Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chicken empire part 2

I think when Kim looks back on her life she will divide it into two eras: Before Chickens and After Chickens. Or Chicken-less and Chicken-full. Because her life is different now: she is obsessed.

Just to recap and to bring you up to speed on recent developments, here is a brief history of chickens at Mucky Boots.

(1) We started with 10 Buff Orpington day-old chicks. They grew and grew and revealed themselves to be 5 cockerels and 5 pullets. Construction requirements: one brooder, then one brooder with roosts, then two brooders with roosts, then two brooders with roosts and fancy elevated feeders and waterers to prevent the chicks from pooping in their own food and water.

(2) When the chicks got bigger they needed fresh air and grass and bugs, so we took them on day trips outside. Construction requirements: one chicken tractor.

(3) When the chicks were big enough to move outside permanently, we transferred them to the chicken coop. Construction requirements: a scrubbed out, whitewashed, freshly painted chicken coop, a new roost, a new gate, a better new gate, repaired fencing all around the chicken yard, disco-dance party streamers to keep the eagles out, a second enclosure inside the coop, a second enclosure in the yard, another gate, a new chicken door in the coop, new homemade feeders, and a field of rye for winter eating.

(4) Kim decided that if one breed was this much fun, two breeds would be even more fun, so she acquired two Black Australorp pullets from one source, and a Black Australorp cockerel from a different line. Construction requirements: a third enclosure inside the chicken coop, a third enclosure in the yard, a third gate, and a chicken door from Enclosure #2 to Enclosure #3 to allow rotating access to the field of rye.

(5) Although the chickens were enjoying their field of rye, it was starting to get a bit trampled and poop-covered, so Kim decided to expand the chicken grazing territory to the orchard. Construction requirements: disco-dance streamers for the orchard.

At this point I feel I should remind you that we have had chickens for less than 4 months.

(6) After becoming a regular at chicken swap events all around southern Vancouver Island, Kim found out about a woman named Ev near Coombs (a town famous for a store with goats that graze on its roof - they even have a goat-cam) who is single-handedly trying to improve the quality of the Buff Orpington stock on the island. Apparently it has been adversely affected by people breeding for show rather than for production. So Ev is trying to reverse that trend, to restore the breed to its original status as a good quality dual purpose bird: good layers, and heavy enough to make good eating. But she needs help, so was looking for someone to take on a mini-flock of eight hens (about to start laying) and an unrelated rooster, tracking their weight, breeding them, and selling the fertile eggs back to her for her program. She was understandably cautious about entrusting these birds to neophytes, but Kim is a Science teacher with a Master's degree and has enough enthusiasm to win over anyone. We'll be bringing the birds home in about three weeks. Construction requirements: I don't want to talk about it.

Kim is a woman with a mission. Sure, I helped with getting the coop and yard habitable in the first place, but beyond lending a hand occasionally with two-person jobs, like hanging a gate, I've left Kim to do all the construction and run the chicken show single-handedly. She gets up every morning to let the chickens out, scrubs the waterers and feeders, makes hot mash on cool mornings, shovels chicken poop out of the coop, and puts the chickens to bed every night. She called all her chicken contacts to figure out the best way to treat a pullet who was under the weather (and is since recovered), and she was inconsolable when a cockerel got bruised one night in the coop when it got trapped under the roost (which prompted a redesign and new construction of the roost). She is a rich source of hysterically funny chicken imitations: Fluffy Butt prancing on the spot when she scratches his back, the special twin-language the inseparable Australrop pullets Alice and Gertie share, the sweetly shy attempts of the Australorp cockerel, Hector, to sneak into the pullet's side of the coop at night.

Kim is in her element: construction, problem-solving, science and a touch of psychology. She loves her chickens. And I love my Kim.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall blooms

Someone smiled on us yesterday because the sun came out - briefly, but there it was all the same. The grey skies cleared, sunlight filtered through the trees, and we had a chance to admire the autumn flowers that have been blossoming mostly unnoticed because we've been going through the rain from Point A to Point B with our hoods up and our eyes down. Fall crocus, fuschia and asters: that's my idea of fall colour.

Friday, September 24, 2010


This is Frankie singing along with a musical birthday card featuring a barking-dog version of "Happy Birthday." Whose birthday? Mine!

I had a lovely day, beginning with breakfast in bed prepared by my sweetie, with lots of lounging and book reading, after which we put the first coat of paint on the walls in the dining room (yes, that was my idea of a fun thing to do on my birthday), then a tasty lunch, then a lazy afternoon with a perfect snooze, then a drive along winding seaside roads to the cafe at the Genoa Bay Marina, for supper.

(Photos from here)

The entire day was punctuated by phone calls from family and friends, which made me feel so loved - I always think nobody will remember it's my birthday, and everyone always does. Some days I think I must be the most fortunate person in the world. Tomorrow will be a regular day, with rain and weeds and chores and paint spatters to clean up, but today - lucky me.

Monday, September 20, 2010


There are a few ways I know fall has arrived. The hostas in the perennial beds are turning yellow. The nights are cool enough that with our windows open, a fluffy warm duvet makes the bed feel like heaven. My little tutoring business has started up again. And the apple harvest has begun in earnest.

