Tag Archives: Farm animals

Waiting for Sandy: Hurricane Prep, Farm-Style

I’ve lived my whole life within a few miles (sometimes a few feet) of major coastlines, so hurricane prep is something I’m accustomed to. However, the possible combination of frequent 70-mile per hour gusts, 60 live animals, and a recently constructed parachute-like structure called a hoop house is a new one for me. And I noticed yesterday that Roy was being particularly meticulous about nailing and weighting and tying things down. Hmmm. The last time we had hurricane warnings, he seemed fairly nonplussed. This one, not so much.

So it is safe to say we have a healthy degree of concerned anticipation (I wouldn’t call it anxiety) about what Hurricane Sandy might bring our way. Frankly, I’m more worried about my parents in Delaware and my friends in Connecticut, where the storm will bring much more rain and flooding. But we do have a responsibility to protect live critters. We’ve done our best to secure the hoop house, and even if the greenhouse film rips and writhes in the wind, leaving us with a mess, we can replace it and fix it, no problem. The hope is that no other supposedly immovable objects start acting like projectiles around the yard, with the potential to hurt us or the animals.

Moving Cocoa Bunny into the barn was the first and most obvious precaution. (We’ve done this with previous storms.) Her cage is easy to lift, and she will be happy and snug through the two days of high winds. (My lifelong friend Liz Pardoe Gray is here visiting and snapped the pic of Susie and Roy.) Also obvious this time was clearing the farm stand completely and turning it over before the wind has a chance to do that (like it did in last fall’s Nor’ Easter). We had to wait until later in the afternoon to do this, though, because we had the farm stand open to sell eggs today. We put out 7 1/2 dozen—everything we collected yesterday and today, thinking we wouldn’t put out any tomorrow or Tuesday—and they all sold. Not surprising, really—Vineyarders may be hunkering down, but they’re still going to eat well!

For the seven older chickens, we’ll let them go into their coop tonight, supply them with extra water and feed, and not let them out into their yard in the morning. They have spacious digs, so they will be fine hanging out inside the coop. This afternoon we corralled the bigger flock of 48 into the small permanent pen adjacent to their coop—much less area for them to roam around in, but also much less chance of breaking tree limbs crashing down on them. (Some of them needed more convincing than others to leave their new grazing area, so Roy helped them along.) We will probably let them go back out into that limited area in the morning, though we’ve put an extra waterer in the coop in case that turns out to be a bad idea. They’d probably rather wander in and out of the rain and wind instead of being “cooped up” together all day. We’ll also need to get in the coop to collect eggs and that can be difficult with all of them in there. But we’ll have to see what we think in the morning.

Most importantly, Roy has filled a big trash can with water for the chickens in case the power goes out and we can’t use the well. Chickens drink a lot of water, and going even a day without is not an option.

There wasn’t much I could do in the vegetable garden. Nature will take its course out there and I am fine with that. I harvested some lettuce and arugula and green beans for our dinner tonight (first bay scallops of the season), and picked the prettiest zinnias, as I know those plants are going to get nailed. But otherwise, I mostly just picked up any tools or random stakes I could find and tucked them in the shed. I moved pumpkins and potted plants under the covered front entry, and I stacked random outdoor furniture in the outside shower.

With everything as secure as we could manage, Roy and I moved inside to enjoy the kind of Sunday afternoon only possible when a good friend is visiting and a hurricane is threatening (even the ferry boats to and from the Island have been canceled so we are essentially  marooned!). Being forced to slow down for a few hours is actually a gift for us; so no matter what Sandy brings, we are glad for the interlude.


