Saturday, May 31, 2014


We lost our sweet little Wyandotte, Daisy, today. She was slow to leave the coop this morning and spent the morning sitting on the deck. I became concerned and dug out our Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow and started searching for causes of lethargy and diarrhea (no one ever said the life on the Unfarm was glamorous). I also double checked the chicken first aid kit supplies recommended over on the Fresh Eggs Daily blog at and decided that Kocci-Free sounded like it might be what we needed, or at least it couldn't hurt. I started calling around to our local feed stores but no one seemed to have Kocci-Free in stock. I had decided I needed to set out to the feed stores and see what else they did have but I wanted to check on Daisy again first. I went out the the back to see how she was doing and that is when I saw her. She was lying on her side in the pathway, between the honeysuckle and the china blue vines. She was already gone. 

Daisy will be greatly missed, as she was one of our friendlier hens, if not the friendliest, and she was quite sweet and gentle as well. So sweet and gentle that the other hens tended to pick on her and she was usually last to get any treats during a feeding frenzy. I will miss seeing her up on the railing, stealing squirrel food; or running behind the other hens with her funny little gait; or jumping for blueberries under the bushes in the summer. 

This brings our hen population down to only three, none of which are laying. Beauty has never laid a single egg, despite being an Australorp, a breed reputed to be good layers. Penny has historically been a good layer, but seems to have joined a union and gone on strike. Sakari, the last of our original three hens (and my personal hen) is just plain retired having reached the age of 10 years. How this little workhorse of a chicken has made it so long when everyone else has succumbed to one illness or another is beyond me, but I am glad for it - she is the matriarch of our flock.

I hope that we can add a new chicken or two to the flock again soon. I miss going out to the coop to collect eggs, and it seems lonely in the coop now with just the three girls.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Love is in the air...unfortunately

It's springtime. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the ducks are... mating. Yes, it's true, while rabbits are widely considered to be the great multipliers, from what I have seen it's the ducks that actually try the hardest. Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem but Minna and Maggie are two different breeds of duck: Minna is a mallard mix and Maggie (despite the name, Maggie is actually a boy) is a pekin, and is at least twice as large as Minna. In addition to putting in lots of practice, Maggie also never seemed to learn that no means no, which means that Minna is frequently not in the mood when Maggie comes calling, and tries to wiggle away.

A couple of weeks ago Minna caused some alarm when she seemed to be under the weather. She wasn't eating much and she seemed to be unable to move very far without resting. I rushed her off to the vet and waited to hear the results. Is it a gut upset? Is she egg bound? Is she sick? Is it curable?? Often the news from the vet is worse than we had expected so I am rarely surprised now when the bill comes out in the hundreds of dollars. I am sure we have single handedly paid for the new wing at the vet hospital. One of these days I fear I will find myself on the street corner holding a sign that says, "Have 14 pets. Sold the house to pay for vet bills. Anything helps." 

When the vet came back with the verdict I held my breath and braced for the impact. "She sprained her leg. A week of Rimadyl and she'll be fine." What? Could it possibly be true? A vet bill under $100 and a problem so easily fixed? My luck must be changing. The vet went on to explain that it was most likely caused by her trying to stand up and get away while a giant pekin stood on her back. I was told to give her the medicine and keep her separated from Maggie at least until her leg healed. Minna was thrilled. Maggie was not. 

Minna got to spend the week lounging in the bunny room, getting private meal times and sleeping on a soft bed. Maggie spent the week standing outside my window quacking at me to let me know what he thought of this new arrangement. Aside from mating related injuries, Maggie is actually very protective of Minna and likes to stay where he can keep an eye on her and know that she is safe; that he couldn't even see her did not make him happy. Maggie is also very good at figuring out where in the house I am, and going to whichever window or door is closest to make his presence known. 

Below the second floor bunny room is a patio, and the yard slopes upward and away from the house beyond that. So while the patio is closest to the window, it is also farther down than the back section of the yard. Maggie decided he needed to be on the patio, but higher up somehow. His solution to this dilemma was simple: he got into the livestock tank that serves as their pool, and stood on the four bricks that are stacked in the pool to facilitate easier exiting from the pool, then stretched his neck all the way up and quacked under my window. He seemed quite proud of himself for discovering this solution - despite what you may think, ducks are very smart animals.

I am surprised that Maggie didn't lose his voice with all the complaining he did that week, but despite being out of sorts he managed to survive. Minna healed up quite well and has rejoined Maggie in the yard. Life on the Unfarm returns to normal - which is to say that it is in a constant state of chaos.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

In all fairness, when I started writing this post, it was still Monday. And it would have been posted by Monday if the internet hadn't crashed, sending my post into the black hole where all things lost on the internet end up. So here we go again.

Last week I the blog took a hiatus while I worked on a pincushion for a Mother's day gift, with bee pins that turned out pretty cute (although mine is probably not an unbiased opinion); biked around the town and to work on account of the fact that my car was out of gas; worked on some art; and impaled my leg on a metal garden fence. Not to worry though, the prongs between the gate were large enough to get my calf wedged through, but not small enough to break the skin on both sides. As it was I escaped with a cut on only one side of my leg and L-shaped bruises on both sides, where the fence went on, and where I had to rip it back off again.

