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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chicken Scrapbook Memories

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Two years ago, in the spring, Don's cell phone rang at 4:00AM. It was the Post Office saying his chicks had arrived and to please come pick them up. They were peeping like they had something to crow about.

Since then he has bought more, and some he raised from eggs his chickens laid.



The Polish chicken varieties have spiky head feathers that resemble Samuel Beckett's hairdo. My Dutch sister-in-law Astrid named this one Kuifje (which I believe means this kind of top-heavy hair).



The two chicks below left are Polish, Honey is in the middle. You can already see their dominant bird brains, ha. You'll see more of Honey, below, when she's grown up.



Memorial Weekend 2008 was the first time Don let his first flock of chicks, the Ornamentals, out of the coop. Honey already needed a feather cut, because she couldn't see. So Lesley held her while Don played barber. Peter was Dr. Doolittle.




Don has also raised quail, ducks and turkeys. Last Thanksgiving he gave his organic, free range turkeys to many families around Michigan.



After more than two years of feeding and watering twice a day -- including in the deep freeze of Michigan winters -- cleaning coops, brooding, hatching, and gathering eggs, Don has decided to gradually thin the herd and be done with raising birds altogether. We don't eat eggs or chicken any more, and so raising them just to give away or sell is losing its appeal. Plus, we can't stay away more than one night, so we're feeling tied down. Don has raised some birds for meat to sell, but the first batch we got, the Ornamentals, we raised for farmy ambiance, and eggs. We named that first group, like members of the family. We would never, ever eat them.



Bob the Crèvecœur raped and pillaged. Squanto and Khan bit the hand that fed them. They, um, got the axe.




Our girls who were named have all been sold in the last few weeks to nearby farmers, except Jolie, who got sick and died this past spring.


At full coop Don had 116 birds. Now, all that are left are 8 turkeys, 7 quail, 7 chickens and 2 ducks. All the birds we named are gone. He wants to sell the rest, and by Thanksgiving in November, when these turkeys will be 30-40 pounds dressed out on a platter, he plans to be featherless.



When Don told me he was ready to be done with birds, I asked, What about Honey? What about Floozie?

He replied with a question, "Do you want to feed and water them?"

Pause.

Pout.

"No."

I was like a head with my chicken cut off.



I miss Honey, Floozie, Dahlia and Jolie running around the yard. (I don't think Bishop does.) But I did little or nothing to keep them alive, and as the saying goes, I shouldn't cackle if I haven't laid. Is it worth all Don's hard work, just for the pretty atmosphere they create on the farm? Do I want to venture out to the coop every morning and every evening, spring, summer, autumn and winter?




Don has promised Lesley that when she and Brian start a family, he will get chicks before they visit, so their kids can learn about animals, play with them, and gather eggs, as many kids have done here, like Kaeley, our niece.




Until that happy day when Lesley and Brian start their own nesting, ours will be empty.



Don has a blog called A View from the Green Barn, where he chronicled his chicken and other farm escapades. It's wonderful. He doesn't post much any more, but there is still a lot there worth reading.
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64 comments:

Susan said...

Lovely piece, Ruthie. I certainly understand Don's decision and it's one that David has asked me to make in the coming year or so. When he retires in December 2011, he wants us to be free to travel and it's hard to do that when there are animals waiting to be fed and watered constantly. We have a neighbor girl who will fill in for a couple of days, but she will be going off to college this fall. And she doesn't like the ick factor. We still eat the eggs, so I'm not sure what we will do about that...find a local source as I did before, I suppose.

I will certainly miss the eggs and seeing them in the yard, but I won't miss the winter chores or the poop on the patio.

Shari Sunday said...

I loved this post. My aunt in Oklahoma had chickens (just the plain variety) and we ate fresh eggs and fried chicken often. I loved your pictures, the stories and the chicken names. I know Don deserves a break but I hope birds will roam the farm again someday. I bet those turkeys will taste fabulous! Nice to know they had a good life and weren't kept in those little cages or something awful.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Ruth, I absolutely love this whole cluck-able post... but you had to get me laughing with the 2 hairdo poses.. could be a virtual transformation... hahahaha.. even the faces look uncannily similar.

very best to you.

California Girl said...

I will miss the chicken photos. I've enjoyed them so. It gives me a kick to know your cat co-existed with the chickens without incident. Hard to believe. The names of the chickens are so funny. The eggs are so pretty. You're gonna miss them. Me too. wah!

George said...

