Monday, November 15, 2010

Chick Days

For years whenever the kids would say they wanted something, I'd reply, "Oh, yeah?  Well, I want a house in the country with chickens and a goat.  I don't get what I want; you don't get what you want."  So, a little over six years ago we moved out of town.  The following spring we got our first shipment of chicks to raise.  A couple years later we added a milk goat.

I am not a country girl.  I am not a farm girl.  I never had any kind of livestock growing up.  I never had any interaction with livestock growing up.  We had a cat my entire youth, and various dogs.  (When my mom got sick of the dog, she would give it away while we were in school, thinking we'd never miss the dog.)  What made me want to raise my own food?  I do not really know.  My older sister had chickens, goats, and sheep.  Did chasing her goats up a hill through a neighbor's property make me want them?  I don't know.  And I was pretty afraid of her free-range chickens.   

The first time we got chicks, we ordered them from a catalog.  They came in the mail, but we had to go to the Post Office to pick them up.  While my oldest son and I were gone to collect them, a friend dropped by looking for me.  Hannah told her I was getting our new chicks.  My friend said, "Oh, did she go to a farm?"  Hannah looked at her like she'd lost her mind.  "NO, she went to the Post Office!"  Who knew you can get chicks from the Post Office?

The last couple of years we've hung around Tractor Supply waiting for Chick Days.  (They didn't get them during the big Avian Flu scare, so we had to mail order them.)  They don't always know when the shipment will come in, because it depends on the weather.  Our spring weather is unpredictable, and they won't ship when it's really cold.  I do not prepare in advance for new chicks.  The day we bring them home, I am scrambling to get their brooder ready.  We keep the cute little balls of fluff in an old playpen in the basement.  There is no way on earth I have that thing cleaned, sanitized, and laid out with fresh bedding before chick day.  No, I'd much rather be scrubbing the playpen out with bleach, drying it, looking for a feeder, waterer, and heat lamp that works while the boxful of chicks sits on my dining room table, driving my cats crazy with their alluring smell and charming peeping. (Please tell me you hear the sarcasm.)

We take off school on chick day.  I seem to do all the work...Teacher In-service Day maybe?  The kids enjoy putting the peeps into the fresh, clean playpen, equipped with a removable chicken-wire screen top to keep the curious cats out and the able-to-jump/fly-way-sooner-than-you'd-think chicks in.   They dip each little beak into the waterer.  I think that's only necessary with shipped chicks, because they are mailed out shortly after hatching and can be dehydrated by the time they arrive.  We do it with the TSC chicks anyway...maybe it teaches them where to find water...maybe it just gives the kids the allusion they are "helping" me. 

The new chicks should be kept at a little over 90º, dropping 2º each week until they are fully feathered and can be moved outside.  Now we have the math/science lesson of placing the heat light at the correct distance so as not to roast or freeze the cuties.  There are a couple ways to tell if the temperature suits them, handy if you can't locate a thermometer that's safe to put in the pen.  If they all huddle under the light, it's too cold.  If they are scattered to the edges of the pen, it's too hot.  If their waterer seems to be boiling, it's too hot.  ;-) You can also listen to them from upstairs.  If there is frequent peeping, varying in magnitude, they are okay.  They are in a constant awake-sleep cycle.  They sleep until someone steps on them, or decides that little speck-of-something on them might be food and needs a good pecking.  When awake, they never stop peeping.  Too much or too little sound and it's time to check to see if the heat light burned out or if the waterer has boiled dry 

We keep our spring chicks in the basement for about five weeks.  By then they are fully feathered and can tolerate outside temperatures.  In five weeks, they quickly turn from cute little balls of fluff, to scrawny-necked, scraggly looking creatures who stink to high heavens.  My whole house stinks and I apologize to every visitor at the door.  (Fortunately it dissipates quickly once they're gone.)  They also act viciously hungry at all times.  Getting the feeder out and in again is a challenge, fighting off a flock of hungry younguns who think they want out of the pen.  They are also terrified of any action from above, and scatter in fright when you drop anything in with them.  (An instinct to avoid chicken hawks, I guess.)  Chicks will poop on anything, including their feeder, their waterer, each other, and you.  The waterer, kept warm by the heat light and filled hourly with wood shavings and poo becomes our family foe.  We fight over who has to clean in out.  We count down the weeks until they will be out of the house. 

One year we kept the chicks out in the garage in a refrigerator box.  It was much harder to maintain the temperature, though.  While they were out there, Hannah came in the house crying.  "I was kissing a chick and my gum got stuck on it."  I was busy at the time, and sighing in exasperation.  Why was she kissing chicks?  How was she kissing it so that her gum got stuck on it?  The chick was going to be very unhappy at the degumming process.  I'm too busy for this.  Before I could go out to deal with the situation, Hannah bounded back into the room all smiles. "Don't worry, one of the other chicks pecked the gum off and ate it!"  Lord help me!  How good could a wad of gum be for a days old chick?  Oh well, it survived. 