At any rate, it is Monday (sort of) and time for another photo from the Unfarm.

Today I managed to catch the ducks sleeping under the lilac tree, in a patch of lily of the valley. Unfortunately, Axel walked past and set off Maggie's protective instincts, causing him to tear out of the flowers and chase Axel off until Maggie determined that Axel was now at a safe enough distance from Minna. Maggie takes his job as Minna's bodyguard very seriously. So the picture I had intended to get - of both ducks sleeping with their beaks tucked under their wings - ended up becoming a photo of Maggie returning to Minna, quacking his "qua-qua-qua-qua-qua-qua-qua" chatter that he uses to reassure Minna and calm her down. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Beauty and Daisy enjoy a break in the rain and take a stroll through the garden. They may look innocent enough but it will only be a matter of time before they are terrorizing small plants or kicking mulch everywhere except for where we intend it to be. A garden with chickens is never without a little chaos.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things

How does that song go again? Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ These are a few of my favorite things... I don't know about copper kettles or woolen mittens but I do love a good kitten. Or a mischievous kitten. Or any kitten, for that matter. And while we're on the topic, I don't mind ducks, bunnies, dogs, grown up cats, horses.... who am I fooling? I like pretty much any animal, baby or not. Especially badgers. And most things containing sugar - I have a huge sweet tooth. But what does the rest of the Unfarm enjoy? Do ducks even have a favorite thing? Stay tuned.... 

Cheetos: These cheesy, crunchy treats are a favorite of Mynx. I have no idea where she picked up the Cheetos habit but there is no denying that she loves them. I am the only one who eats these on occasion and whenever I do, Mynx can be found sitting in front of me, waiting for me to break off tiny pieces of Cheetos for her. Also high on her list of favorite things is sleeping on my stomach at night.

This picture pretty much explains itself

Car rides: No one loves a ride in the car more than Axel. He especially loves to ride with his head sticking out the window and spends the trip whining in the backseat if he is not allowed to. I have tried to explain that I will not open the window if it is a) raining, b) cold, c) the car is traveling down the freeway at 65 miles per hour, or d) all of the above. He has informed me that he doesn't care: that is what fur coats are for and he will continue to complain, thank you very much.

Axel and his friend Stella hanging out in the car after a hike

Blueberries: These are a favorite of both the ducks and the chickens, but they have different strategies when it comes to harvesting these treats. The ducks go for a quantity over quality approach: they grab whatever bunches are within their reach whether they are ripe or not. Usually not. The chickens take a more precision approach: they stand beneath the bushes, get a berry in their sights, and then jump straight up into the air and grab one berry at a time. 

Grapes: Similar to the blueberries, the chickens and the ducks both go after my grapes. The chickens have a distinct advantage here, though, in that they can fly up into the grape arbor and eat at their leisure. We generally consider ourselves lucky if the humans on the Unfarm manage to get any fruit. 

A young Belle sits in the grape arbor
The kitchen: This room is endlessly fascinating to the chickens. Who knows what wonderful little bits they might find on the floor in here - pieces of dog food, bread crumbs, bird seed, a random vegetable piece or bit of fruit. (Perhaps we do not sweep the kitchen as often as we should, but I'm going to look at the positive side - it's not a lack of cleaning but actually an opportunity for chicken enrichment activity.)

Daisy, Penny and Sakari raid the kitchen
Sakari checks out Buddy's food bowl for leftovers

Jumping: No surprise here - this is a favorite of the bunnies. Ginger and Clover are especially fond of jumping which means that they are not allowed out in the grape arbor run as they can clear the fence and escape into the yard. This is great fun for them but means that we then spend at least half an hour chasing them around the garden trying to catch them. This is not fun for us.

Ginger prefers hanging out on TOP of her cage rather than inside it
Making the bed: Or more accurately, unmaking the bed. Max is quite fond of hanging out on the bed when I am trying to make it. He is convinced that the true purpose of this activity is to entertain him by playing blanket monster. While I am trying to straighten the blankets, he is diving underneath them. Or jumping on top of them. Or hiding beneath one and attacking my hand whenever I move near enough. 

Max is an expert at making simple chores take twice as long as they should
Getting treats: everyone on the Unfarm enjoys treats. You can't shell peas around the ducks without losing at least half of them to Maggie, who is tall enough to reach the bowl on your lap. The chickens come running whenever squirrel food is being doled out, or the compost bin from the kitchen is taken out, or the leftovers no one wants are brought out. (Spaghetti is considered "pasta worms" by the ladies.) The cats always enjoy a bit of tuna (or tuna sprinkled with Cheetos.) The dogs are fond of just about any treat we give them and especially enjoy it when I bake for them - carob brownies area  favorite. And then there's the bunnies - despite the fact that rabbits are regularly depicted as having a serious carrot habit, they actually prefer dandelion leaves (organic, of course) or bananas. Speaking of treats...I think I hear a mini batch of chocolate chip cookies calling my name. If they are also calling your name, feel free to make a batch. The recipe is on this blog under the title "Chocolate chip cookies mini batch." Enjoy.