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Chandra's Blog

 

Friday
May082015

Chicken Wire

The Attack

Two days ago, while I was at the horse barn up the street, a fox killed 5 of my chickens, nearly a third of my flock. He started with Orphan Annie, a barred rock we adopted when our silkies hatched out their babies last summer. Next was Freaky Friday, our crazy-haired Easter Egger of two years, followed by my friend Michelle's Max and Freaky, canoodlinggorgeous silkie rooster Romeo, visiting as part of a genetics experiment.

J left the bodies in the yard, hoping to tempt him back, but when Foxy returned he grabbed Sunny, our gorgeous Buff Orpington instead, mauling but not killing her. Also missing at bedtime roll call were Cleopatra, our flagtailed, high flying Easter Egger whose eggs were the most beautiful green, and Eager, one of our ten week old Olive Eggers. RIP, dear creatures.

 

 

 Our yard looks like a duvet exploded and the remaining girls are pacing in nervous pairs and trios between the coop and our porch. We are sickened by the loss. Here at the Hoffmenagerie, our chickens are part of the family. (See this post about our Hoffmans Happy Hens and my foray into total birdnerdom.) They are also ridiculously spoiled. Eager and her agemates Bindi and Schpeedy were prone to pasty bum this winter, which meant Piper and Quinn frequently brought them in for a chicken spa, bathing, and then wrapping in tea towels and stroked to sleep by the fire. We knew every one of our casualties personally.

 

Schpeedy, Bindi and Eager in the CHICU

This loss brought back an old debate to the breakfast table--should we pen our free-range girls? Originally, before I purchased birds, I did hours of research, ultimately deciding I wanted them to be happy, daylight free-range hens, able to wander our property eating bugs, scratching the mulch out of the landscaping, and drinking from the stream. Quality of life over quantity, which they have in spades.

However, chicken is on almost everyone's menu. J researched that humans consume 4 BILLION chickens every year. It's a risk; I get it. 

Seasoned chicken owners warned me that with this philosophy, I would need to be okay with predator loss. As a friend remarked, surveying the chickens dotting our grassy yard -- a wide open flat, surrounded on three sides by woods, brush and stream, "This is the kind of place where in a war, you would not want to meet your enemy."

Before this, I was mostly okay with the losses. Hayden watched everyone's favorite Esme get picked up by a hawk. Magda, Pai and Prima did not come home at night. Lucky was not-so. Fancy Pants admittedly hit us hard, so that J and I were out walking late into the winter night with a flashlight, hopefully calling. But our most recent loss was months ago--Bright, our young troublemaker rooster, picked up mid-crow on Christmas eve morning. Even then I thought, okay, foxes deserve a festive dinner too.

 

But I was not prepared for a slaughter of this magnitude, in the middle of a sunny spring morning, while Samps snored on the couch. Research revealed some disturbing discoveries: red foxes do attack in the day, especially in late spring when they are feeding babies, and again in August, when those babies are learning to hunt. They do not regard large dogs (like Sampson) as a strong deterrent, knowing they can outrun, cut and deke them. They will kill as many as they can in one attack, possibly returning for the carnage, limiting their exposure. And finally, once you are on their radar, they will return until your flock is gone.

 the girls gathering for breakfast of yogurt and granola

The Chicken Wire

I posted about our recent loss on my private Facebook group, Crazy for Chickens. Beyond sympathy and tales of casualty, what evolved has been fascinating--I'll call it the Chicken Wire. Local owners are using the thread to keep each other updated on Foxy's location.

--"He just left my house and headed your way, look out, Lori!"

--"I almost hit him dropping the kids at school this morning!" (We're all thinking, accelerate!)

--"Any sightings? He's usually stopping by around now."

--"I hear a ruckus at your place? Girls okay?"

Chicken owners are banding together, fortifying coops, exchanging articles and theories, methods of predator control. We are all trying to figure out how to keep our girls safe and happy, so we can return to our lives. This is the same community that has been rattled by far more serious tragedy this spring--cancer, suicidal depression and domestic violence. Perhaps after all this confusing devastation and heartache, it is comforting to rally around something more elemental, the natural circle of life?

