first thing about processing a deer. My husband had hunted when he was younger, but he hadn’t processed a deer since he was growing up in Montana.

We did the only logical thing to do…We hit YouTube.

Thankfully, there was a helpful video my husband watched intently. At first, my husband didn’t want me to help process the deer. To say that I’m soft hearted is to put it mildly. I’ve tried several times to become a vegetarian, and I’ve always failed. But eating animals has been a moral dilemma for me. I’ve cried more than once preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

But I had been reading up on homesteading and knew that I wanted to learn to help raise our own meat. I’m against factory farming with every fiber of my being, so, since I seem to be unable to go vegetarian, I figured was to going to have to grow a thicker skin and learn to help process animals for food. We had recently started our own little chicken farm, and I was intent on avoiding the food industry as much as I could.

So I insisted that I help. And, perhaps because it was about 2:00 in the morning and our oldest had school the next morning, my husband relented and agreed to let me help clean the deer that night.

That chilly fall night between the hours of about 2:00 and 3:00 AM, I helped my husband clean a deer by flashlight. The experience was profound for me. I was mainly just the “holder of things steady” while my husband did the real work of cleaning, but I had never been that close to a deer. His fur was so soft and so beautiful. His eyes and nose and hooves were just magnificent to me.

We thanked that deer and told him we were sorry. And we were.

My husband was a little worried the experience might cause me to try to go vegetarian again. He’s definitely a meat eater, and since I usually do the cooking, you can see why he might be a little worried. But I didn’t.

However, I did gain a much greater respect for hunters and farmers who process their own meat, bypassing a food industry that is abusive to animals. I came to believe that everyone who eats meat should have to process an animal for food at least once.

I gained a greater appreciate for the animals as well, so I am now the food police when it comes to waste at the dinner table. If one of my boys leaves even a little meat on the plate, I scold them:

“You had better eat that. Somebody died for that!”

They tend to finish their dinners.

On Crows: Are They Friend or Foe to Our Chickens

I have a bias when it comes to crows because I love them. They are quite loud, but they are so intelligent and interesting. I recently read a book to my youngest son about the crows in New Caledonia. Researchers have been studying those crows for quite a few years and discovered that these crows will not only make tools but will also teach their young about how to make tools. These crows are even adapting tool use over time. This is no small thing.

Some scientists now think that crows may be as intelligent as the great apes. They can problem solve and remember a lot, including our faces. When researchers in Washington state were studying ravens (also a member of the corvid family), the ravens remembered the researchers and would attack them when they came onto campus. The researchers ended up having to wear disguises when they came on campus in order to hide from the ravens–for years.

But what does this have to do with backyard chickens? It turns out that the intelligence—and feistiness—of crows can come in handy when keeping chickens.

I saw this for myself last summer.

If you keep chickens, you know how scary a hawk or eagle presence can be. We had a few close calls with our girls, especially before we got a rooster. In a couple of instances, I thought surely we had lost at least one of our girls, but we found them hiding later. We were lucky. I know many people who have lost chickens to birds of prey in our area. One morning, however, I saw something different.

Two crows had moved into the trees near our home a few weeks prior, and after hearing a loud commotion, we looked out our window into the chicken yard area to find two crows “mobbing” or attacking mid-air a hawk that was flying over our yard. The crows were loud and aggressive—and very handy, I thought.

Since I love crows anyway, I decided to take the crows some treats to thank them later. I saw the crows watching me, so I raised my hand to show them the bread and then sat it down at a tree near the woods. I went back in the house and watched. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they came for the bread.

Crow
photo credit: Pixabay public domain photo

And, in that one instance, they were trained. It became a habit for us until a couple more crows moved in, and all four crows spent the day arguing right outside our kitchen window. My husband told me the crow treats were going to have to stop. So I stopped. It was kind of loud out there.

I was worried the crows would leave. I needed them around to protect our chickens. Thankfully, they stayed, but they keep more of a distance now. I haven’t seen any more mobbing, but I do hear a commotion every now, which makes me think they are still patrolling the area.

