Archive for December, 2010

Hepatia the Impaler

The first snowfall of the season, a few weeks ago, was the first the chickens had ever seen and it did not impress them much. I took them out of CVES Mark I and into the small run and they complained. With short, small, strong, peeps and squawked cries of disapproval they bore their transit without grace and did not settle down as usual with some happy jumps and scampering about. They stood, they fluffed up, they cried quietly and continually, with intent. Mommy, why have you made it so cold? The ground is hard and we can’t scratch and spray dirt all about or dust bathe. Dazzle particularly stayed fluffed up, all black and white and cute but with her stern bald eagle like look, she stared pointedly and steadily at me, as if to say “Why are you making us suffer like this? There is no dignity in being outdoors in the cold and wind.”

It’s too frigid for me to keep a window open to hear their agitation, so I check on them every few hours, or more frequently, like a mother hen. Running quickly and purposefully from the apartment to the semi-secure run, in the extreme temperature, making sure none of the feral cats or intermittent raccoon was thinking of a quick meal.

It was so cold that my fingers were sticking on the metal of the combination lock of  CVES. Though I checked often, I missed noticing the chicken’s water trough tower as it iced up. A small crescent of semi slush and free water was left when I finally noticed. I poked my stiff cold-reddened fingers quickly into the gap, hoping that it wasn’t solid. Flipping up rounded shards of frozen liquid the girls crowded each other, in a desperate drive to get to the water. They all pounced quickly to peck at the ice chunks being flipped around first, as though they were supreme treats. They must have been so thirsty, they haven’t enjoyed any treats this much since winter started. I tried to shoo them away thinking that the ice might be bad for their metabolism. Ice will drop your temperature and make you burn up significant amounts of calories. The girls have cut down their amount of feed they eat considerably since they started their new layer feed. The temperature has dropped so quickly and they are far from fattened up for the cold. So yet again I worry.

Through the evening the water tower would freeze solid in CVES and I would have to pour kettles of water on top of it, to get the ice to melt so I could put hot water into it. I was desperate not to get any of the coop floor or girls wet as I moved the water tower in and out of the building in the process so the girls would not develop a chill by sleeping on ice. Luckily there was a water heating base in stock online at a feed company. It shipped in a few days. Right when I was getting tired of running out with kettles of boiling water to defrost the solid ice at dawn and replenishing the fount with hot water through out the day, it arrived.

A few days after obtaining the heating base, I finally had a chance to spend a few moments with the girls. I realized that Hepatia had a chip on the tip of her beak. It now looked like the most delicate and deadly pair of butter yellow, vampire fangs. Hepatia the Impaler, had saved the girls from dehydration for days by chipping out ice from the fount to keep the water flowing but her beak had paid the price. Her forceful pecks are now double edged and more deadly than before.

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Carrot Grown in a Recycled Vegetable Oil Bucket Before the Hard Frost

The first hard frost hit. I didn’t know what it was. I am used to seeing the plants outside die off in the winter; I am not used to looking to outdoor plants for sustenance. The Curly and Russian Kale seemed to have darkened to an overall glace green, overnight. Would they thaw out from their crinkly soft darkness? Was the plant dead? Do they revive? Do they bounce back? I had heard that kale can overwinter in New York. They were not as snappily crisp as the first frosts had made them, like high-tension wires, brittle and fragile, so tender that a brush against them would have the leaves detach and plummet from their stalks. Now they came apart with a slow, oozing, loosening, pull, as a viscous release from their main, towering green, coconut palm like height, sole spires rising high, in comparison to the low, sagging, floppy accumulation of plants left in the raised vegetable bed.

The frost made the kale much more tender to eat than it had been, which was very tender and succulent indeed. I highly recommend growing kale. There were no insects on them until late in the summer and even though I did not kill the aphids on them, there were plenty of unadulterated leaves to eat. The aphids were an extra harvest of protein for the chickens, who get stroppy if they don’t get their kale every day. No other green will do. I think it appeals to their genetic memory of being T-Rex; the Kale satisfies their ripping and rending cravings, without the accompanied bloodshed.

The carrots and baby beets are now frozen into the soil. Little orange and burgundy rounds of succulence, trapped in a dark, coffee brown block, the familiar and comfortable rectangular shape of home freezer packaged food, albeit on a magnified scale. Does it work like that? Is this true freezer food? Did Mr. Birds Eye look at his raised bed and go, “Now there is an idea. If I catch the temperature rising and I rush outside to grab the veggies from the unbound soil, will they still be ok?” Why not? Live it large, I say. The carrots and beets are going into soup, straight from the outdoor freezer.

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Tekla's First Egg

Today, though it was so hard to continue building yet another project that had to be done perfectly, properly and promptly, it was accomplished with not too many frustrations. This year’s pattern was repeated again: an on the fly project with quick and dirty design and execution. As is often the case, in the last seconds of daylight the Coop/ Vitrine/ Emergency Shelter (CVES) adaptation project was completed. We divided it into two sections to facilitate the reintroduction of Tekla back into her flock. With an ad hoc selection of found plywood, we made another emergency brooder with netting dividing the space. It was originally going to be a tower of nest boxes with wire mesh between, so the girls could snuggle up for warmth and get reacquainted. The rest of the space was to be divided with a light, flexible netting.

