Search Chandra's Blog
Blog Tags
"Apparition" "Art of Spiritual Warfare" "Best in Show" "Body of a Girl" "Exposure" "Gone with the Wind" "Half a Life" "Husband and Wife" "My Foreign Cities" "Myth of You and Me" "Open Your Heart with Gardens" "Stiltsville" "Substitute Me" "Temptation by Water" "The Bird Sisters" "The Book Thief" "The Guardian Angel Diary" "The Heroine's Bookshelf" "The King's Speech" "The Language of Light" "The Love Goddess' Cooking School" "The Mobuis Striptease" "The Peach Keeper" "The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted" "The Wednesday Sitsters" "This House" "Unintended" 50th Book Club Prize Pack act 'as if' Adam Levine adoption adventure advice Alpha Male Ann Hood Anna Cole Atlanta attachment parenting autism babies babywearing bad reviews bats beach house believer Ben Bethany Hamilton Betty Smith Big Nate birderd birthdays biting Blizzards blog hopping blog tour blogging blogswap blurb body image book book clubs book tour Books and Books Boudreaux boys breastfeeding Bridget Asher brothers Buffalo News Caeli Widger cake California cancer caramel oat bars Caribbean Carol Shields Carolyn Haley cats Cayman Cayman Compass Ceausescu chameleon Charles Bukwosi Cherry Cheryl Chick Lit Plus Chickens childhood CHOP CHOSEN Christina Shideler Christmas Christmas cards chuffy Cinderella clothes coconut water color Colorado comedy community connected contests cooking co-sleeping cow milking craft criticism Crown Publishers cry it out Dakota Darin Strauss David Lipsky dawn Dawn Chorus Daybreak 27 Destined to Fail Diana Abu Jaber Diane Lockward DOG BLOG Dog Whisperer dogs domestic ritual Dr. Anna Leahy Dr. Karen Monroy Dr. Oz Due Uve editing editor education eggs Elizabeth Scarboro Emily Kennedy Erin Blakemore evening walk expeditionary learning Exposure Facebook fake it til your make it Falcor family family bed fan mail fans farm life favorite books feminism Fon Wang Forrest Free stuff friends friendship gardening geography gluten-free goats God Grand Family Grant Schnarr grey hoodie grief guest blog Gyllian Davis Hannah Shelton Harper HarperCollins Hayden HHarperCollins hockey Hoffman's Natural home homeschooling homework Hondiuras Honduras horses hospitals Huffington Post Huffington Post divorce editor ice hockey Ilie Ruby inspiration International Women's Day iPhone island living 'It Takes a Village' Ivan Jungé J Jane Austen jasmine tea Jeffrey Eugenides Jenna Blum Jessica Keenan Smith Jessie Jonah journals Judy Blume Julianna Baggott Kelly Simmons Kid History kids Kristin Kimball Labrador Laos Leah Stewart least favorite word letting go Lincoln Pierce Linda Davis Linden Lisa Belkin Lisa McKay literary agent live in the now living with less Lois Alter Mark Lori Odhner Lori Tharps loss Lost Boy love language love story Lucky jeans Maggie Nelson magic Maria Massie marriage Martha Beck Max Maya Ziv meat Meg Waite Clayton Melissa McNallan Melissa Senate memoir menagerie mentor Michelle McGee micro fiction mindfulness miracle Miranda July modern living mojitos momstinct money mothering MoxieMomma nachos NAIBA New Year Newfoundland Newfoundlands Nichole Bernier NRA Nutella NYTimes NYTimes Motherlode ocean Opening Heavens Doors optimistic orphanage paint Paleo Comfort Foods parenting patience Pay it forward persistence Perthes Disease Peter Pan phobia Piper pizza plot poetry ponies Portland Psychology Today publication publishing puppy puppy breath puppydom Pushcart Prize Q&A quilts Quinn readers reading Rebecca Gyllenhaal Rebecca Rasmussen Remy resolutions review reviews revision ritual rockclimbing romance writer Romania running Sally Kim Samantha March Samoyed Sampson sangria school SCUBA secret confessions security senior project Sept 11 serendipity sewing sexting sexy SheKnows Book Club PIck of the Year SheWrites shopping short fiction SImon&Schuster simple life sister sister-cousin sisters slings smells snow snow day songs Sophie space exploration Spain Spanish spiders sshort fiction Starbucks stuttering style stylesubstancesoul.com Summer reading sunset Susanna Daniels Swedenborg swimming teens Thanksgiving the climbing tree The Four Ms. Bradwells" The Grain Exchange The Name Game Thelma Zirkelbach Therese Fowler THUMOS TIME magazine tingarita Tourettes tradition travel Twitter two lives ugly dolls unschooling Utila wedding whale sharks white wine William Faulkner winter Wisconsin worry writing writing and parenthood YA Fiction yoga Zulu

Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in cow milking (2)

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. 