Last year, with very different weather, the Pink Ladies were ready in mid-August, giving us time to pick bushels and bushels for drying and applesauce making, before the Cox Orange Pippins ripened in late September. This year, probably because of the crappy summer and the early autumn, it's all happening at once. It's probably fortunate for us that the trees are not as loaded with apples as they were last year, but we're still having trouble keeping up. The dehydrator is being kept busy, and since there's no room in the freezer for apple pies and crumbles (what with all those chicken breasts...) we'll have to get cracking on the applesauce and apple butter.

But before they all get peeled and sliced and cooked and processed, just look at that gorgeous Pink Lady atop a pile of Cox Orange Pippins. What with bugs and scabs and all the other things that mark up the fruit, most of our apples are a bit homely looking. But that Pink Lady - that's one perfect apple.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We have a chest freezer - a modest one. We thought it was important to get one when we moved out here to Mucky Boots for two reasons: to preserve our fruit and vegetable harvest for the non-harvest months, and to allow us to buy in bulk when things we like to eat are on sale.

But I have learned there is more to using a freezer than just plugging it in and filling it up. You have to actually eat what's in the freezer, at least occasionally.

I first started thinking about this when my darling, wonderful sister came for a visit last month. She made a passing reference to not having a chest freezer because she is trying not to encourage her "food hoarding tendencies." Hmmm......

And about the same time I was working on our finances, and wondering why the heck our grocery bills are still so high, given that we're growing at least some of what we eat. Hmmm...

So this week I decided to go excavating in our freezers (the chest freezer in the workshop and the freezer that's part of our fridge) to see exactly what was in them. And what I found was chicken breasts.

Forty-seven of them.

Kim and I could eat chicken twice a week for 3 months without buying any more. And that doesn't even count the whole chickens (three) or chicken thighs (one big package).

I feel a word of explanation is in order. Maybe I have food hoarding tendencies, too. (Er - yes.) But when there's a 2 for 1 sale on chicken breasts, of course I'm going to stock up. It's all about ensuring that Kim and I are safe and won't go hungry. (Okay, I know that's not entirely rational, but even former Math teachers have an irrational side.)

It's not just chicken. I also found six pounds of butter and eight packages of spicy turkey sausages, plus lots and lots of frozen green beans, blueberries, tomatoes, carrots, beets and strawberries. Some of them were from last year, and still haven't been eaten.

Forty-seven. That must be a record. No wonder our grocery bills are higher than they should be.

So I made an inventory of everything in the chest freezer, and another one of everything in the house freezer, and stuck them on the fridge where I can see them when I make meal plans. Then I made a pledge not to buy any more chicken breasts - even if they're on sale - until we're down to six, and to eat all the wonderful frozen produce from our garden by the time next year's harvest starts rolling in.

We got started last night: I cooked four chicken breasts (two for supper, two for leftovers) and faithfully crossed those four off the inventory list.

Forty-three to go.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kim's homemade chicken feeder

By popular demand, here are Kim's instructions for how to make a chicken feeder with found materials, cheap! (Or is that cheep...)

This is what the $32.99 hanging feeder looks like. Notice how the tray at the bottom hangs lower than the bucket, so that the feed slips through the gap from the bucket into the tray at the bottom.

Here's the homemade version, made from found materials and about $2.50 worth of hardware.

You will need a bucket and a base of some kind bigger in diameter than the bucket. Kim has used both the bottom drip tray of a plant pot and the base of a ceiling light fixture, and recommends the plant pot drip tray because it has steeper sides that will make it harder for the chickens to flick food out of. You also need something to cover the top of the feeder, like an old pie plate or a Tupperware lid. (So that's where all the lids have gone to...)

You will also need a drill, some leftover bits of electrical wire, three lengths of chain, an S-hook, some plastic zip ties, a wire cutter and some needle-nose pliers.

First, cut a generously-sized hole in the bottom of the bucket. Make sure it isn't bigger than your lid!

Use the drill to create three equally-spaced holes near the top of the bucket and attach the lengths of chain with zip-ties. Then drill one hole in the bucket and a matching hole in the lid to attach the lid with a zip-tie. Any more and you won't be able to lift the lid in order to fill the feeder.

Now attach the bucket to the base. Look to see where the bucket fits into the base, and mark three or four equally-spaced spots for holes in the base, and corresponding holes near the bottom of the bucket. Use the bits of electrical wire to attach the bucket to the base, making sure you use long enough pieces of wire so that when the feeder is hung upright, the base hangs an inch or so below the bucket. But make sure it doesn't hang so low that the top of the base is below the bottom of the bucket, or the food will overflow. Kim said the advantage of using the electrical wire is that it is easily knotted and re-knotted if you need to make adjustments once you see how much food comes out into the base. (Somehow we didn't manage to get a good picture of this - so sorry!)

Attach the three chains to an S-hook, and the feeder is ready to hang. Lucky chickens!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fair day

This is the weekend of the Cowichan Exhibition, so of course we had to go. After all, we're farmers now. There was a tractor pull, a threshing demonstration...

