Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourseles, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Of Cannibal Chickens and Gender Confused Rabbits

I may have jinxed myself when I mentioned cannibal chickens...it appears we have one. Our little Lola (perhaps it's the name?), biter of children and youngest hen of the group, has discovered she has a taste for eggs...or at least the shell...she doesn't always eat the egg itself.

Broken and cracked eggs began appearing in the far left nesting box shortly after my last post. We did not want to accuse anyone of being a cannibal (I realize in the animal world it is not quite as taboo) but it had become evident from the type of break we were seeing that someone was "pecking" them open. Sometimes it was a small hole...as if she had been caught in the act and chased off...and sometimes only the white and yolk remained of the egg and even more disturbing...sometimes the entire thing would be gone with only a yellow stain as evidence. I had decided that we needed to be diligent about collecting the eggs and catching the offender before all the hard work was for not.

So, we waited and watched. Now, like my friend Mrs. Darling said...a watched hen does not lay...well, a watched hen does not eat either. No matter how often we checked, we could not catch the eater nor keep her from devouring the eggs. I began to resign myself to the fact that an eater was in the midst and there would be little I could do about it.

Then, one day...just by chance...I opened the door to the nesting boxes and low and behold there was Lola happily feeding upon another's egg. You see...all of the other girls (Maddie, London and Hannah) are laying eggs...beautiful, round, soft and creamy in color...but Lola has yet to produce even one. I thought that maybe this was a one time thing. After all, it couldn't always be Lola...right? But...we caught her again...and again...and again.

Now, between the egg eating and kid biting, I was getting rather frustrated with Miss Lola. I even began to research chicken soup recipes or maybe pot pie. And...I began to ask other "chicken people" (did I just say that???) what they thought. Some thought we should blow out an egg and fill it with mustard, hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Some thought that perhaps it was a lack of grit...but they are outside most of the time with rocks and such. Perhaps a plastic "fake" egg would help. Finally, the lady at the feed store suggested oyster shell. I had already been contemplating that this might be it (calcium deficiency) so I bought a few pounds and held my breath.
Since? Not one hen pecked egg. Some can get cracked just being layed but absolutely no eaten eggs to be found or even remnants of eaten eggs left behind. And Lola? Well, she lives to bite another day...

Now, rabbits. I have never owned one until now. I've always liked them...thought they were cute...but I remember my grandfather raising meat rabbits for food. And it goes without saying, I never really thought of them as pets.

A few months ago, my sister asked me if I was interested in a rabbit. Her friend had a really cute doe (female rabbit) that she was trying to find a home for. Hmmm...I wasn't really interested. I had turned down several bunnies already and was not on the lookout for another pet anyway (we already had 13 animals to feed at home). Her friend was having to change her living situation and could not take the rabbit with her. I felt bad and told her if when she moved she had not found a home, I would take her in temporarily until I could find a home for her. I was sure I could find someone on my home school list to take her in and give her a wonderful home. I really thought she would find someone else.

The end of summer was here and fall was arriving when I was told she could not (or had not) found a home for Oreo the rabbit and could I please take her. Around the same time, a friend asked me to work at her farm/pumpkin patch for the harvest season leading school groups through the barnyard, to the fishing pond and the pumpkin patch. I jumped at the opportunity. And, I had exposure to rabbits in a rather different light. She has beautiful rabbits. Show rabbits...big rabbits...tiny rabbits...lop-eared rabbits...even a one-eared wild rabbit she rescued. And they were cute...and sweet and not at all wild like the ones I remembered as a child. I got to hold them and handle them and they were fun.

Back to the rabbit that needed a home...

Well, I had a different perspective. I told her I would gladly take her and within a few hours had decided that I would not be finding her another home.

I began to ask my friend with all the rabbits lots of questions so that I could provide a good home for her. She asked me all about the rabbit. She loves to breed rabbits and sell them...especially to 4H homes. She just so happened to have both a Dutch Lop buck and a Minature Lop buck. She wanted to know if I would bring my doe over to see what kind she was and wondered if I was interested in breeding her. Maybe...

Today was the day. I brought her over and they thought she was very cute. We decided to go ahead and try and breed her...after all...feed stores often take baby rabbits but I was sure that I could find plenty of home school families who would love them as well. A buck was chosen and they were paired up for their first meeting...imagine our surprise when it was Oreo who took the lead! WHAT?!? Oreo was a GIRL! Perhaps she didn't know her role...she was confused, huh? No...turns out...Oreo was a HE!!!!

Are you kidding ME???

Nope...it's true...Oreo is really a buck. Apparently, the person who had him had never bothered to check or had been told he was a she (and like me) didn't question it. But Oreo was most definitely NOT A GIRL! Whoa! Back up! WHAT!? So, things are not what they appear to be...a good lesson in knowing what you're buying...or getting...or adopting or whatever.