Moving On

How will we go forward at the Hoffstead? Maybe we will pen our girls, though the night before our loss, our neighbors lost a staggering 28 out of 30 chickens in one enclosed attack. This also debunks my crazy chicken math that maybe if I just got SO SO MANY chickens, the losses woudln't be as hard to take. I'm visiting a friend's rotational pasture system this weekend for ideas. Our best silkie mama Nugget is sitting on 8 fertile eggs, so hopefully in a few weeks there will be some replenishment and new babies. My sister suggested not keeping them as pets, but instead just getting a large group of generic, high-laying Rhode Island reds. Unfortunately, I'm not wired that way. I'd find distinguishing marks and character traits, and secretly name them, and love them all anyway.

In the meantime, I think of my chicken friend Lori's wisdom, "If you want to have livestock, you have to be willing to have deadstock as well."

Today, I'm sticking a little closer to home with my girls, grateful to have my Crazy for Chickens community, watching over each other's flocks.

* *** *

 

Nugget mothers Lucy, Mrs. Judy and Rosa

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan282015

Googling Old Loves

You've all done it. Insomnia leads to a benign browse, a quick PeopleSearch, and then ashamed, you clear the whole history, so as not to offend the sweet person sleeping there beside you, because, really, you are perfectly happy in this life, it was only that you... wondered. Where is he now?

[Do you know how many Neil Henry Murphy's there are in the world? Enough that I never found the rosy- cheeked Irish boy who cried when his aggressive iguana Boomer accidentally froze to death in the Cornell winters when the power went out. This was before we drank Guinness at Ruloffs, before he told me about his mother, before we kissed in the snow while Dakota ran circles around us at Plantations, before he read my journal, before we planned to move to Mexico after graduation, before we broke each others' hearts a little.]

Googling old loves is rarely a good idea, but this week, I did it again. A year of loss, coupled with a return to riding alongside my daughter, and grouchily crossing over to Forever 39 brewed a perfect interwebs search engine storm. Despite my loose grasp on basic math, I was riding a 25-year-old dressage horse and listening to two riders at the barn talk about how a horse there jumped until he was in his late twenties when it hit me: Twenty years ago, I sold Satch, the horse who saved me from the pitfalls of teenage girldom--eating disorders, Salem lights, overachieving, golf course drinking and late night boy's house drive-bys. When I went off to Cornell, Satch was seven. Which means this spring, with other racehorse babies, he will turn 27.

 

Which means he could still very well be alive.

 

Trial ride on Satch

Satch, a 3 year old, green broke, off-the-track Thoroughbred was for sale because he didn't particularly like to race. Which isn't to say that he didn't like to run very fast, or buck, or do both at the same time. Satch was 16.2 hands; at his withers, where the crest of the neck meets the dip of his back, he was almost as tall as the peak of my hairsprayed bangs. 

They say that when the trainers came to get him to race, he turned his back and gazed off into nothing out the half-door of his stall. He didn't kick or get mean, but he passively resisted, and I thought of Ferdinand the Bull in the childrens' story, sitting under a cork tree smelling clovers, because he didn't want to fight. 

 

I fell in love with Satch's earnestness. A little bit naughty, equal parts stubborn and curious, willing to try almost everything I asked of him*.

(*Except group riding classes in a ring)

 

 

With Satch, horses became my sanctuary, my reason to exit stage left when the drama of high school amped up, pull on my boots and shovel some grounding shit. Satch and his equine companions Star and Bailey were my ego-crushing, esteem-building, all-encompassing world for four years. We raced around cornfields, went midnight riding with boys, jumped over homemade cinderblock and PVC obstacles, competed, trailered up into the Catskills and as far as south as Tennessee. On hot summer days, I dragged Satch over to his pasture fence and used its rails to climb on his bare back in my bikini with a dog-eared novel. Sometimes I read on his sun-warmed back for hours while he grazed; sometimes he promptly tossed me off under the silver maples and then looked at me like, what?!

 

When I left for Cornell, my dad and siblings did a winter of feeding/watering and turnout, and then with  my impending departure to work in a Romanian orphanage, with my blessing, we agreed it would be best if they sold the horses.

Satch was sold with his buddy Bailey, a then twenty-something Thoroughbred/Clydesdale buckskin dinosaur that belonged to my father.  He went to a girl who was me, four years earlier, who needed a horse like Satch, a girl with time and devotion and ambition.

I went on to work with horses in the Caribbean, Spain and the Rockies. And while Satch was my exasperating, honest first love, it never occurred to me to look him up.

