In the Hen House – The Mystery of the Disappearing Xylophone

It will be three weeks this Sunday since getting our four Rhode Island Red pullets. It’s been an eggciting week here as we have had a total of 9 eggs laid since Monday. We thought we had narrowed it down to two of the girls, but that third egg yesterday made us think three hens were laying. But today we only got two eggs – so maybe they are all laying and take a day off every so often. They just started laying their eggs for the first time, so they are still figuring things out I’m guessing, as am I.

I’ve had so much fun watching them in the outdoor run hop around on the old wood ladder we never got around to putting in the wood furnace this winter. So glad it was too big to throw in and too lazy to fetch the sawz-all to slice it up, The chickens love it! After seeing that some enjoy sitting up on a swing, I made one out of some parachute cord and a thin piece of wood, also not burned this season.

Decorating the outdoor run with old logs and rocks has been so fun and I love watching them climb and hop around on all the obstacles I provided for them. As a new chicken mama, I couldn’t help but buy them a couple of toys as well. I read that they enjoy pecking at a xylophone, so about two weeks ago I bought a colorful, cheap xylophone and threw it in the outdoor run. They only seemed to peck at it when I tossed some grass on top of it and as they pecked at the grass it chimed a little. Not a lot. Occasionally one of them would walk on it and cause it to click, clack for a second.

A couple of days ago, I was in the outdoor run tidying things up when I noticed that the xylophone was gone. I had been raking their dust bath area and adding in more wood ash from our outdoor wood furnace and herbs from our garden, so I was pretty certain they hadn’t buried it somehow. But how could that happen? I had Mark take a look too just in case I missed it somehow. He didn’t find it either and is a little concerned about potential poltergeists with weird musical tastes now.

Photographic evidence of the missing xylophone

There is no way that an animal like a chipmunk or anything else could have dragged it out. We both just checked for breaches in our runs security – no breaches. This seems like a case for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsie Twins perhaps!

Monday Morning Eggcitement!

This morning when I went out to the see the girls, I discovered the first of what I hope to be the first of many eggs. I was so excited, like a little girl who just got her Barbie Dream House excited. What an unbelievable feeling! I realize I didn’t actually lay the egg but wow! This is very cool for a first time chicken mama who was born and raised in NYC, let me tell you.

So excited, I went out about an hour later to reward the girls with some dandelion leaves when I noticed Gertrude was in the nesting box. So I gave her some privacy and returned 15 minutes or so later to discover she had laid an egg. So we collected our first two eggs ever today. Who the other layer is eggactly I’m not sure since there are three other candidates.

Gertrude

A New Door Has Opened

About a week ago I walked through a new door to a new chapter in my life – raising chickens. So far five days in all seems to be doing well. I had four Rhode Island Red pullets which are 18 weeks old. I am told they could be laying eggs sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The first few days in their new hen house, they have spent getting to know the place. The weather has been cold for May as we have had snow and two freeze warnings in the last week and it’s been windy, blowing the dogs off the chain for days making the temperatures feel like it was mid-February. Every morning around 5am I head out to the hen house to check on the ladies and open their door to the outside run which is enclosed with chicken wire and hardware cloth.

On Tuesday, I was sitting on the blue painter’s bucket I had flipped over to use as my perch so that I could spend some time getting to know my chickens. I sat in the corner watching and photographing them as they pecked around at the food and jumped on the roost. Then there was a moment when they were all down by the food near the door to their run when two of them poked their heads out and walked down the plank to the grass. The third one quickly followed suit and then the fourth. The fourth one who is the only one to have a nickname so far of Khaleesi/White Pants. She gained the nickname Khaleesi after having been pushed on the swing and held on for dear life as my friend’s seven year old rocked the swing wildly back and forth. They had been the ones to get the pullets and were dropping off the four we wanted and they were keeping another 8.

I’ve never been around chickens but I figure like any animal they need some time to acclimate to their new environment. On the other side of the door to the hen house are our dogs. They stare through the glass door to the hen house which depending on the time of day and lighting, reflects back their own images. They can smell them though and unbelievably one curious girl came out to check the dogs out.