I didn’t realize how common this behavior was until I read recently in a chicken discussion forum about chicken people who had their flocks protected by crows. Of course, the crows aren’t setting out to protect our chickens, but they are territorial and will do what they can to keep birds of prey out of their territories. So, if a crow lives near you, it’s like having an extra line of defense against birds of prey attacks.

Of course, it seems important to note that crows do pose some problems as well, and not all chicken owners appreciate crows. Apparently, crows will steal eggs if they have the chance and will even eat baby chickens. They don’t seem to bother full-grown chickens. But, as I learn more about bird diseases, I’m also thankful the crows aren’t quite so close to our chicken yard as they used to be. Like all wild birds, crows can carry diseases that could be harmful to your flock, though I haven’t heard of anything going around right now to cause alarm.

So, for now, I’m glad our crows are still around, and apparently, a lot of chicken people love their crows as well. For my research for this post, I read forum after forum of chicken people talking about the benefits of crows. They are excellent at patrolling an area, and people will use the crows as a warning system. If you hear the crows making a scene, it’s a good idea to go investigate. Many people who keep chickens consider crows beneficial guardians.

It also seems like a good idea to just take in the beauty of such an amazing animal. People used to think that birds couldn’t possibly be that intelligent because they had small brains. Now, we know for sure it’s not the size of a brain that matters. Crows are proof of that.

On Loving Hummingbirds and Feeding Them Safely

We don’t have our feeders out yet. I’m running behind, but yesterday, my youngest son called, “Mama, come here! Fast!” To my delight, a hummingbird was drinking nectar from one of the flowers on the shrub in our front yard by the window. That stocky little ruby-throated bird brought joy to my heart.

hummingbird
Public domain photo, Pixabay

To me, the hummingbirds bring hope back to Maine. I love winter until about the end of February, and then, I’ve just about had enough. By the end of March, I’m getting pretty anxious for spring, but, of course, it’s often well into May before it arrives.

Sometimes, like this year, it can be a little hard to tell when spring has finally made its way to Maine. It’s been a bit dreary, a bit chilly, and a bit rainy. I should mention that, like many here in Maine, I also struggle with vitamin D deficiencies.

But, yesterday, I saw my hope that things are about to get better, my hope that, soon, we’ll be in the middle of one of the most beautiful times of year here in Maine—summer.

Every summer for the last few years, I’ve been feeding our hummingbirds with a couple of feeders, and every summer, I do a little more research and learn a few more things about these amazing birds who visit us each summer and how to provide safe nectar for them.

  • Hummingbirds eat bugs. They don’t live in the nectar alone, so you don’t need to purchase those packets for hummingbird nutrition to add to your nectar. I made that mistake after reading on the package about how hummingbirds do not get complete nutrition from sugar water. That made sense to me. I mean, who can live on sugar water? Turn outs, hummingbirds don’t. They eat bugs. They get their nutrition there, and the nectar just keeps those busy little bodies going. Hummingbirds eat everything from weevils to flies, gnats, and mosquitos. They’re pretty awesome like that.
  • Although there’s some debate about this and the hummingbird feeder companies say the red dye is fine, most experts agree that you should not put food coloring in the nectar. Although the chemical dye is supposedly safe for humans, no testing that I can find has been done on hummingbirds, and scientists say to assume something that’s safe for us is also safe for hummingbirds is a mistake. And, since the feeders have color on them, the birds will be attracted to your feeder anyway. I’ve never used food coloring in my nectar and have always had hummingbirds move in for the summer.
  • Keep your feeders clean, and this may mean you need to purchase a feeder that really comes apart and can be cleaned easily. The mold that will grow in and around your feeder (that icky black stuff) is not good for the birds. You’ll want to keep those feeders clean, and since most of them say they can’t be placed in the dishwasher, you need to be able to take that feeder apart and scrub it with water and vinegar.
  • All you need to do to make your own nectar is boil water and add sugar. The ratio for the syrup is 4 to 1, so 4 cups of water for 1 cup of sugar. Mix while the water is hot, let it cool, and you’ve got hummingbird nectar ready for those little birds to enjoy.