Until now.

 

Last week, I found an ISO Facebook group for people in the PA/NJ/DE looking for horses they have lost. You bet your lucky horseshoe I joined it.

I hauled boxes of old photos out of the basement during the recent snowstorm, the kids leaning over my shoulder and screeching in horror at our high-waisted stonewashed jeans, marveling how Epcot looks exactly the same as when their aunt was a baby (on a leash!), exclaiming over my mom's owl glasses, their grandfather's short-shorts, my feathered hair and a misguided stint into platinum blonde, their dad's boyhood curls/choir robe, and my untweezed eyebrows. [Hayden: Mom, if we EVER get stranded on a desert island, and we don't have tweezers, I'm going to make you some, because I cannot live with those caterpillars!]

With my trainer's wisdom that I should be prepared for whatever I learned, I posted these photos and this:

Trying to track down my childhood OTTB. We lost his jockeyclub records and tattoo number in a house fire so I don't even have those--I'm aware that this is a long shot. His barn name is Satch/Satchmo, he's 16.2, dark bay, no white on face, trace of white above both right hooves. He would be the ripe old age of 27 now. Purchased from my home in 1995 when I went to college. Earnest, affectionate personality, loved jumping and trails. I'd love any leads or stories from his life. Thank you!"

I know a twenty-year-old quest for a dark bay OTTB without his jockey club registry is like trying to find a seven-year-old girl who doesn't have a stash of rainbow loom rubber bands and pony club chapter books under her bed.

People in the group wished me well, and agreed that his kind eyes made the quest worthwhile. I whipped out my phone at every alert, but no leads.

And then I remembered: my mother saves EVERYTHING. Every receipt, every canceled check, every scrawled note. BLESS HER HEART -- I climbed into the stacks over her desk, where there are literally dozens of meticulously labeled three-ring-binders and found it within five minutes: the canceled check with the name of the woman who purchased Satch twenty years ago. The woman's last name rang a bell--wasn't this the name of the local farm where Piper's classmates ride?

A speedy internet search confirmed the woman who purchased Satch is part of a multi-generational family-run-farm fifteen minutes from my house.


The email has been sent, with photos and as many details as I can spare. Hoping. For another lead. For a story from his life, to introduce him to my family... or anything.

Stay tuned.

 

Thursday
Jan012015

1 January 2015 -- unfinished business

basement stairs, work in progress

A little less than a year ago, I started a beat-the-winter-blues project of painting our plain wooden basement stairs. I picked tangerine, colbalt, turquoise and cream, colors you might find on Scandinavian folk art ponies. Cheerful colors. I did a combination of freehand and stencil, with my phone on speaker, passing the time chatting with my dad as I went. Somewhere between the third and fourth step was March 28, the day my dad did not call for the Morning Report.

 

After that, I stopped painting the stairs.

Every time I go down to shake my sleepy new teenager awake, fetch a roll of paper towel or some spare hockey equipment, I see this half-finished project, and it drives me bonkers. So I doggedly move -finish basement stairs- from 'To Do' list to 'To Do' list each week, but the prospect of sitting there painting without my dad's virtual company is too much.

 

When I look around, I see dozens of half-completed projects from this year. Most recently, the Christmas eve pajamas I was sewing for the guys in my life sit in a flannel jumble, waiting for hems and elastic, right next to the school pants that need a button and the jeans that need hemming. There are my dad's old clothes that I mean to sew into something memorable for my siblings and half-siblings. Come to think of it, I meant to do the same with textiles of my grandmother's, and Cherry's too.

My studio looks like the fallout from a paper airplane dogfight. My laptop and phone both teeter on the precipice of electronic disaster, waiting for me to back things up. And don't get me started on what's going on in my iPhoto, my dropbox, and the junk drawers in my kitchen.

 

On this blog alone, I have seventeen unfinished posts from the last year. There are those celebrating my boys' transitions to teendom and double digits. Ones about my full-circle return to horses (after a fifteen-year-hiatus, they are back in my daily life), and literature, (via my teaching position at Bryn Athyn College). I wrote one celebrating Piper overcoming her accident last summer and continuing to ride horses, compete, and win. I have several love song posts--poetic tributes to my husband, our beloved Hoffmans Happy Hens, and El Presidente, the feral fat cat we acquired from my dad in April. And of course, I have my attempts at probing into the pain of losing my father--a blog post called Mixed Nuts, with his famous holiday nut recipe, and photos of me unintentionally doing my best grumpy cat, sulking in the back of family gatherings, aching with the gaping lack of his presence.