The morning that they all four walked out the door of the hen house and into their backyard enclosed run, I was so happy. New doors were opening up for all of us and we just have to trust our instincts about when it is the right time for to walk through those doors.

Leaving the Hen House

This post is my Wednesday Challenge – The Door.

I Became a Chicken Mama Today!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there! Today I became a chicken mama of four Rhode Island Reds. I’m so excited and a little nervous too as I’ve never raised chickens before. So this is completely uncharted waters for me. But I’m psyched to learn.

Next Chapter in Life: Chicken Farming

So we are getting chickens today! We have been thinking about raising chickens for a little while now. Our house came with a chicken coop/goat shed which we have been using as a garden shed these last four years.

About three weeks ago a good friend of ours, Dennis told us he was getting 12 chickens and wanted to know if we’d want four of them. “Absolutely!“ came out of my mouth quicker than my brain registered what I was saying. “Great, I have to go pick them up sometime mid-May.” Two days ago we ALL found out mid-May actually meant Mother’s Day weekend, including Dennis who is still has to build his entire coop for the 8 chickens he’s holding on to!

When Mark told me the chickens were coming this weekend, my mind instantly flashed to the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy and Ricky had moved out to Connecticut and became chicken farmers. I remember Lucy and Ethel running around with all those hundreds of baby chicks. Luckily, I’m only starting off with four chickens.

Luckily, three days ago we started to clean our garden shed out. I needed to get the Tower Gardens (aeroponic systems) set up anyway and the shed needed to be completely emptied out. Mark is ‘spatial man’ so the goat shed is now the garden shed and the Tower Gardens will have to find a new home for winter. Right this second, they are being snowed on as we are having an unseasonal snowstorm that has dumped about three inches so far.

Mark working on the outside run for the chickens

Thankfully yesterday was a beautiful day to work outside. The temperatures were cool at first but once you got working, vests and jackets were shed. I was so impressed with my daughter, Samantha yesterday. She’s such a good worker and since she’s been recovering from a concussion she sustained three months ago now, it was even better that she had no symptoms reappear. Fingers crossed, since it’s been a rollercoaster.

Mark and Sam working on the frame for the run

Sam helped Mark with constructing the outdoor chicken run. We have dogs so I wanted to make sure that the chickens have their own area to hangout during the day where they will be safe from our dogs and other predators like hawks. The chicken coop was already positioned inside our already chain link fenced area which should help keep them safer as well. Eventually, I’ll gate off the side yard so they can free-range a little more but be safe from the dogs.

Sam attaching the chicken wire to the frame

Since Dennis first mentioned the chickens, I have been all over Pinterest, joined every chicken raising group on Facebook and Instagram so that I can educate myself on what exactly is needed to raise chickens. A poop board was something I quickly saw was highly recommended to have. Chickens shit a lot and that poop is awesome to add to our garden compost. I knew I would have to deal with this, so I built a poop board for the roost. I’m learning all sorts of new vocabulary in this endeavor. Roost, poop board, layers… Thankfully I found a guide to help me get up to speed.

Everything we used to build the coop with the exception of the two post holders and the chicken wire was lumber we had here at Marleywood. That’s what we named our little piece of paradise here on the mountain four years ago when we move up here. It’s also the name of our company that we named after our dog, Marley.

I’m excited and nervous at the same time about getting the chickens. We’ll be receiving four Rhode Island Reds which from my limited reading I understand to be a good breed of layers and should expect 150-250 eggs per year each hen! Plus we aren’t getting chicks, Dennis said they’d be laying eggs in a couple of weeks, so they’re not babies. But from what I understand their not hens yet, since hens officially are over a year old. So I’m not really sure what their called – pullets I think, since that’s the term for a chicken under 1 years old.

I know I have a lot to learn and I’m excited about it! Who thought at the age of 55 years old I’d be entering this new world?! I know my 3 siblings are all probably shaking their heads. Our Nana grew up on a chicken farm in Georgia; her spirit is probably laughing right now. I just hope my ancestors passed a little of their chicken farming blood down to me. And if anybody reading this has any advice, I’m open to hearing about your experiences and what you’ve learned about the do’s and don’ts of raising chickens. I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Meet The Pack

I just realized this but I haven’t had a post about the actual pack which makes up Xine’s Pack. Although, I’ve had many dogs throughout my life, I currently have three of my own dogs in the pack as well as 2 grand-dogs. The grand-dogs come visit enough and spend so much time here (especially being quarantined together, but even before that) that they are definitely considered a part of #Xinespack. I have used that hashtag for about ten years now so if you ever check it out on Instagram, you will also see some of the previous incarnations of the pack.