This year we've let hens hatch some eggs.  We've had 4 chicks survive.  It is so nice to let the Mama Hen do the work!  She keeps them at the perfect temperature.  She makes sure they find food and water.  If they get stinky, she deals with it in her house, not mine! 

Friday, November 12, 2010


Laundry is like a sleeping giant you know is in your basement.  You tend to it when you have to, then try to pretend it isn't there the rest of the time. 

I like doing laundry, for the most part.  I get that from my mother.  I love going through the motions:  sorting, filling the washer, hanging clothes on the line.  Few people (read: children) follow me to the bowels of the house to the laundry room.  It is a peaceful process.  It is fortunate I like laundry; eight people make a LOT of dirty clothes. 

However, I do not like hauling clothes up and down stairs.  My clothes line is clear across the yard--more hauling.  I tolerate folding clothes, but hate putting them away.  And I hate talking my family members into putting their clothes away, too. 

So, there's my feelings on the matter.  Now to dive into the matter I find in my laundry.

 One of the grossest things I've found in the washer was a worm.  It may have been alive when it went into the washer, but it was very dead when I found it.  Who had a worm in their pocket?!  Sarah tried to keep worms in a cardboard jewelry box last summer.  I opened the box to find several dried worms.  When I told her that worms can't live in boxes because they need water, she got ready to water the dead worms.  "No, sweetie, you will just make dead worm soup." 

More than once, because we have laying hens, a smashed egg-in-a-pocket has gone through the wash.  Carrying eggs in your pockets is a dangerous thing.  Carrying eggs any way is a dangerous thing.  You bend over and they fall out of your pocket.  You drop the second egg into your pocket just a little too hard.  You forget the eggs are there and whack the side of your coat with...anything.  When you hear that sound, your brain begins processing, trying to figure out just where it's heard that before.  It almost sounds like a muffled...breaking...egg...ah, nuts!!  I forgot I put that in there!  Maybe your sweet daughter smashes the egg in her pocket, doesn't tell you, and drops the coat in the laundry (that alone should make you suspicious).  Egg shells are difficult to get out of the bottom of the washer!!  Trust me on this...I did it today. 

Pens, crayons, markers:  the evil enemies of laundry. How many clothes have been ruined by this terrible trio?  I washed a load of new white dress shirts and two new blouses, only to take them out of the dryer streaked with purply-blue.  Nothing, nothing, nothing would take all of it out.  It was horrible, heart-breaking.  Why can't blue crayons and pens go through the laundry with a load of jeans?  Well, it has happened, but the effects are so much less depressing.

Now we swing into sweets.  Suckers, mints, gum, mini candy bars.  Often I take empty wrappers out of the dryer, hoping they were empty when they went in.  Sometimes the candy comes out still in the package and mostly intact.  Sometimes the clothes need rewashed to get the dryer-melted stickiness out.  If I have personally washed chocolate, I have blocked that memory.  How awful to waste chocolate...what a potential mess! 

Probably once a month I find a tube of lip gloss in the wash.  I keep one in my pocket all the times to ward off chapped lips (and to look alluringly kissable to my prince charming).  Sometimes they make it through the laundry just fine, although I've had tubes misshaped by the heat of the dryer.  Lip balm and lipstick don't always make it out alive.  There's nothing like noticing dark spots on the dried clothes, searching the dryer and finding an empty tube.  Now to treat each stain and rewash the load.  Oh, and wasn't that my favorite color/flavor? 

I have not had the misfortune of washing electronics.  I know people who have, though.  My mother was helping my sister's family out by doing their laundry.  I believe she found a cell phone and an ipod thoroughly cleaned, but no longer functioning.  In fact, I think it happened more than once.  Ouch. 

The moral of the story:  Check pockets, and hope there are no worms in one!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


No, this isn't about a math lesson.  And no, we aren't expecting a new baby (even if anyone was hoping for a New Orleans Surprise.) 

Last weekend we were facing a financial crisis.  We were going to "make it," but it was going to be rough.  What can you do but pray, and ask your friends and loved ones to pray with you? 

On Sunday morning, I was going to tithe on the $8 or $9 I had in my wallet--all I had for what could be more than a week.  I had three ones in my hand, waiting for the offering plate.  God said, "Put in the five dollar bill."  I replied that $3 of $8 was more than a tithe, and I may need that $5.  "Put in the five."  It went back and forth until I was literally squirming in my seat! If you start squirming in your seat, you'd better just obey!!  The three ones went back in my purse, and the five went in the offering plate, with a prayer for multiplication.  

At the end of service, I sold some eggs and the five was replaced.  Wow, God, that was fast.  That was the beginning.  The situation we feared was resolved on Tuesday, only a day later than "should have been."  In the following days, Bill picked up enough extra work to multiply that $5 eighty times!  Then, someone who couldn't afford it, sent us $20.  That five was replaced and multiplied over eighty-four times!

Would everything have worked out if I had just put in the three dollars instead of the five?  I don't know.  I do know that just as I reward my children for their obedience, God rewards His children for their obedience.  This is a lesson He's been showing me over and over in the last year.  Little by little I'm learning to obey faster and faster.