Open House! The Hens Get a Preview

The chickens got to see the inside of the covered hoop house before I did. While I have been otherwise occupied (a funeral, a photo shoot, a TV filming), Roy has been humming along on the hoop house. Maybe humming isn’t the right word–more like whistling. Last week he reinforced the ends, put in a door, and nailed wooden battens along the hoops, and this weekend he slipped the cover film on so quickly that I’m still not sure how he did it. This is a task that usually takes a few people. Hmmm. Anyway, he then moved the chickens’ temporary fencing so that they could wander into the hoop house during the day, cleaning up the weeds and kicking up the dirt in the process. A nosey hawk has been circling around lately, too, so it’s a good time for the hens to be under a little more cover.

Finally this morning, with no big task ahead of me, I was able to get out, poke around, and take some pictures. I never get tired of watching the chickens, and the light inside the hoop house was lovely on this clear October day. It feels cozy and peaceful in there. I can only imagine the life it is going to take on when plants and hoses and boots and trellises and pots and buckets take over. Nothing like an empty space for the imagination to fill. But in the meantime, the chickens get the honor.




Rosie the Ringleader and the Houdini Hens

We had a lovely visit from Brooklyn-based food and lifestyle photographer Alexandra Grablewski this week. She took pictures of us and just about everything on the farm but she was particularly fascinated with the chickens. It’s hard not to be—they are totally entertaining. Especially when they get out of their yard and go on walk-abouts.

I usually know when one or more has escaped the chicken yard, because I hear Farmer whining. He gets terribly upset if I don’t go out and immediately pick them up and return them to the pen. But often this happens during the day when I’m working—plus I know it’s probably just Rosie. Rosie (pictured here) is the independent type and seems to like using her wings to fly over a tall fence every morning. Occasionally two, three, or four follow her, and I can generally round those gals up without help. Roy claims I am the worst chicken rounder-upper out there, and it may be true.

But a couple times in the past week there’s been a mass exodus, so we’ve both had to do our rounding-up best. Look, it’s not like they don’t have a huge yard and fresh grass to feed on. They shouldn’t feel the need to travel—it’s just that, well, chickens like to cross the road, or the yard, or anything. In both of those cases, the culprit has been an unlatched or partially latched door they’ve managed to push open. (Of course we have no idea who would leave the gate unlatched!) And herding 48 laying hens is nothing short of comical.

Usually if you get close to them they’ll squat and let you pick them up. But a few are flighty and will just fuss and squawk and ruffle their feathers and generally be obstinate about the whole returning home thing. These are the ones who wind up underneath the tractor, in a thicket of brambles and branches, or over in the perennial flowers. Rosie will be hanging out with them, you can just count on it.

Eventually, with a chicken (or two) under each arm, we get them all back in. And then there’s the whole going-to-bed problem. Forty-three of the chickens go inside the coop just like chickens are supposed to do when the sun goes down. But five of them have decided that the best roosting spot is on top of the water trough out in the yard. So they have to be picked up and stuck inside the coop one by one. (Roy does this every night.) And if you do it too soon, they’ll just start coming back out as you’re getting the last one in.

Perhaps there’s a reason man started eating chickens so many years ago. Might be easier than keeping laying hens. The eggs are pretty darn tasty though.

P.S. Alexandra’s photos of the farm and chickens are for a future project, so we won’t be able to share any of them for awhile–but promise it will happen when the time comes!

A New Chicken Villa — and Opening Day at the Fair

Keeping focused is going to be nearly impossible for me today. I can smell sausages and burgers and funnel cakes and roast pig and French fries and egg rolls. I can hear loud speakers, crowd murmurs, thumping music, giddy children shouting, and rides cranking up. It’s the first day of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair, and as I told you last year, we live RIGHT across the street from the fair grounds. This could be a problem if you weren’t in the right kind of spirit (our neighbors have left town!), but we are totally into it. In fact, we are Fair nerds.