I loved this posting, Ruth. Great photos, and your relationships with the farm birds are both heartwarming and hilarious. The photos showing the resemblance between the Polish chicken and Samuel Beckett cracked me up -- no pun intended.

Kamana said...

this was a fantastic post. love those funny hairdos on the little chicks.

Lorenzo said...

Well, now we've mer practically the entire family. The photos and commentary are wonderful, Ruth, and I really enjoyed the peek into life on the farm. The photo of the scene of I assume Don trudging out to the coop in the snow is quite striking. Are those Christmas tree lights reflected on a window that we are seeing?

I'll saunter over to Don's blog for more ...

ellen abbott said...

My sister and BIL keep chickens. It's been very entertaining for me but then I don't have to take care of them. No rooster right now but that doesn't keep one of the hens from being broody, sitting on the infertile eggs as if she's going to hatch something.

Sandy said...

I loved this whole post with the pictures and re-reading the timeline (since Don had posted some of it way back when)... I LOVE the photos and know I will be sketching some chickens soon because it reinspired me seeing those cuties.

Sorry I couldn't get those pics to you sooner...it's been busy. Sad to read it's a closed chapter in your life, but certainly understandable. And........how great is that, the fact Don will make sure Leslie's kids have that experience.

Gwei Mui said...

What a wonderful scrapbook love the picture of your niece Kaeley and the chicks

westcobich said...

the moment I opened this entry, I said "ah." No, that's not right. How do you spell the sound you make when you have a sharp intake of breath that means Joy? (I've sat here making the sound several times, and still have no proper spelling of it.) Anyway, this is marvelous and marvelous fun! (for me, but I guess not so much for Don.)

I want to hold one of chicks, too! I am completely taken in by them! And the Polish ones, with the Beckett look-alike topknots? Priceless. (You also got me laughing with your comment: "I am a like a head with the chicken cut off." How perfectly put! and how many times do you get an occasion like that to drop that line in there?)

I just love this. The picture of the barn at Christmas makes me forget all the realities of what you deal with regarding caring and feeding and makes me think we (our family) really should have such space, such atmosphere and a cluster of animals. (yet we would be pathetic, not knowing what to do. Still...)

I am so glad I stopped here before running outdoors. Honestly, if I lived closer, I would volunteer to help with the fowl and any other barn beasties you might have! And I would politely ask if I might buy an egg or two. Why do they look some divine?
Thanks for sharing this. I will relate some of your tales at the dinner table tonight!

ds said...

I'm smiling (Beckett's hairdo on a chicken! A ferocious rooster named "Bob"!So many wonderful twists and phrases), but also a bit sad. So much hard work. Can't blame Don for becoming restless...
Great stories and insights as always, Ruth.Thank you!

Babs-beetle said...

I think I would be sad to see them go, though as a City girl, I would never be able to kill (and eat) any animal I had raised. I would be less than useless on a farm :)

Anet said...

I've enjoyed the chickens so much the past few years. Thanks to your "eggcellent" photography and Don's loving chicken tending.
I just adore the photo of Bishop sniffing the baby chicks! What a cutie:)

Marcie said...

Such a wonderful story about the saga - beginning to end - of your chickens..and how they have come to roost. Such terrific images!! The whole thing just made me smile..

Pat said...

This was such a great post. I truly enjoyed reading about your feathered friends. But I was so sorry to see them go. I understand why, but still sorry to see them go.

You've stopped eating eggs and chicken? Seriously?

Are you total vegans?

Oliag said...

At first I was going to say, "Say it isn't so!" but then I started thinking that the main reason I have never gotten chickens is because I don't want to be tied down with the care of them...There is a saying in the boating world that would be appropriate in the chicken world too, I think...It is said that the two happiest days of a boat owners life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it:)

I have to comment though that chickens are VERY photogenic...these models will be missed!

Arti said...

What a fascinating post! I've counted 48 photos here... and they're all wonderful portraits. As you said, these are family. Being a city gal all my life, I can get a glimpse of what's entailed in raising them. What a lot of work! Recently in our city, they're planning to set a bylaw allowing the raising of chicken in homes. But I just wonder whether that's viable or not... chicken in the backyard of a city lot?

Ginnie said...

This is one of your most soulful posts for me ever, sister. Isn't it funny how that happens! The humor, the turn of phrase, the images...all just brilliant. I think of Astrid's Kuifje (pronounced COW-fia) and smile. These things really do make me smile (like Mom naming the trees at the cottage). I love it all...but have a bit of sadness in thinking of them soon to be gone, even though I understand (I do want you to be able to leave long enough to visit us here in Holland, you know!). All but the memory of them. I still have the pictures of Nicholas holding the quail!