If you haven’t seen a hummingbird yet, you can track them to see if they are in your area by using this site that tracks sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. We use it every year, and I love seeing the path the birds take.

And, if you haven’t yet decided whether or not you want to do the necessary work to provide a clean, safe feeder for the hummingbirds, just check out this video I took from our deck a couple of years ago. It was near the end of summer, and the male hummingbird was about to leave. Those birds put on a show that brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart with the beauty of it. I hope you enjoy.

On Dandelions: They’re Good for You, Me, and the Bees

When I was growing up, I was taught that dandelions were dreadful “weeds.” I remember picking the beautiful yellow flowers only to learn from adults that they were “just weeds,” and I remember getting into some trouble for blowing on the dandelion seeds because I was spreading them in the yard, which was definitely frowned upon. I remember learning to spray chemicals on the dandelions as a child, and this was something that I carried into my adult life—and then I learned better.

I don’t know when Americans started to hate the dandelion, but according to my research, it was sometime in the 20th century with the invention of lawns. Apparently, someone wrote a book about the “perfect” lawn and identified dandelions as the enemy.

However, dandelions have a long history of being important to human culture, and we definitely need to let go of those notions of the “perfect” lawn. I just can’t see that those notions do anyone any good—not us and certainly not Nature.

My own epiphany about the usefulness of the dandelions came one day when I was making a salad from a giant container of mixed greens I had purchased at the grocery store. I look at the greens and realized there were dandelion leaves in the mix. I checked the ingredients list and found out that, indeed, I had just paid money for leaves that I could easily go get from my back yard.

Then, I learned that bees need the dandelions. They are the bees’ first food, and goodness knows the bees need every little bit of help we can give them. It’s a wonder of the world to me that humans can be so short sighted, and our history with bees is a prime example of this. However, that’s another story for another day.

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Photo credit: Stefan Steinbaur, Unsplash

So instead of working against Nature, let’s embrace it and embrace those little yellow flowers. There are many helpful uses for dandelions, so let’s try one of these options instead.

1. Leave the flowers for the bees and make or get your kiddos to help make a “Bees are welcome here” sign. After all, we really need those bees to be happy because what’s good for the bees is good for us in the long term. Then, you can just let the dandelions do their work of loosening the soil and fertilizing your lawn. It turns out that dandelions are actually good for your lawns.

2. Pick the dandelion leaves for your salad. This is the simplest use I can think of. Instead paying for those dandelion leaves, make a salad from your backyard instead. It turns out that dandelions are healthier than many of the veggies we grow in our garden. According to this article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, dandelions have more Vitamin A than spinach and more Vitamin C than tomatoes.

3. Make dandelion tea. Apparently, you can make tea from the roots or the flowers, but I found this flower recipe that looks really yummy. Just be sure to read this short piece on the health benefits and risks of drinking dandelion tea.

4. Finally, you can also make dandelion wine, though it takes a few months for the wine to ferment of course. But there are, apparently, a wide variety of ways you can use the dandelions for food, from jams to baking. Check out this article from Mother Earth News about some of the many ways you can take advantage of those little yellow flowers.

So think of the bees and what’s good for the planet and for you. Let those dandelions grow free in your yard this year!

On Salmonella and Kissing Chickens (Fine. I’ll Stop.)

It’s spring and baby chicks are everywhere. You just have to visit your local farm or hardware store, and you’ll see those little cuties in the bins, peeping and pecking and jumping and being adorably tempting.

But there’s something important to keep in mind about those cute baby chickens.  A report was released last year from the CDC stating that salmonella cases from chicken kissing and snuggling, as well as from chickens living in our homes, is on the rise.

It’s a reality that people love chickens, and I know why. I love our girls. They’re funny, ornery, sweet, full of personality, and they give us delicious eggs. I mean, what’s not to love? I guess, however, it turns out that I may love our girls a little too much.

According to the Washington Post, the CDC says there was a rise in the number of poultry-associated salmonella outbreaks between 2005 and 2014, and this rise corresponds with the rise in the number of people who are keeping chickens. Yes, chickens are really popular, and it’s easy to see why. However, it seems we love our chickens a little too much.