We were up at the crack of dawn arranging all the veggies we are submitting to be judged in the “Hall” where hundreds of pies, preserves, photos, crafts, and of course, home grown veggies, will be displayed. (The theme of the Fair this year, is “Display with Pride.” I took that literally and entered the herb competition for the first time, which required an arrangement that I think I could be really proud of—if I were in sixth grade. But I’m not embarrassed. I totally had fun putting it together—at 11 o’clock last night since time evaporates in a whiff around here.) It’s all I can do not to get up from my desk to run over and see the ox pull and the pet show. But maybe we’ll get over to the Fair tonight in time to see the swimming pig races. Or the corn-husking competition.

But you can see I’m already distracted, off topic, and generally heading towards not getting any work done today (which really is not an option). I intended to write about Roy’s new chicken villa, so I must at least give you the quick scoop.

The “babies,” as we still call them at 4 months old, started laying eggs last week—a little earlier than we expected. So far we’re only getting a few a day (little brick-red eggs), but once all 49 start laying daily, we will be inundated. In anticipation, Roy has expanded their living quarters three-fold. (They need all the grassy pasture we can get them on to make those eggs yummy!)

First, he replaced the temporary outdoor pen next to the coop with a permanent structure (of full standing height). Much relief here as the temporary pen wasn’t tall enough for us to stand in. Now there’s even a door to the outdoor pen, where we can come and go to fill the groovy new water trough Roy built. He took two pieces of gutter and fit them into a hen-height structure that has a little roof over it so they can’t mess up their water as they love to do. (They roost on top of anything.) This beauty holds a lot of water, too, so we’re not constantly running down there to refill. Plus, all we have to do is plop the hose in it to fill it up. The standing chicken waterer had a whole cap-and-pressure system that made it impossible to refill without two hands and/or moving the whole thing. And it didn’t hold enough water for 49 chickens for a day! (Fun chicken fact of the day, as seen in photos at left: chickens can’t swallow unless they tilt their heads up!)

Next Roy moved the temporary pen to a nice shady area (connected to the permanent pen) so the girls can go hang out over there in the hottest parts of the day and dig dust baths. Lastly, he made another temporary pen on fresh grass (also connected) for excellent snacking. The temporary pens are movable so that we can put the hens on to fresh grass from time to time. (Daytime pens still have to be covered with netting to protect the birds from hawks, but they don’t require buried fencing, as predators like skunks and raccoons only do their stalking at night. Theoretically, all the hens should be inside the coop by nightfall, but one of our girls likes to stay out and enjoy the moonlight. So Roy always has to persuade her to go inside so that he can drop the door (lowered on a new slider he made) to lock them in.

The chicken villa still needs some finish work and a few more improvements, but you can already tell how happy the girls are to have all that room to run around in. They are fascinating to watch (Farmer can’t believe his eyes) and the “big girls” (our original flock of laying hens) look down the hill from their pen with obvious envy.

I’m excited, too, about all those eggs on the way. Just think, next year we’ll be able to enter eggs in the Fair, too. I can’t wait!

Why Did The Chicken Fly the Coop? To Get to the Peas & Carrots, Of Course

I’ve been running inside a lot this week to grab my camera. It’s been one photo moment after another on the farm. On Sunday, we let the babies out of their coop into a temporary outdoor pen—their first foray onto grassy turf. This was hysterical to watch. It took quite a few minutes for the first chicken to advance out onto the plank. Three or four followed, and then the first one changed her mind and turned around and headed back inside. It went on like this for a while—a few would venture out and then turn around. You could just imagine the conversations going on.  (Personally, I had the Cockney voices of the talking vultures in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book in my head.) “You go. No you go. No way—YOU go. Nuh-huh, I’m staying here.”

Libby waited patiently in the pen for them to come out, approach her, and eventually start hopping on her lap. She is very calm around animals and they trust her. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the interaction between them all.

In the garden we are harvesting the most amazing peas and carrots, so I’m taking lots of pictures of these, too—while they last. I am so happy that I’ve finally figured out how to grow both of these veggies well. I just hope I can repeat the same success next year. (Or even this year with another round of carrots—which should have gone in the ground weeks ago!).