When the ply was measured and cut in the finger numbing cold last weekend there was not enough. It was recycled ply from a tv renovation show on the Discovery Channel. In front of the apartment last winter, for a week, they filmed and the construction had continued all night. The generator was parked in front of our bedroom window and was surprisingly quiet. We asked for off cut donations of wood and they were kind enough to oblige. I suffer from migraines and could not pick up another late Friday night allotment of 2×4’s from The Big Box this week because of one that intensified in strength yesterday evening. Shy of wood to complete the tower, some of the plywood pieces would have to be Frankensteined together with off cuts. I took a leap of faith and decided to make another floor level box brooder, this one makes it Brooder Mark IV. This will help in the move as the chickens unfortunately will have to spend at least one night inside since there won’t be a CVES for them.

The urgency of Tekla being reintroduced is great. Dividing a coop up with a mesh so that the chickens get used to each other by their seeing and speaking to each other without the ability to attack, is the last resort for her reintroduction. This will be the fourth attempt, the first one that isn’t a stealthy night reintroduction. It takes a week for the chickens to get to know one another again, hopefully it will work this time. The new location for MUD is half the size with no place for interior chicken shenanigans. The countdown to the move is accelerating.

Once we had made the box pieces for the new brooder, the netting with a removable doorway needed to be fashioned. I couldn’t find any eye hooks because reorganization after the floods has not happened yet. All I could locate were sticky hooks and twist ties. So the netting is held up by sticky hooks stuck to the ceiling horizontally. Desperation, right? One good tug will pull the whole thing down. I hope that tomorrow morning, when I check on them, there won’t be a chicken burrito made from the girls and bird netting.

I went into the coop to bring Tekla indoors so I could remove the old cardboard brooder, which is a kind of security blanket for the girls, without her getting upset. Tekla was standing inside the brooder, with a bright blue egg. Her first egg, amazing! She has these great olive green legs and the gene for green tinted eggs is in green legs – the most common leg color for an Easter Egger chicken. That she laid her first egg so late in the winter and that it is such a beautiful bright blue is such a miraculous thing.

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Coop Vitrine Emergency Shelter Mark I

I am feeling sorta hardcore on the building front at the moment. Last friday after consuming considerable Happy Hour pints of Porter and Christmas ale, at a favorite pub far from home and while not wearing appropriate gear, read as, glittery shoulder bag, fine wool coat and suede gloves, I was again at a big box store late at night, picking through the 2 x 4’s piles. After wrestling the said lumber, onto the uncrowded night bus, I tried in vain, it turned out, to reintroduce the healed Tekla into the flock, by evening stealth. The rest of the chickens didn’t buy into this subterfuge. The next morning Tekla was perched delicately on the edge of the emergency brooder Mark II, that has been the chickens security blanket, inside the big coop. She chose a smart location, the battered sagging cardboard would not support any other perchie and backed onto the girls indoor water tower, a good defensive position. This did not deter the girls, one of them trying to rip off her toe like a worm, the others going for her head once she was down. Her beak gash and front toe bled, a startling bright red that only faded to red ochre, never darkening into brown, honest to goodness, chicken blood. Her luscious olive green scaled leg and foot with a bright red crescent of damage, was not the sort of Christmas colors I was thinking of seeing this holiday season.

Having Happy Hour pints was stress relief medicine while looking for a new location for The Museum of Urban Design. Yup, it’s moving. This will test its portability. This time the Big Box evening lumberfest pick up was so that I can build another emergency shelter for the chickens. Never mind that their first coop is not completely finished or the extension of their run, into a Doublewide Run, now, they need a temporary coop. This construction will end up being the chickens semi-permanent portable coop for the winter. The girls have to go somewhere during the move. The museum housing will be much smaller and there is nowhere to keep them even temporarily indoors, they are too big to suffer the indignity and we won’t even have a bathtub. Their size I think, is just one of the factors that, despite having tried three times to reintroduce Tekla back into the rest of the flock, she has been violently spurned.

I figure since last weekends blue skied winter day and bracing gusts of wind, off of the Staten Island Strait, onto the museums makeshift building site, having first reddened and then deadened feeling in my fingers, even through work gloves, that screwing the Coop/ Vitrine/ Emergency Shelter (CVES) together again in winter, is probably not going to happen. Just trying to build the new temporary Doublewide and nest boxes for the next Tekla reintroduction mission, is almost impossible. Adding to this impossible task of chill endurance, will be designing and building, again on the fly, another flat packable, portable chicken coop. Half of which will be built at MUD’ s current location and half at the new location. Plus, the new CVES will have to be built in a day, so the girls can sleep there that first night because the first CVES will have been taken apart already. Great, building, taking apart and building a new structure, on a deadline of, the chickens will freeze if I don’t do this right. If it is not perfect, the rats, raccoons, opossums and hawks will have my pets for organic snacks. Did I mention that the first CVES was the first structure I have ever built? No pressure.

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