And then there's one addressing the mentally-unstable woman who mined my old blog posts, and used information gathered there to attack the foundation of our family. (For the record, she didn't even chink our outer walls.) But the experience definitely made me pause before hitting Submit, time and time again, questioning how much of myself I was willing to put out there.

On my laptop's writing files, I have the unfinished manuscript of Wellspring, which went out as a partial this past summer to a very short list of editors. Most of them asked to see it finished, and instead I walked away from it.

And I have the outline of the new story I dreamed that is so close to my heart, so tender and important I'm not even going to share the gist of it or working title. It feels so critical and lovely I remain a little paralyzed at the start gate, hoping my skill is up to the task of its telling.

But 2015 is a blank page, waiting for that story to be written, for my loose ends to find their loopy mates and be coaxed into sloppy, finished bows.

So this year, I resolve to finish the things I have started. No more excuses--oh my Dad died, my husband travels more than he is home, I started a teaching job, I'm riding/working at the barn, my kids play on all these hockey teams and we have practice in New Jersey three nights a week and league games in Long Island, and I have to be home in time to let the chickens in,  and, and, and --BASTA. No more. If I truly want to honor the memory of the man we all miss so keenly, then I resolve to live his motto, and carp them diems.

 * *** *

 How about you? What are your resolutions for the new year?

Christmas Eve, wearing the bracelet, holding on to my figurative daggerboard, and looking ahead to smoother sailing.

 

Friday
Jul112014

World's Most Famous Bubble-Wrapped Harmonica Player

planning his futureWhen our oldest son was born, almost thirteen years ago, he weathered a long stint in the NICU in the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. Sitting over his isolette, my husband told Hayden's nurses, "Remember this kid's name. You are looking at the future, world-famous bubble wrapped harmonica player." They laughed while he explained that after everything we had watched our son go through, all traditional sports were off the table. For our son, there would be no football, baseball, lacrosse, hockey, soccer... The list went on. "And none of those big string instruments either," J joked. "Do you know how heavy a cello is, what could happen if that fell on him? He'll play the harmonica. In bubble wrap. Nothing dangerous about that."

 

 

 Fast-forward five years later, to November 2006, when we realized that winter in the Northeast with two little housebound boys might cause us to do bad things to one another. Against all our earlier proclamations, we signed the whole family up for ice hockey. Hayden became a goalie--safest position on the ice--and his little brother followed in his footsteps a few years later. 

My Dad would watch me heft their giant gear bags into the car, bigger than they are, and sigh, "Boo, really, have you given any thought to the harmonica plan?"

I remember Max's second Triple A goalie game last year, when his team had no skating subs. They were grossly outmatched, getting killed, 2-16. I watched from the stands as the shots kept coming--rattling off his face cage, right in his gut, a hack to his exposed wrist as he covered the puck. 

"At this level, just so you know," one of the dads told me, "they don't stop shooting when there's a blowout." I could see Max's shoulders shaking with sobs as they scored on their seventeenth breakaway, and then they fucking celebrated, and it took every scrap of restraint I had not to storm out on the ice like Susan Sarandon in Safe Passage, yelling, "Alright! Enough already!" pick my kid up under my arm and carry him home. The physical shelling was horrible, but I also feared was what was happening inside. 

Hayden up a tree, 2012

 

 Fastforward another few years to Isla de Utila, where we lived for six months on a remote Caribbean island. Here, our children swam with whale sharks, broke a world record SCUBA diving, monkey-climbed limbless palm trees, and jumped off the roofs of rickety waterfront bars into the water. They ran barefoot and snorkeled through caves. The closest medical care was on the mainland, a flight away.

 

On the whole, we have done a lousy job of bubble-wrapping our children. They play ice and roller hockey, lacrosse and soccer. They swim in questionable water, bounce on trampolines, and have turned our driveway into a longboarding body luge. They rollerblade and skateboard, leap off boathouses and rope swings, ride bikes and horses. 

 

 

 

Fastforward to last week, when Piper (7) and I headed out on the trails behind the barn where she has been riding for the past 9 months. It was a dreamy, much anticipated mom and Pip moment. Though we ride in the arena together often, and I have loved returning to my childhood love of horses with my daughter, this was our first trail ride. 