This morning I had fresh peas and carrots and strawberries for breakfast while I washed all the veggies. I smiled, thinking about peas and carrots, because they mean something special to Roy and me, and today is our anniversary. (The anniversary of our first date, that is, three years ago.) For some reason, when we were first dating, the movie Forrest Gump kept coming on TV. If you remember, Forrest says early on in the movie, “From that day on we was always together. Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” Roy picked this up (in Forrest’s voice, of course) and started saying it to me a lot. Who knew what we’d be doing three years later! Peas + Carrots + 60 babies (baby chickens) + one amazing little girl=love.

(And not to forget Farmer, who enjoyed Libby’s cart ride with one of the chickens.)

Moving Day—The Baby Chicks Get a Big-Girl Coop

Once he got started, it only took Roy two Sunday afternoons to get the new chicken coop built. Just in time, too, as the girls (all 49 of them!) are getting big. Plus, as I wrote about last week, there is so much to do around here that lingering for too long on any one thing just isn’t an option. So after choosing the perfect site for the new coop, Roy built the foundation and nailed the floor Sunday before last, then set to work on the walls and roof this weekend, using salvaged doors, windows, and boards.

I got a kick out of watching the whole thing come together (see photos below) into what looks like a pretty iconic chicken coop to me. (It has a built-in storage area for food and tools, too, which will be particularly handy.) The girls have an excellent spot, under some shade trees and with a killer view of the fields behind us. They’re still a little young to be out grazing, but next up is a big covered pen for them. In the mean time, they seem very happy with their new spacious indoor digs.

We used a plastic harvest basket to carry them, six or eight at a time, from the brooder in the barn to their new home.  All went smoothly, if a bit squawk-ily.

Even Bambi, who we successfully returned to the flock a couple weeks ago, seems happy, hopping up to greet us at the door from time to time when we go down to visit or refill the food and water. Farmer is anxious to see her, too, as he and she got to be pals. Fortunately, we can still identify her by her right foot, which is missing the middle toenail. Sorry for the graphic details, but this is how these things go! When we brought her inside on day two, she had an injured middle toe, which turned black and looked like it might be something fatal (with chickens, it’s all about the feet), but it miraculously healed itself, as you can see in the photo of Bambi on Libby’s shoulder taken a few weeks ago. (Or could see, if the photo were bigger!)

Below is a photo run-down of the coop-raising. Now, we have only three months to wait (and a lot of chicken food to feed) before our 49 new ladies are laying eggs. I can’t wait to see how that is going to work—me collecting four dozen eggs every day is not going to help the attention deficit disorder I already have around this place!

You’ve Got Mail! 50 Baby Chicks in a Cardboard Box

Overnight, we’ve gone from 11 live animals to 61 here at the farmette.  The baby chicks arrived at the West Tisbury post office about 9 am yesterday, and I am so very happy to report that they are all still alive this morning!

Roy took the call from the post office and drove over to collect the amazingly small (ventilated) cardboard box that they come in. (They need to be snuggled together to keep warm, and the newborn chicks live for a couple of days just on the remains of the yolk sac they’ve ingested.) I was waiting outside with the camera when he came, and it didn’t take long for me to hear the lovely Cheep! Cheep! chorus coming from the truck.

We took them out of the box one by one, and dipped their beaks in water so they’d get a little bit of hydration going and they’d know what the water source was. Then we put them into their toasty brooder box (more like a small room) that Roy built in the back of the barn/shop. It’s made of plywood, has a bit of insulation, and is topped with 3 old casement windows. A swinging door lets us move the food and water in and out, and a heat lamp with an infrared bulb keeps the brooder and the chicks warm.

Actually, there are supposed to be two heat lamps, but our second bulb burned out and a replacement is a couple days away. This was the cause of much discussion yesterday, and we did some rearranging to make sure the chicks wouldn’t smother each other last night trying to stay warm.