According to the report, about 6 in 10 salmonella patients said they had been exposed to baby poultry, and of that number, 49 percent reported having been snuggling the baby birds, and 13 percent reported kissing the baby birds.

When I first read this study, I thought to myself, well, I’ve done a lot of snuggling with those baby birds, I guess. I’m sure giving hugs and holding babies kind of counts as snuggling. But, I don’t kiss our girls.

But then I remembered maybe giving a baby chick or two a kiss on the back of the head, but that doesn’t seem too bad, right?

Well, when I fessed up to my husband that I had given a few of the baby chicks a little kiss on the back of the head, he wisely pointed out that the babies step all over each other when they are running around, so there’s a chance there’s chicken poop germs even on the back of a baby chick’s head.

So there you go. I guess I’m going to have to quit kissing the baby chickens.

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Look at these cuties! They are so hard to resist!

But, I still love our girls, and I’ll never stop that. I’ll definitely cut out the kissing on the back of the head, but I might still have to give one of our girls a hug every now and then.

I’ll just wash up really, really well.

And the good news I gather from this CDC report is that Americans are not only keeping backyard chickens more and more, we really love our chickens.

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Here, my husband and youngest play with one of our ISA browns when she was a baby. We love our girls so much, and they have brought so much joy into our lives.

Every effort we make against factory farming is a good thing in my book. Happy eggs from happy chickens is a goal we should be aiming for. If you can’t keep chickens, there’s a good chance you know someone who does. Buy your eggs there. I’m glad we’re moving in this direction.

I guess we just need to stop kissing those baby birds.

On That Giant Chicken Video: Or Why I Need a Brahma Chicken

Because I’m the chicken lady among all of my Facebook friends, any time there’s a chicken story in the news or going viral, it’s shared on my Facebook wall, usually many times. The first time I saw the video of that giant chicken (see below), my first thought was “Oh, I want one.”

Apparently, this is not how many people feel about that giant chicken.

My friends were asking “What IS it?” And others on social media have been terrified that such a big chicken exists in the world. Then, I saw this headline stating that this big chicken was terrifying. I had no idea people could be so scared of a chicken, even a giant chicken like that.

But it turns out people sometimes have a lot of trauma related to chickens. I have to admit, when I was little, my great grandmother had chickens, and the first time she had me help her get eggs, her girls pecked me pretty good. A few weeks later, I came down with chicken pox, so, in my mind, my grandma’s chickens definitely gave me chicken pox. This made me a little scared of chickens.

And chickens are, after all, the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurs Rex, and, sometimes, I’m reminded of that. When my girls are going after some corn on the cob I’m sharing, I’m reminded that I never want to pass out in the chicken coop.

Still, people shouldn’t worry about this giant chicken. I can tell by the way this rooster in the video walks that he’s a pretty laid back boy. And that’s the thing. The chicken in the video is a Brahma, and Brahma’s are really cool chickens.

Here’s a little background on the Brahma to help those who are worried about that bird sleep a little better at night:

  • People think the breed originated in the United States from chickens in China in the middle of the 1800s. It was originally a meat bird, so the breed was continually bred for size. That’s how you get such a big bird.
  • Brahmas are great layers, and they lay very large brown eggs.
  • And here’s the most important information: Brahmas are known for having a calm temperament. They are known for being gentle giants.
    I’m sure chicken people can tell by the way that big boy in the video walks that he’s a pretty calm bird. He’s large, beautiful, and not out to hurt anyone.

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There are some other really large breeds of chickens. The Jersey Giant can be even larger than the Brahma, so let’s just let that set in. But Jersey Giants are also known for being really sweet chickens.

It seems important to remember that breeders of chickens over the last few hundred years were, of course, being practical when they bred chickens. The big ones needed to be sweet. You don’t want a giant angry bird attacking you every time you have to collect eggs. It’s just not practical.

So don’t worry about that giant chicken. He’s probably a real sweetheart, and writing this post reminds me: I so want one!