It was going beautifully--a little paddling down in the creek, our horses quietly walking over branches the recent summer thunderstorms had downed, and then a little trot down a country lane. Piper called to me she was losing her stirrup, and I turned to tell her to stop, when I saw it happen. She was falling perfectly, over the horse's left front shoulder, poised to land with a tuck and roll that would protect her helmeted head, and put the majority of the landing on her impact vest. It was looking like the kind of fall that would shake her up, but she would ride home from. Except on the way down, the horse's hoof caught her in the neck, and then despite his best efforts not to, when she hit the ground, he stepped on her chest and shoulder, breaking her collarbone and ribs, but worse, puncturing her lung. 

Back in the ICU at CHOP, with Piper on a rebreather, as I curled at the foot of her bed like a pet mommy and watched the numbers on her machines, as the adrenaline of the day ebbed and I replayed and wallowed in gut-souring what-ifs, I remembered almost thirteen years ago, and our vow to raise the world's most amazing bubble-wrapped harmonica players. I was physically sick over the fact that I had broken our little girl, that I had lead her to this sport I love, and she was here because of it.

 

"Pip," I told her, while the machines beeped and her oxygen hissed, "there's a saying about how you 'have to get back on the horse.' Most people use it as a metaphor, meaning don't let hard things that have happened scare you, or face your fears. Horsepeople use it to mean don't end a ride on a fall or you'll lose your nerve. But honey," I took a deep breath, "this was a big fall. And you do not have to get back on the horse. Ever, if you don't want. We can stop riding now."

Let me say again that I love riding. I grew up riding throughout my childhood. When I was sixteen, I managed a three-horse barn. I took my naughty off-the-track Thoroughbred to college with me, trained beach-ride horses in Grand Cayman and rode as a jockey in a Caribbean race season.

 

 

When our daughters were 5 and 6, my sister and I bought a 3-lesson Groupon to a local stable. "Let's see if it takes..." we said, remembering our years with horses. It took.

Piper and Callie, 2013I have loved watching Piper evolve as a strong, independent, confident little equestrian, because I know from my own childhood that all those elements carry over into life. We both had plans to start competing this summer, and she talks of the mother-daughter barn we will open, after we visit the ponies of Chincoteague, when she has her golden birthday, age 19. 

"What?" Piper said, stricken, her voice garbled by the mask. "I'm not going to quit riding!" 

Later, while she slept, I texted one of my oldest friends. We grew up riding together, harmonizing 'You Are My Sunshine' and belting out Reba McEntire as we cantered on mountain trails, galloping around cornfield perimeters and vetting boyfriends by how they acted around horses. She lives across the country, and her daughter rides, a gutsy, fourteen-year-old pole-bending barrel racer. 

--I feel horrible for bringing pip to this. Worried she only does it for me, but she says she still wants to ride. Tell me about Lu's worst fall... I wrote, hoping she would tell me about something I hadn't remembered, something that stopped her motherly heart, that she had replayed in her head as often as I was replaying Piper's--the horrible sound of his hoof connecting with her jaw, the sight of the jagged collarbone tenting her skin. Tell me we'll get over this, is what I meant.

--Lu's worst fall was out of a tree! She wrote, and I remembered her phone call from across the country several years ago, Lauryl's two broken arms, the beautiful but banged up face from the branches on the way down. And I have a darn hard time getting her to wear a helmet and impact vest while playing in the yard! 

Here's the thing she was telling me: this was an accident. It was not the fault of the horse or rider, or maybe even the mom. She was as protected as she could be, short of bubble wrap, in a helmet and impact vest. (Stay tuned for me to write more about the importance of those later. This could have been far, far worse.)

And I still think, how did we fall so far, from the parents who promised, a few floors in CHOP and thirteen years ago, to keep our children safe?

Because life is dangerous. Because there are accidents. 

But there are rope swings to leap from, and trees to be climbed and ponies to be ridden. There is creating a partnership with a person or an animal that stretches our expectations and enriches our lives. There is the feel of the cold winter air in your lungs when you skate across the silver ice at night. There are moments when your team carries you on your shoulders and celebrates your season win, when you conquer a fear or stomach a shelling you didn't think you could do.