I, of course, am usually the worrywart in the family, but since these chicks are really Roy’s babies, I slept perfectly fine last night. I noticed, however, that Roy got up at 5:30 and came back to report that the babies were all doing fine. He is a sucker for little things. Me—I can’t wait until Libby gets here this weekend as I know she’s going to be enchanted. And Farmer, well, he’s not allowed in the barn/shop so he hasn’t met his 50 baby sisters. All in good time!

Welcome to the World, Little Lamb—R.I.P. Little Tiger

My Mom and Dad lost their little dog on Sunday. Tiger may have been a pint-sized poodle but he had the personality of a circus clown and the regal bearing of a prince. I’ve never seen a dog with eyes so black, or one with a step so lively. Tiger was a Type-A doggy, but underneath all that bravado was a heart of gold. And while he started out as Mom’s puppy, in the end it was Dad he snuggled up with every morning on the couch. Dad gave Tiger his daily shot and helped Tiger bear the more unseemly aspects of old age with patience and understanding. And together Mom and Dad gave Tiger the best 15 years of life a doggy could ever hope to have.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to my parents until yesterday, as my old-fashioned phone had swallowed up a text message my sister sent me with this news. Ironically, while Mom and Dad were mourning their loss, Libby and I were off welcoming newborns into the world. Newborn lambs. Our friend Liz Packer at Spring Moon Farm let us drop by and hang out with two ewes and their babies (each mom had given birth to twins—one black and one white lamb each), and Libby and I were in our element.

I was filling Roy in later about our visit with the lambs and describing Libby’s interaction with them. Roy and I have been talking a lot about our future farming plans, and the subject of sheep keeps coming up. Roy keeps saying “No” to sheep (despite his beloved summer on his uncle’s sheep farm), but I keep arguing their case. Finally I said to him in jest yesterday, “You know why we are eventually going to get sheep, don’t you? Because Libby wants lambs.” Roy conceded, “Yeah, I know.” He realizes he’s cooked on this one, because he watches his daughter with animals, and he knows what they mean to her. And Libby, to her credit, understands what happens to most farm lambs and agrees it would be okay as long as we get to name the mommy sheep and keep them around for a while.

It just reminded me what pure gifts animals are. When I called to talk to my parents, at first all I could think about is the giant hole they must be feeling in their lives. This kind of feeling is inevitable; there’s nothing to do but get through it. But looking at the picture of Tiger today, now all I can think about (and I know Mom and Dad are thinking this too) is what joy Tiger brought them all these years—what a great dog he was. Mom and Dad gave him a good life, and in return he gave what the best dogs give—unconditional love—and a bit of entertainment, too.

I will always be grateful to my parents for letting us have a dog (and a cat) growing up—for learning to love and care for an animal that depends on you in many ways. (To be fair, Mom did most of the “caring for” part with our dog!) This weekend, I smiled from ear to ear when Libby asked if she could take Farmer for a walk by herself. I kept an eye on her in the yard, and again later when she asked to hold the leash while we went around the field on our long walk. She did a great job handling Farmer and coaching him, and I was so tickled watching her take on this responsibility voluntarily.

We learn many things by caring for animals—not the least of which is to express our emotions. It’s a sad day when you lose an animal, but a happy one when you open your home to one and dedicate time and space in your life to care thoughtfully for it.

Cow-Spotting, Garden-opoly, A Girl, & A Dog–Reasons to Forgo New Year’s Resolutions

Lately I’ve been accomplishing nothing and enjoying everything. This may seem like a small matter, but for me it is a big deal. For years I rushed from one thing to the next; I couldn’t stay still long enough to appreciate and experience the good stuff right in front of me. I thought being goal-oriented was a good thing; now I think that strategy is flawed. That’s why I don’t make so called “New-Year’s Resolutions” which I think we forcefully and awkwardly impose on ourselves to manufacture some sort of tangible (usually physical) benefit, while we leave our inner selves untended to. My only real goal these days is to stay present in my life. This means slowing down, being patient, and listening to what the universe is trying to tell me.