Ruth said...

Susie my dear, you were one of Don's teachers when he researched his world of chickens. You both have gotten a lot of pleasure, I think, from these years, and you could put your blogger heads together when problems arose. Finding someone else to supply your eggs won't be quite the same, but it's probably worth the sacrifice . . .

. . . to go to France, to Ireland, to Uruguay, to China, or wherever David wants to take you. What adventures lie ahead. It's thrilling!

Ruth said...

Shari, farm memories are good memories. I think any person is fortunate who has them in their childhood (even the ones of being attacked by a rooster!). Fried chicken is maybe my favorite food in the world, I can't resist it, even now that we are vegan-ish. If I am especially hungry, the first thing I think of is fried chicken.

Ruth said...

Hello, sweet Gwen! I love seeing you after so long. That studio of yours is a feat of fantastical effort and beauty. I'm thrilled for you.

Yes, I scoured the images I found of Beckett until I found just the right one. I think he is quite sketch-worthy, don't you?

Ruth said...

California Girl, they co-existed with our protection while the chicks were small. Later, when Bishop was used to them, she really seemed to understand that they were off limits. Now, you should hear her meow with annoyance as the 8 turkeys follow her around.

I know, I get a hitch in my throat missing these birds. I can't decide if I should leave them on my sidebar. :|

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, George. That Kuifje has been quite the muse for my painter friend Sandy (whose paintings of our birds, along with Laura's, another painter friend, I would like to showcase here again one day soon), for Astrid, and for others too. I had just recently been to Ireland when Don got these birds, and a particular portrait of Beckett in a Dublin theater was on my mind.

Ruth said...

Kamana, Don tells me these birds would have been bred to look that way, and it seems cruel, since they can hardly see! But they really are very picturesque.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Lorenzo. Yes, you saw the image right, with Christmas lights reflected on the window.

In another couple of weeks you'll meet my big family, who will be here for Farm Day. You see, our population here is ever in flux.

Judy said...

I hope you don't mind... I'm sending my friends over to your site this week to look at the wonderful chickens! Love them!... and Bishop more!

Char said...

i understand this - my 17 year old cat passed away last week and though i miss him, it is also a tremendous burden that has been lifted from me. freedom is a good thing to have sometimes.

Bella Rum said...

Oh, these are beautiful photos, Ruth. You almost had me there. I was wistfully thinking about how much fun it would be to have a few chicks. Than I got to that pesky part about "feeding and watering twice a day -- including in the deep freeze of Michigan winters -- cleaning coops, brooding, hatching, and gathering eggs." Um! Maybe not, but I thoroughly enjoyed being a vicarious chicken farmer for a few minutes. Again, such beautiful images.
Bella

Helena said...

Beautiful birds! I'm sorry you had to let them go.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I know, hens have the instinct, no matter if there's no viable chick in the egg.

Don found a fertilized egg the other day, and we have no roosters now. He says a hen can store sperm for 3 months.

Ruth said...

Dear Sandy, I gave you little notice, and then the post got big, and I thought I'd do a separate post with your paintings and Laura's sometime in the winter when I am missing them a lot, and we need some spring. Thank you for sending them, and a new cuteee one!

cathyswatercolors said...

A new chapter begins on the farm. I wonder what will come next. Your pictures have always been wonderful of the birdies,but i especially loved the names and of course reading about their escapades.

Sweet freedom down on the farm

VioletSky said...

Being one of those with romantic notions of chickens running around and fresh eggs every morning, I often overlook the immense responsibility in keeping that romance alive.

You probably have enough photos to make 2 or 3 years worth of calendars, where you can chart your new responsibilities.

I didn't realize you don't eat eggs... maybe I missed something. --- and look the WV is diet!

freefalling said...

From wannabe chicken ranchers all over the blog world, a big thank you to you and Don for allowing us to vicariously live our dreams of raising chickens, through all your wonderful stories and photos at Synchronizing and the Green Barn.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Gwei Mui. Kaeley and those chicks are pretty photogenic. She had so much fun. She named the one "Lil Chef."

Ruth said...

Dear Oh, if you lived closer, I'd love to have you over, but you wouldn't have to work. We could watch Don work.

Your comment made me feel great, thank you so much. One of the reasons Don initially got chickens was so I could photograph them. How nice is that?

