A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The cycle of life

As I let the hens out of the coop for the day, I noticed one of my girls, Goldie Hahn (Hahn is German for rooster), was lying under the nest boxes in the straw on her side.  She has been my sweetest, most friendly bird and one of my prettiest (an Aracauna that once laid green eggs).  Her legs outstretched, she wasn't willing to stand.  I quickly readied an isolation cage and scooped her up.  I know her end is near.  She isn't opening her eyes all the way and her breathing is irregular.  I carried her to the garage and opened the door so she could lie in the warm sun of this spring day in peace and pass without hassle from the rest of the flock.  She made a mess of my clothes as I carried her and I can tell she is in some sort of pain.  It is heart wrenching.

Goldie had trouble last fall.  She was egg bound (had one stuck) and was very lethargic.  I brought her into the house to hold her while I waited for my mom to bring me a cage to isolate her in.  The dog, Bitsy, laid beside me while I held her, as did Maggie, one of my two cats. Neither bothered her, as if they knew she wasn't well.  Animals can be so intuitive.  After some snuggle time being kept warm in the house, she let her egg go and rejoined the flock after a day or two of isolation and rest.

I know that as my flock ages, I will lose them one by one.  Somehow, it never gets easier.  I lost Donna earlier this winter.  She was a nice hen as well, although rough looking.  She came from a farm that had a rooster and had been picked mostly bald by him, as she was one of his favorite ladies.  She was in lay so long that she never really put any energy into refeathering.  Last summer, she molted, but not entirely.  She got some new feathers, although as they came in, they curled.  It was like her new feathers had a perm in them.  She never did completely feather out and the feathers she got did not lay right against her body. I worried for her over the winter as I knew they would not insulate her properly.  She had survived previous winters with less feathers however.  One morning when I went to let the girls out to play and scratch, she was gone, also lying near the nest boxes in the bedding.

I understand that this is the way things happen.  Old birds die and eventually must be replaced with young birds to keep the flock laying.  I enjoy raising the chicks (I had my first 6 last spring) and admit that it would be nice to have more this year.  I can not yet justify adding to the flock as I already have too many birds for the space they have in the coop.

Today, as I am losing a sweet hen, I am also looking forward to the new families of wild birds that will be raised in the yard this summer.  I cleaned out old nests and put out suet cages filled with nesting materials for the birds as they scout locations for their nests and begin gathering the materials they will need to construct them.

The robins are a perennial favorite of mine.  Our state bird, they are a joy to watch as they rear their young.  They gather worms diligently in the yard and protect their nests fiercely.  I usually have a nest on the electric meter box each year and one over at least one outdoor light fixture.  I used to try to fight the nests and prevent them.  I have learned that the robins are more determined than I am and I now embrace their presence.  I clean their nests out about every other year to promote cleaner nests (free from parasites) and because I thoroughly enjoy watching them build them.  I have a barn wood bird feeder that has an overhang and I am really hoping if I hang it on the barn that houses the hens, the robins will use it as a nesting platform instead.

And so goes the cycle of life.  As older birds take their leave of this world, younger ones are preparing to expand their families.  Spring is full of reminders of the renewal of our planet.  Some plants made it through the winter and will soon be bursting forth with life and new growth, others will need replanting.  Some animals made it though the winter, others did not, and still others are preparing to bring more life into the world.

UPDATE:  Goldie pulled through yet again!  I really didn't think she would this time.... If I hadn't found her when I did, I am certain she would have passed in the coop.  She was again egg bound and with some forced water and then food, she relaxed, laid her egg and recovered.  I let her rest in isolation for a few days to allow her to recouperate and to make sure I was confident that she was indeed on her way to wellness.  My little miracle bird, again!

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