* *** *

 

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.

 

 * *** *

 

 

 

 

 


Sunday
Aug072011

Monday Musing -- Unspoken Desire

Last week, we were driving down the road when out of nowhere, my nine-year-old reminded me of his homeschool gymnastics teacher from last year, and her standing invitation for her students to come visit her at her family's farm this summer. 

"You might not know this about me, Mom," Hayden began in a tone so confessional and somber that, in anticipation of a dropped bomb, I had to be careful to control the muscles around my mouth, "but I have always dreamed of wrestling a pig." 

When Hayden was out of earshot, I recounted this tidbit that night at dinner, a casual multi-family BBQ at the local pool where thunderheads and spit-drops of rain had us all banned from the water and hanging out with our picnics under the pole tent. As the thunder rumbled and we all shook our heads over Hayden's revelation, a lawyer friend confessed, 

"You know, I've always secretly wanted to be struck by lightning," his hands wrapped around the metal poles of the shade tent as the kids abandoned the grown-ups and food for their hundredth game of Knock-Out on the basketball court. "Provided I knew I would survive the experience."


Another friend recounted her seven-year-old nephew's dead-serious proclamation of sumo wrestler aspirations--little Pehri's legs and arms like wiry pipecleaners, a milky-white wispy-haired boy who could possibly be blown off his feet by the evening's strong winds.

This got the writer in me thinking as I looked around the cluster of friends eating hamburgers and watermelon under the tent. What if we all went around and voiced out loud an unspoken desire or aspiration? I have known many of these people for my whole life, and most of them for at least a decade, our families brought together by common sports and schools and the friendships of our same-age kids. What fascinating, surprising things might I learn about them? And what would I say for myself?

What is something that I have always wanted to do? 

For me, the list is long and of course it includes things like, 'bump into A-list celebrities at the premier of my bestseller that was optioned for a movie', but I will confess that the first thing that jumped to my mind is a long-thwarted, unfulfilled fantasy of mine: I have always wanted to milk a cow. 

It started when I was seven and we were visiting cousins in Seattle. My mother and aunt promised to tote the lot of us to a local dairy, ending in fresh ice cream and including the option to milk a cow. I went to bed beside my snoring cousins imagining this wonder: what would it be like? I have a vivid recollection of deciding that the udder would feel and look very much like brand new, freshly opened, smooth, peachy-flesh-colored Silly Putty, fresh out of the red plastic egg. That the cow would look at me with big, chestnut eyes framed in thick lashes. She would stand, patient and benevolent, understanding that I was an animal lover and I was there to help her, grateful that her very milk would be turned into my delicious ice cream...  I could hardly wait.

I remember piling into my aunt's burgundy Volvo and driving out to the dairy, and seeing on a Guernsey-decorated sign that it was closed, that we would not be milking a cow that day. We went for ice cream elsewhere, and flew back to the East Coast the next day, my lone cow-milking opportunity missed. Looking back from an adult perspective, I wonder if this sort of thing is PETA regulated now? How many long-suffering cows really deserve to be groped and pinched and dragged to a reluctant second base by a school group of sticky-fingered second graders? 

And on a personal level, why is this still the first 'thing I've always wanted to do' that pops into my mind? You would think that after being a human cow three times, this might not top the list anymore. Nursing and pumping, exclusively in the case of Hayden who was born with a cleft palate and almost no lower jaw, hooking myself up to hospital grade machinery for eight months, might have dampened some of this desire? Apparently not.

with GertieAnd is the whole goat thing really just a ruse to get smaller, more manageable cows into my backyard so I can breed and milk them? Maybe.

This weekend, the first farmer's market opened in my hometown, with eggs and produce for sale from a local learning farm my children and I helped to mulch and plant and build. I was actually able to achieve another long-awaited dream--roll out of bed, take my dog and my market bag, and on a sunny Saturday morning, walk up the street to buy farm-fresh eggs and produce for my family's breakfast. It was reminiscent of my months living in Tarifa or Bucharest, and walking to purchase my day's meals, fresh and local, among the smiling faces of friends.

That night, J and I watched a spot on "60 Minutes" about Mary and her Cypress Grove chevre, a story of a mother who simply wanted better milk for her children, and loved goats, and how she turned a $10,000 business loan into a goat cheese empire that netted $10,000,000. And I had an A-ha moment...

Don't worry. I'm realistic and I know I'm a writer, not a goat farmer. But I am also someone who believes in fulfilling dreams. So I will see to it that Hayden gets to wrestle his pig, and I made a little mental note that two-three years from now, mark my words, a few selections of my first, artisan homemade goat cheese, from my own goats that I lovingly raised, bred, and finally milked, will be for sale at my town's farmer's market. 

 

* *** * 

Don't be shy. Now that I have fully outed myself and my cow milking fantasies likely register on the Freak0Meter, what unspoken desire do you dream of fulfilling?