This weekend that meant watching a little girl grow. We picked Libby up and brought her out to the Island on Thursday and returned her to Falmouth Monday night. Roy is working hard on a house renovation, so Libby (and Farmer, aka The Black Rider) and I set out to have a good time together during the day while Roy worked. By the end of the holiday, it wasn’t just the physical time spent with Libby that I enjoyed so much—it was the surreal sense I got of watching her personality forming, her confidence building, her creativity exploding, that made my spine tingle. Never could I have been a witness to this in my old life; I believe that’s why Libby showed up in my life when she did.

We played four rounds of our new board game, Garden-opoly, a thoughtful gift from my sister Eleanor. And this is just uncanny: Libby won almost every time, just like she does when we play Monopoly. (I thought maybe I stood a chance with this game; when we played with Roy on New Year’s Eve, I was in the lead before we went to bed. That was the best I did all weekend.)

Many people would find endless hours of board games and being beaten by a nine-year-old hard to take, but the giggles and smiles and gleeful squirming were just priceless. Plus, there’s a whole improvisational story line that arises when someone’s hot—we started calling Libby “Miss Gardenopolis.” Watching her organize her properties (her favorites, not surprisingly, were Tomato Terrace, Green Bean Bypass, and Strawberry Fields), stack her money, and build her “greenhouses” (aka hotels) made us proud. (It makes me think she’ll make good financial decisions when she grows up! Her biggest strategy is to hide one of her $500 bills under the board until late in the game. She doesn’t buy every property she lands on, either—how can that be?!) And seeing her exercise a bit of charity and kindness was gratifying too—she would occasionally offer to lend me some money or overlook a debt, and she chastised me when I passed up an opportunity to visit the “Free Compost” corner, where hundreds of dollars awaited. Libby’s prowess at Garden-opoly also makes me realize that I made a good decision to add a “Libby” section to the new expanded vegetable garden this year. I’m sure it will prosper.

On Friday, Farmer and Libby and I went cow-spotting down at the FARM Institute, taking along our cameras (Libby got one for Christmas) to photograph the interesting beef cattle lolling around. (Fortunately, Libby is crazy about animals—probably even more than I am, so farm trips are easy entertainment for us.) Afterwards, we went shopping for the ingredients for home-made pizza (her favorite—she is chief “decorator”) for Friday night and roast chicken and make-your-own-brownie sundaes for New Year’s Eve. (Fabulous brownie recipe here. Pizza recipe coming in new book.)

Probably the most fascinating thing for me was seeing how Libby entertained herself during those times when I did need to do a little desk work or a few house chores. One morning, she built an elaborate “condo” out of leftover Christmas boxes and home-made confetti for her collection of little toy lizards. There was also a larger toy dragon protecting the kingdom from intruders. (And an entire narrative to go along with this.) But I especially loved watching the games she devised to play with Farmer. Often a dish towel or a kitchen apron would make it into the  mix—either used to dress up Farmer, who doesn’t seem to mind a bonnet or a skirt—or as a bullfighter’s cape. (Toro! Toro!) Ring-Around-the-Rosie was popular…though noisy. (Everything shakes when these two race around the downstairs of this tiny farm house, which literally has only three rooms—not including the mudroom—on the first floor, and also has terribly uneven floors.) Hide-and-seek was popular, too. And occasionally, Libby (who is tiny for her age) would actually get on top of Farmer and ride him like a horse. Amazingly, this dog thinks there is nothing more fun. (He’s been a total nut since she left.)

Since Farmer and Libby wear each other out, eventually Farmer climbs up on the couch and passes out. Then Libby, in her feetsy-pajamas, lays down next to him and rests her head on his chest. Roy smiles and I just sigh. Watching these two befriend each other is a hoot. And spending time with Libby isn’t just rewarding—it’s a whole lot of fun.