Max (in red) and his team take the championship, 2014

 

There are summer mornings when you grin at each other and jump out of bed, pull on your breeches and boots to beat the heat to the barn, and you ride, side by side on your matching ponies while their tails swish and you beam at each other. Piper is home now, expected to make a full recovery, and in a few months, we will both don our impact vests, get back on the horse, and put what has happened behind us.

Summer ride

Because though we have never tried it, I think the view from the podium of the Bubble Wrapped Harmonica Finals might be a little colorless and flat.

* *** *

Saturday
Jun212014

Hoffmans' Happy Hens or #birdnerd

So it begins, with Harper and Good GirlFor three years, I waited to push send on my mypetchicken.com shopping cart. I read books, researched breeds and coops, free range vs. pasture rotation vs. predator proof penning, puzzled over exactly what I wanted, how many, the types, and the eggs, oh the colorful eggs! It's no secret that there's a little bit of farmgirl lust in me. You can read my essay about goats here or this blog post where I confess my secret cow milking fantasy. But the timing was never right, until last summer when we returned from our tropical adventure. I finalized my shopping cart, and hit CHECK OUT. 

What has followed has been such a year of adventure and birdnerdom. I ordered our first batch to arrive during birthday week in early September. Since that original order, we have added to our flock four times, a second fall batch that included fun pet chicks for each child (they chose two Silkies, a Buff Brahma and a copper Marans--Welcome Poppy, Nugget, Posey and Fancy Pants.)

Poppy, one weekThis was followed by an accidental impulse order from the feed store this spring since we didn't have any Buff Orpingtons and who wouldn't want a few more Easter eggers? (Welcome Sunny, Cleo and Pai).

Our Spring Chicks--Sunny, Cleopatra and Pai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then this past month, when our Silkies Nugget and Poppy went broody, I drove 40 minutes in the pouring rain, and bought them fertile eggs to hatch. (Welcome Bright, a Wheaten Ameraucana and Clara, a black copper Marans.) 

 

Last week, we adopted Orphan Annie, a rejected 3 day old barred rock from a friend, bringing our total chicken count to (cringe) 17. Seventeen chickens. 

 

 

And I don't even consider myself a bird person.

 

 

Nugget mothering the adopted Orphan Annie

THE GIRLS

But there is something about my girls. Maybe it's because we purchased unique, distinctive chickens that created the possibility for us to bond. If I walked outside to feed and clean and care for a random flock of seventeen Red Stars, indistinguishable from one another, I imagine I wouldn't feel the same attachment I do to my girls.

But we know each of our hens, their personalities and quirks, their habits. Good Girl is my faithful early morning layer, a quiet and fair leader of the flock. Magda has a bit of a mean streak, but lays gorgeous olive eggs. Posey and Fancy Pants are besties, never more than a few feet apart, so that I felt Fancy's devastation and betrayal the day Posey made a play for a coveted upper level roosting post spot, like one of the medium popular girls finding a rare entré into a posh clique, leaving Fancy running around the yard crying like Posey was dead to her. (Good news: Posey was promptly ousted by Prima and returned to her former second post status.)

Ding-Dong and Siren like to forage at great distances, way down by the stream. Prima dawdles at sunset; she prefers to be the last girl in at night. Nugget wants to hatch ANYTHING, and is very willing to be a lap chicken and ride on the swings. Poppy doesn't have many friends, but she'll do whatever Nugget does. 

Quinn takes Nugget on our evening walk

 

HABITAT

Raising chickens turned out to be surprisingly easy. We converted the 6x6x6 playhouse connected to our swingset into their night coop with minimal cursing and marital strife. We removed the slide and covered the windows with black coated hardware wire. We stained and mounted some AC Moore craft crates on their sides as nesting boxes and some 1x4 as roosting posts, and bam--we had an elevated, predator proof coop. 

my crazy kids going barefoot mid-snowstorm to collect eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My middle son is an early riser and lets them out in the mornings, where they spend the day free-ranging. They put themselves to bed at sunset and we count heads and lock the coop door at night. Throughout the day we are endlessly entertained by their hilarious antics and the chicken politics, as they roam about, eat ticks, bugs and compost, dig dust baths under our rhodies, and lay their eggs. 

EGGS GLORIOUS EGGS!

