Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Chicken

This is a gruesome animal story, so skip it if you're feeling all vegetarian or something.

We have hens who are heading into their fourth summer. Mostly, people do not keep layers this long unless they're pets. Ours are in a gray area, and the older hens are scheduled for the axe this summer. There was one older hen who had pretty much quit acting like a chicken; she sat in the nest box all the time. And before you ask if she wasn't just broody, other signs of broodiness were absent and this has gone on for about three months.

The other night, Jason and I grabbed her and brought her up to the house to kill her. We had a discussion about which way to do it- chopping off her head or slitting her throat. I pressed for the throat method because it had been so easy, quick, and seemingly painless when I killed the spare roosters in the fall.

Time for a slight sidetrack. I once helped a friend with a chicken harvest; it was her first time and she was using killing cones and trying to kill them as humanely as possible. Something did not go quite right with the first few and they were still alive after bleeding for ten minutes. She tweaked what she was doing and the rest were dead within a minute. I decided then that I preferred being thorough and quick to being especially humane.

Back to the other evening- The bald, black hen put up no fuss and seemed pretty limp even when we took her out of the coop. Jason carried her upside down to the house because this position seems to calm chickens down. Really! try it sometime.

Jason held her by her feet and I slit her throat and she proceeded to not really bleed. There was a brief debate about whether she was so close to dead that her heart wasn't really beating strongly and I cut her throat more thoroughly. I think at this point one of us mentioned that the idea of zombies must have come from someone who slaughtered animals.

Still not much blood. I cut her throat until I hit her neck bones. Then there was a little more blood, but not like we usually see. I had gotten to her neck bones, so we put her on top of the compost and waited for her to bleed out. She wasn't moving, so we covered her with a thick layer of straw. I stayed outside another twenty minutes because I kept worrying we hadn't actually killed her. The House of Usher was definitely on my mind. I finally went in the house satisfied that she was dead under there.

The next morning, we went down to do chores. Jason carried milk up to the house and I went to turn off the water and glanced over at the chickens. (This is a good time to mention how far the chickens are from the compost pile right now. It's maybe a hundred yards with a steep, brush covered hill in between.) There was one of our few black chickens sitting outside the fence; you know, one of the ones left since we killed a black one the night before. And this chicken was looking pretty limp.

My thought was, "You've got to be kidding!" Then, Jerry Lee and his living hens all gathered on the inside of the fence, so I could easily count three living black hens on the inside of the fence.

Did a fox dig the dead chicken out of the compost and deposit her by the chicken fence? That was one of many thoughts racing through my head and I walked toward the chicken fence. Then, she lifted her head and looked at me. Telltale Heart, anyone? I scanned the field to be sure no one from PETA was watching and grabbed the chicken by her feet and marched up to the house.

Jason grabbed the cleaver and we severed her head completely from her body. She hasn't reemerged from the compost since, so we're pretty sure she's dead. I'm not going to check.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How's Violet?

We did get Violet inseminated In January, so we should have a calf right around my dear friend's birthday in October. Maybe we'll name the baby after her.

So, something funny that happened within days of the insemination is that our very exciting cow got very boring, but in a good way. From January until last week, she was easy to milk, she was reliably adjusted to our routine, she stood extremely still during milking, she gave me cues before she peed or pooped so I had more of a chance to get out of the way. Really, just the way you idealists might imagine milking a cow might be.

About two months ago, Chappy came into heat for the first time. What do you know about cows in heat? Well, if you don't want to know, skip this paragraph and maybe the next one. When in heat, cows mount other cows or they are mounted; it's called standing heat. Having a herd of only two cows means my dear, sweet little calf was mounting her mother. It means that she would nurse and then try to mount her mother. It means her mother got pretty darn tired of that nonsense and quit letting her nurse. The really fun part is that this recurs every three weeks. The last time Chappy was in heat, we took pity on Violet, and locked Chappy up for the day.

Every three weeks, Violet quits letting Chappy nurse, then after a couple of days she lets her nurse a little. We can tell when we milk whether Chappy nursed the day before. This past week, I'm not sure if she's nursed at all.