I confess to you that I never knew that chicken saying existed, about being like a head with its chicken cut off. I was browsing several chicken sites, and I saw that, along with many other chicken sayings and quotes. So there really is that saying, it means being depressed!

That was a very, very nice visit from you. I hate to see you go . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you, DS. I always hated it when the roosters would get mean. Khan attacked me. I hated it because it scared me, and I hated it because I knew it meant they'd probably go down with the axe. Well, I don't know how Don disposed of them. I didn't want to know, and he didn't tell me.

I cried after Bob. I suddenly realized he was nowhere to be found, and I asked Don where he was. :|

Ruth said...

Babs, I know. Me too. Farmers, from what I can tell, are pretty removed from emotional attachment to the animals they have to kill. Our boundary was that we wouldn't name any animal Don raised for meat. But still, I don't know how he does it. I suppose if I were a pioneer, or we were reduced to surviving by our hands, I'd learn it in a heartbeat.

Ruth said...

Anet, they have been fun, haven't they? I'm glad you enjoyed them too.

I'll keep them on my sidebar . . . don't know how long. I'll know, I guess.

Ruth said...

Oh thank you, Marcie, I'm glad you came. It is very entertaining just to sit and watch these creatures.

Your Orphan Annie portrait is incredibly beautiful. What a child.

Ruth said...

Hi there, Pat, my friend. I'll post photos, and even paintings, of them occasionally, when I'm lonesome.

We are vegan-ish. We eat meat/fish/cheese once or twice a week. No eggs pretty much. No dairy. We started just after Christmas last year, after reading the book our son gave us for Christmas, The China Study by Colin Campbell. You can read about it here. Don and I both love meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. But we believe this protein scientist who says animal protein is the number one cause of our diseases, including cancer and heart disease. With my history, having melanoma in 1991, I just feel like it's a good idea.

Gwen Buchanan said...

He definitely is!!!!!!!

Jeanie said...

This, my friend, is a stunning post. The photos are absolutely glorious and I was so excited reading -- and then, and I can't believe it, but I felt choked up as you brought it to a close with farewells all around. I confess, I wouldn't want to be the caretaker, either, but it still made me sad. Farewells always make me sad. Beautiful, my friend. A tribute to those who gave great joy (and mighty fine eggs!)

Terresa said...

What an enjoyable walk through your coop! I loved the pet names, the hair (erm, feather) cuts, the realization of a truly empty nest, but how you have given to future generations through example, teaching, time.

My grandparents used to keep chickens. I loved, as a little girl, going out and seeing if there were any eggs to gather. Always a treat, but now, a distant memory...

laura said...

As a NYC girl, I never thought a post about chickens would make me cry! I never realized how beautiful and fascinating chickens were until I started following Don's blog. Maybe it's partly chicken, partly the people who, through their loving care and attention, show us there is more to them ...?
Thank you Ruth and Don!

Ruth said...

Oliag, ha, boat maintenance. I do think Don did a lot of happy sailing with his birds, and he loved having the fresh eggs, and giving or selling them to friends. A big part of what he loved was sharing with people.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you. I had no idea there were that many photos. Wow. What you say is happening all over the U.S. too, backyard chickens in the middle of cities, being legalized. It's wonderful for families to have a chance to raise their own eggs, and for kids to learn about farm animals. You can build what they call "chicken tractors" which are small portable coops that can be wheeled around the yard, and they can feed on grass through the bottom.

Ruth said...

Boots, I'm glad you liked this and found it soulful, that means a lot to me.

I hunted and hunted for quail photos I have of Eli with one on his shoulder, but I have done a poor job archiving and filing it, because I can't find it. I did see many photos of Nicholas and eggs, so sweet! I'll never forget how attached he was to the quail.

Ruth said...

Of course, Judy, I'd love to welcome your friends to the virtual chicken coop. ;-)

Ruth said...

Char, I'm so sorry about your cat. I guess I don't have the same feelings Don does, about the chickens, because I didn't do the work.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bella. The birds are photogenic, but sometimes they really are hard to keep still. I had the best times when I got down on the ground where they were looking down at me.

Ruth said...

Helena, yes, but it's good that we had them for a while. I think Floozie's and Honey's faces in my memories will always make me smile.

Ruth said...

Cathy, it's interesting because you can sort of tell who named what birds. Lesley the French speaker named Jolie. Don the Spanish speaker named Oro (she's from Peru). I, the English major, named Samuella (Beckett). Don named the Indian Brahmans Kama & Sutra. ;)

Ruth said...