This is by far my favorite thing about the girls, other than sitting out with my coffee and watching them be chickens, is the eggs. Oh the eggs! I selected girls so that my egg basket is distinctive and colorful. No boring, red stamped, pale yolked white eggs in our house. In fact, Siren, my Silver Lakenvelder is my only white layer, and I find her egg beautiful because of its distinctiveness. 

While most venture back into the coop to lay, a few of them have gone so far as to offer us kitchen door service, climbing into the box where I keep my gardening tools and depositing their treasures there. 

Posey delivers her eggs to the garden box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

our countertop egg basket

I have a strange passion for animals doing what they want to do, and it benefitting humans. (Like my goats and poison ivy.) The girls are happily out chickening every day, running free, catching bugs, fluffing up their feathers in flowerbed dust baths, and then trotting up to the coop to lay their eggs with a faithfulness that defies the best egg predictions on the websites. Most of my girls, even the rare breeds, are laying daily. 

As a mother, I feel good about feeding my kids a protein source as fresh and close to nature as I possibly can. And it never gets old. My kids run out to collect multiple times a day, if I haven't beat them to it, proudly announcing the egg and its layer as they drop it in our basket. 

And even though we can eat some eggs (I used to buy 36/week) we have more than enough to share. Enter the idea of Hoffmans' Happy Hens. My kids love knowing who was responsible for their breakfast, and order them by name, "I'll have two scrambled eggs on a bagel, um, I'll take a Freaky and a Ding-Dong, please." 

When we started getting almost a dozen a day, more than we could eat, we offered them for sale--fresh, free-range eggs. (There is usually a wait list.) We thought other people might like to know where their breakfast came from, so we wrote biographies of our chickens, and took some sunny morning glamour shots.

 

These inserts go in the tops of our egg cartons, like a box of chocolates, identifying the source and the personality of each of our gorgeous eggs. Truly, they bring me a ridiculous amount of pleasure and I am only sorry I didn't venture into chickendom sooner. 

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Hoffmans’ Happy Hens

Know Where Your Breakfast Comes From (L-R in carton)

our daily egg carton, listed below L-R

 

 Good GirlGood Girl (Red Star) our first and best layer has laid a large brown egg every morning for 115 days straight! Top in the pecking order, she uses her leadership wisely. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 SlackerSlacker (Red Star) a beautiful dark auburn who took a while to get going; but now lays a medium brown egg almost as faithfully as Good Girl.

 

 

 

 

 

PrimaPrima (Plymouth Barred Rock) a docile curious girl, she’s the first to come find you out in the yard. She lays a lovely, pinkish egg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ding DongDing-Dong (Plymouth Barred Rock) named this because of the burnt feathers on her back when she got too close to the heat lamp, we are grateful for this distinguishing feature from Prima. Their eggs are as similar as they are.

 

 

 

 

 MagdaMagda (Easter Egger) this bossy girl lays the more olive-tinted blue egg. We often catch her bearded face peering in the kitchen window to see what we’re doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Freaky FridayFreaky Friday (Easter Egger) this sweet girl endured a scalping accident as a chick that earned her this name. We think the way she combs her feathers over the scar on the back of her neck disguises it nicely. She lets the world know, crowing from the railing of the coop steps, whenever she lays a lovely pale blue egg.

 

 

 

 

 

 Fancy PantsBig Mama/Fancy Pants (Buff Brahma) this full-bodied, feather-legged girl is hilarious to see running across the yard. She lays a pink egg with white speckles in the front porch gardening box and screams like an old lady if you check on her.  

 

  

 

 

 

 

PoseyPosey (Black Copper Marans) Best friends with Big Mama, these girls are never more than a few feet apart. Posey lays a very large, gorgeous “chocolate” dark egg, sometimes speckled.

 

 

 

 

 

 NuggetNugget (Silkie Bantam) this tame sweetheart loves to be held and stroked. She lays a tiny cream-colored egg. She has recently gone broody and hatched two adopted eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 PoppyPoppy (Silkie Bantam) this little darling loves to hang out with Nugget but sometimes Nugget leaves her out. (This makes Piper sad.) She lays a tiny, golf-ball-sized cream tinted egg.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 SirenSiren (Silver Lakenvelder) this shy girl lays our only true white egg with a torpedo shape like her body. Her breed name is Dutch for ‘shadow on a sheet’ and we often catch a glimpse of her darting across the yard to forage.

 

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