That's because our dear cows are now back on grass, and we have a new little excitement at milking time. Violet would much rather be on pasture than wait twenty more minutes while I'll milk her. We only had to force the issue one morning, but her attitude was so reminiscent of her pre-pregnancy behavior, that I'm sure glad we got her inseminated.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Are We Missing Out On

I saw a fellow today walking his dog. The dog was trying desperately to get over to the grass, but the person was staring and punching at some handheld device, cell phone, Ipod, whatever. And I thought about my own ambivalent relationship with some of these devices.

I'll start with this poor stranger whom I know nothing about except that he seems to walk his Boston Terrier very regularly. I see them almost any time I go into town. I mean, this guy must spend hours a week on the end of a leash walking along a rather busy road. Who can blame him for wanting to talk to someone on his phone or to listen to some tunes while his dog does his business? I guess I'm about to.

I really do see this man over and over and over; I see him so often that it seems embarrassing and rude to not wave. I feel like I could have struck up a conversation with him a time or two when we have walked into town; I love Boston Terriers, I'm fascinated by the dog's good manners, my children would like to pet the dog. Oh, and I by the way, I'm one of his neighbors; I would notice if he died. But, his device that allows him to ignore the people immediately in front of him means that we have not met; he cannot know that anyone even cares whether he walks his dog.

So, I'll leave that man in peace and turn to my own questions. I used to run, and when I ran, I almost never listened to music while I ran. I felt isolated, I felt dangerously unaware of my surroundings. That was in Fort Worth in a nice enough neighborhood, but there were no nice nature noises to hear. The frogs, birds, or breeze could not really be heard over the traffic. I wasn't missing out on much when I did listen to music. But still, I felt cut off from the world around me in a way that made me feel vulnerable.

Now, I find myself doing repetitive tasks in the garden and the greenhouse. Listening to music really does help keep me on task and not feel like I'll NEVER finish getting all the grass out of a carrot bed. Yet, I cannot hear the children or whether a car has come up the drive or if the dogs are barking or the cow lowing. I've started just putting one earphone on and hanging the other on my shirt. In the greenhouse, I've set up an Ipod player so I can listen to music without earbuds, and that's pretty nice.

I'm still aware of being cutoff by all this artificial noise. If someone is helping me, I have to turn off the music. I cannot well attend to any conversation if I like the music that's playing. After an hour of music, I begin to be aware of it grating rather than entertaining; I feel relief when a song starts quietly and I get a moment without the racket. So why listen at all? Well, because I will work much longer without a break even if I start and stop the music than I will without any.

When the music is off, I certainly hear frogs and birds and cows and dogs and children and cars and atvs and bike tires. I do notice more about how the air changes throughout the day and the way the light shifts. I can tell which child is approaching through the grass without seeing them, and I can tell whether they're being companionable or coming to tattle or beg for food. I can look up before Jason actually comes into my field of vision so I can greet him and welcome him into this space and home into our day.

And that's what I think we're missing when we stay plugged in to one device or another. That stranger will stay a stranger, and my family will feel less welcome into my space when I'm tuned into something they cannot even hear.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We're Back!

Not having internet at home has been an interesting experiment, and I've learned a lot. I learned how much more knitting and reading I do when I do not have internet access. I learned that I go to bed at least 30 minutes earlier. I learned that I feel a little cut off from people who prefer electronic communication. I learned that such people who do not love me dearly might find my little experiment very annoying.

I also pondered this whole blog thing. I mean, if you really want to know what's happening, you'd call me or write or something, right? Why should I bombard people with all this navel gazing? Who am I trying to please with all these mental meanderings? The truth is, some people only keep up with me through this little blog. They do not seem to realize that I cannot see them reading it and that a lack of comments leaves me feeling cut off from them, but they feel connected. And, I have a fine excuse to blather on. (do you know how many quotes there are in Bartlett's about the prattling of women?)

So, Jason has gone back to working for Nova Natural, and he gets to work from home, and we need to have the internet to facilitate that. And here I am. I hope you're happy to see me.