Violetski, you are a clever girl, suggesting we make calendars with the photos to block out our now-free time. :D

I didn't announce anything about our "diet", so you didn't miss anything. We went vegan-ish last Christmas, based on the book called the China Study by Colin Campbell, a protein scientist, whose studies show a relation between animal protein and cancer, heart disease and diabetes. We still love meat, eggs, fish, cheese and milk. We just don't consume much of them any more, not that we really miss them. We're enjoying food more than we ever have, it's great.

Ruth said...

Letty, it's always been a joy to share these sweet creatures with you, and all the friends of the Green Barn, here and via Don's. I especially thought of you in this post, knowing you might be a little wistful about some of these faces.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I didn't think this era would end. But I don't blame Don one bit. I am grateful he gave me the chickens for over two years. He brought many people a lot of joy, including through our blogs. There's just something about those eyes, those beaks, those feathers, those two legs running around.

Ruth said...

Terresa, we've talked in my family about how it seems like almost everyone has a love of a farm in them somewhere, even if we don't have personal experience at one growing up. I think children gravitate to farm life. Don is such a child himself, and a lover of kids, that kids who come here are in heaven. I bet your kids would love it.

Ruth said...

Laura, what a kind thing you said. Thank you. Don and I have a real soft spot for you and your water colors, especially of our two chickens looking at each other through the barn window. I'll post it and your quail eggs one day a few months form now when I'm even lonelier for chickens.

renaye said...

OMG. the chicks are so adorable!!! but every animal that is in a pup form is charismatic.

Vagabonde said...

I missed some of your posts, so I went back and read each one. I don’t know how you keep up having a profession and still writing such interesting posts – I can barely keep up writing one every week or so. I liked your post on French, and more so because I had just read a comment on another blog from a woman in Arizona who said that France would no longer give the Statue of Liberty to the US if they had to do it again because they hate America. It made me so sad that she would say that (she had never been to France) so it was nice reading your piece. If you go to Canada, they have a very different accent there and also different words – like UK English and US English. Also in some little towns it is hard to understand them. Some of their words are English words but frenchifided. For example I wished to buy some blueberry jam in Quebec and asked for blueberry in French which is “myrtille” and they did not understand me. So I saw the jar but on it was written “bleuet” which in French is a flower, corn flower not blueberry, and several words like that.

John Jorgenson is terrific. I loved the music.
When we bought this house there were some chicken in the back. We kept them while our two girls were growing up and even bought some fancy ones, like bantams. They named them too – Ginger, Goldie, etc. but ten years later when they were in high school they were no longer interested. Some farmer came and gathered them – we could not eat them of course. We still have the barn in the back; the roof is rusted in some parts. Your chickens pictures were lovely.

deb said...

The photos are stunning.
When school begins again and I have a little more free time, I'm going to scour and savour your archived posts and photos. Everything is beyond gorgeous. And you inspire.
I admit to briefly entertaining the notion of doing the farm and chicken thing in a few years. But your Don is a wise man. The everyday of it is real. A few dreamy photos and quirky names is not. I guess sometimes we can't resist the nurturing side of ourselves and love makes us blind to the cost and consequences. I know we wouldn't want to not be able to travel .
still..... :)

Did you have this property while your children were younger? We opted for the convenience of suburbia, including the instant availability of playmates , but it's lost it's charm now that our youngest is 12 , oldest 21, and we're starting to think of options.

rauf said...

Actually they want to be left alone Ruth, no need to take care of them. But we do. i can go out because sister would take care of Pandurangan Pillai. Otherwise it is difficult to leave the chicken unattended. And it was difficult to part with them when we went to Coorg on holidays. And seeing some of them on the dinner table was not a pleasant sight and i used to cry. We would understand more about the balance of nature if we see life under the sea how big fish eats smaller fish. We need not feel sorry for the fish or the chicken. in Coorg we had to protect smaller chicks from eagles. i have seen a fox carrying a big rooster. rest of the chicks scream a lot when that happens.

Wish the Chicks could see your pictures Ruth, so lovely.

Astrid said...

No coffee or tea for me please, thank you, Ginnie told me about your post and the chickens, I had to see Kuifje one more time, I know you will miss them but Life goes on, it is almost impossible to keep all the chickens and have a normal life next to it.
I often read your posts, and I love them, happy anniversary to Lesley's and Brians wedding day, time flies......
Great post again with wonderful pictures.