We absolutely love him just the same and it would have made NO difference in our decision to make him part of the herd...but it would have been nice to know that kind of information BEFORE I subjected her bunny to that!
Well, the kids have decided that with a new identity he should have a new name and keeping in the tradition of wanting to name their animals after Disney characters (chickens: Lola, Hannah, Maddie and London and goats: Zack and Cody) he is now...Mr. Moesby or Moe for short. It fits him...it just screams, "I AM MALE!" No mistaking now...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

We Have Eggs!!!

Soft, downy chicks...barely hatched came to live on our little farm in early May of this year and quickly grew in to smooth, shiny, feathery chickens. They had a bit of an awkward stage in which they were neither cute nor pretty but rather gawky. They still had a lot of fluffy down but were slowly filling in with long, dark, sleek feathers. Now, they are gorgeous. I love the way their black has a shimmery green that sparkles in the sunlight.

We all figured that once they "looked" like adults, they would begin to behave that way as well. I lovingly tended their hen house and yard and cleaned and filled their nesting boxes with fresh pine shavings...hoping that one day they would reward me with a nutritious, brown egg. It became apparent that one was older than the others. Her feathers arrived faster, her comb was more full and she was much larger than her "sisters."
Daily, I would trek out to check their food and water and be sure that everything was as it should be only to be saddened and disappointed to discover that no egg was waiting for me. I began to wonder if perhaps something was wrong with my chickens. Maybe I was feeding them an incomplete diet. They were now eating a laying crumb that was supplemented with dried corn. They had a wonderful yard full of grass, grit, rocks and bugs to round out their diet. They have fresh, clean, clear water available. I just knew they did not like their house. Maybe it wasn't big enough. Did they like their roosts? I just knew they needed an outside roost. Keith and Austin put one up outside for them and they use it often. According to the books, and my chicken loving friends, they had everything they needed to be happy and healthy.

Maybe they were laying eggs somewhere other than their nesting boxes. Oh, what a site it was for me to be crawling around the chicken house...over and under searching for eggs!!! What a laugh that would have been for all of you! I checked the corners where they love to dust bathe...no eggs. I checked under the hen house where they hide...no eggs. In the hen house on the bottom level where the food and water is kept...no eggs. Over and under...around and through...no eggs! Oh no! I had cannibal chickens who were eating their young! It does happen...rebel chickens who crack open their eggs and down the contents. Or, perhaps the over achieving, competitive chicken who would eat the eggs of her sister to remain the favorite in hopes that those who failed to produce would meet the stock pot! Oh...the places my mind goes! I was desperate for eggs!

I could not stand the quest for eggs any longer! I went to a very reliable source. You see...many of my friends who have chickens get them as adults who are already egg producing. They had no idea when chickens fully mature and begin to lay. I had to find someone who had raised hatchlings...and then it came to me. Kennedy's horseback riding teacher had more than two dozen chickens! I was sure she had to raise some from hatchlings! She reassured me that everything we were providing for our little brood was just exactly what they needed. And if we had cannibals? They would certainly be leaving evidence in the form of broken shells. Oh, but what about the notion that they were some how hiding their eggs? Nope...would find those too with the lay out of our chicken yard. If they were constantly free roaming that could be a likely scenario but not for these girls. So...what was it? They simply weren't old enough. What??? Is that all??? I...me...moi...was being too inpatient??? Yep! She figured if they were hatched the beginning of May, it would probably be November.

So...I gave up the quest for eggs...for now, and moved on to more important matters like fattening up the pony, working with Cooper, catching the goats and dealing with the rampant Pigeon Fever that has plagued our other three horses. And I gave up searching for eggs...no more Easter hunts for me...no, no, no...I was done and I would just worry about all the other matters. Ok, secretly...I was still checking but keeping the obsession under wraps. When....what should Keith discover on his way out to feed animals??? An EGG!!! All my searching and worrying and HE finds an egg!!! Ugh! The kids and I squealed in excitement and Austin wanted to cook it right away. What is it with boys? They want to hunt it, capture it and devour it...I wanted to revel in it's beauty and completeness. But, it was cracked and cooked before I had a chance to get the camera.
Of course, I went out of town the next day but guess what? The eggs keep coming. It appears that only one hen (our oldest) is the layer but I imagine the others are soon to follow. So...now I'm back to pampering and worrying about them again and what the shorter days will mean for their egg production. I'm getting on Keith about installing some artificial light (in addition to the heat lamp) with a timer to help them through the winter...and guess what?? I'm already planning on adding to my brood next year...Rhode Island Reds, Araucanas, more Australorps, Plymouth Rocks...so many choices and only six months to figure it out....