... and because this is logging country, the men did manly things like sawing logs with antique gas-powered saws.

There were competitions for the best jams and jellies, the best pie, the most colourful squash...

...the best local honey...

...the best cake made by a man (the lone entry won first prize)...

...and the best decorated cake (presumably by a woman). Sheesh.

The 4-H club kids were busy showing off their projects...

...while family members watched and cheered them on.

We went into the animal barns to see goats...


...and the strangest chicken-like objects we have ever seen.

Most important: we would have eaten the mini sugar donuts, but we're sticking to our gluten-free diet and had to go with the fresh cut fries instead. No sacrifice is too great where our health is concerned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chicken empire

When I got home from my trip to Banff I discovered a few things: the leaves have started to turn, Frankie and Petunia didn't even notice I was gone, and Kim has started a chicken empire.

When the decision was made to start our adventure in chicken land, I was already busy with the perennial and vegetable gardens so Kim agreed to be the main chicken mama at Mucky Boots. And she is the best chicken mama ever. Our five pullets and five cockerels are strong and healthy and haven't suffered a moment's thirst or hunger in their 13-week lives. They live in a beautiful, clean, warm and dry coop and have the best of feed and fresh fruit and veggies. Kim even planted a rye garden for their winter pleasure, which is growing like mad.

Our original plan was to keep the hens for eggs and maybe one crowing rooster for barnyard-atmosphere and possible breeding, and send the other roosters to the slaughterhouse where they would become dinner. But all the love and attention Kim has lavished on her birds has meant she's not so sure anymore about the dinner part. At the same time, she's starting to become quite interested in the breeding part.

That raises some complications. We shouldn't breed brother and sister, for obvious reasons (although this didn't occur to us until just a while ago...) and so Kim decided we needed a Buff Orpington rooster from another bloodline. So she found another breeder nearby and swapped one of ours for one of hers. There's still the problem of what to do with the rest of the original roosters, including Red Toe, who is not enjoying favoured status these days as he's been a big bully around the new rooster and has taking to pecking us, too.

Kim also decided to add a second breed to the mix. Meet our two new Black Australorp pullets.

They look amazingly like fluffy crows. The best part is their black feet. The old girls didn't know quite what to make of them, but the new girls are quick and strong, and are carving out a space for themselves in the flock.

With all this coming and going in the chicken yard, Kim has had to create a third enclosure in the chicken coop to house the new birds at night until it's safe to let them join the flock. The new girls stayed there only one night, but the new rooster is going to be there for at least a few nights because the rooster enclosure is a bit too small for comfort, given Red Toe's nippy tendencies.

Kim has also been adding feeders and waterers, to make sure the new birds have a chance to get eat and drink if the original birds are being proprietorial - and she's been so clever about it. She made three new feeders from recycled buckets, plant pot drip trays, and even the base of a ceiling light fixture we replaced a couple of weeks ago. She's in her element: planning, building, making do. That's my girl!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The best summer camp ever

I'm back, after a wonderful holiday with my mom Yvonne: we stayed in residence at the Banff Centre for the Banff International String Quartet Festival, and it was the best summer camp for adults ever.

Mom picked me up at the Calgary airport and we drove straight out to the mountains. I think Vancouver Island, where I live, is a beautiful place, but the foothills outside Calgary are the most beautiful landscape I know - rolling and austere, topped by the biggest sky I've ever seen.

After a quick hour's drive we were in the Rocky Mountains...

...and then in Banff National Park, where the Banff Centre for the Arts is located. Most of the summer programs for young people had already finished, which was a good thing because otherwise there wouldn't have been room for the 500 of us who all arrived the same day, to spend eight days listening to wonderful music in a spectacular setting.

We stayed in this building...

...and ate in this dining hall.

What a view. That's Yvonne, who is the best travelling companion ever. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to have an experience like this with my mom.

A typical day: get up, have breakfast with a few hundred other buzzing, excited chamber music fans, go to a lecture about the music we would hear that day, attend the morning's concert, have lunch, attend the afternoon's concert, have a snooze and then dinner, attend the evening's concert, and then head off to bed so it could all start over the next day.

We shared the campus with wildlife, of course - it IS a national park, after all. Fortunately we encountered no bears or cougars on our walks from dining hall to theatre, but we did meet a pair of mule deer...

...and an elk.

If you're interested, you can go to the CBC website to read their blog about the competition and hear podcasts of most of the performances.

I came home to Mucky Boots yesterday to find that fall arrived while I was away: leaves are starting to turn colour, the autumn crocus are up, and the air smells like wood smoke. How did that happen so fast?

(My dad, Jim, suggested I tell you that the picture at the top of the post is of The Three Sisters, looking down on the town of Canmore a few minutes outside of Banff, and the place where Yvonne grew up. I took the picture in the Canmore Cemetery, where many of the headstones are inscribed with pictures of The Three Sisters. When Yvonne was growing up she liked to think of that particular mountain cluster as a representation of the three girls in her family: Eldene, Yvonne and Sharon.)
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