Currently, the self appointed alpha, besides myself, is Marley. Marley Sage Mulch is her full name since as a pup she had a habit of chewing on the sage and the mulch out in the garden. 6 years later, she still seeks out the mulch. Marley is a mutt in every sense of the word. We did two different DNA test kits on her from two different companies since we had adopted her from a shelter at the age of 9 weeks. The DNA tests were inconclusive as they came up with different answers. One kit said she was 50% Jack Russell Terrier with a blend of brittany, golden retriever, australian shepherd and shetland sheepdog. The other had everything from Norwegian Elkhound to Australian cattle dog. When I first saw Marley and her little freckled nose, it instantly reminded me of our brittanies who also had freckles. Plus she has the same coloring as the Brittanys except she is mostly reddish-brown and they were white with reddish brown markings She’s an awesome dog – she loves to go for rides in the gator and hike around in the woods.

Marley Sage Mulch

My other two are my doodles, Boomer and Gunner. They are littermates, mini goldendoodles that weigh 48 lbs and 52 lbs, respectively. At first I was nervous about having two puppies to train at the same time but I had dealt with so many dogs at that point in my life it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and a lot of the time they would simply either copy the other or Marley. They are some of the best companion dogs I could have ever hoped for and they are so affectionate. It’s hard to believe they will turn 3 years old in a couple of weeks. Gunner has always been a pup who plays hard and sleeps harder. When he passes out, he’s out. There were many nights when he was younger where either Mark or I had to carry him upstairs to put him in his overnight crate where he used to sleep. He prefers to sleep now on the ottoman I have pulled up next to my side of the bed and stretch out though. But he loves using the crate during the day to go and hang out in and take a nap.

Gunner and Boomer

Boomer is my shadow, following me pretty much everywhere. He’s learned in time to sometimes wait at my desk if I head out to the kitchen for another cup of coffee or something but for the most part he walks right be me. Mark has given him the nickname CB – Charley Bravo since Boomer likes to plant himself at night right between Mark and I. It’s his polite way of saying he is a cock block. He will move reluctantly when told, however. Boomer that is, of course. Boomer is a happy dog, he loves going on the boat or the gator and getting up on the seat, feeling the breeze in his fur as ears flap in the wind. He also smiles. I’ve never had a dog that actually will smile at you. It was a little strange at first since we all weren’t sure if he was doing it on purpose, a friend at first thought it was him snarling but he’s not snarling. He very clearly is showing you his teeth and smiling.

Kona Athena, my first grand dog

Then we have Kona. Where to start, where to start with this one. I’ll tell you living with Kona is like living with blonde Elmo, or what I imagine living with Elmo would be like if you could live with a live muppet who is so living but acts a little (a lot) crazy at times. Kona Athena is my son’s 4-1/2 year old standard goldendoodle and she is the most loving and affectionate dog I’ve ever known. Kona will crawl in your lap while you are working at your desk so nonchalantly with her long legs and slinky body that you can’t help but just hug her back. If you are upset she senses it immediately and will come over to make you feel better. All the doodles are really good at sensing when you are upset or anxious and come cuddle with you immediately.

But this sweet little blonde has the stomach of I don’t know what. Since being in quarantine she has managed to eat 5 loaves of freshly baked bread (1 loaf Easter bread, 1 loaf sourdough, 3 loaves French bread), a dozen English muffins, 3 hard boiled eggs and a pound and half of Amaretto cookies. Her farts were bad before quarantine and have become so much more toxic since her bread addiction started in quarantine.

Blue, my second grand dog

Then there is Blue, my daughter’s 2 year old red merle mini Aussie Shepherd. Blue is definitely the smartest of the pack. Samantha’s done a great job training him. He loves running on the beach and going for hikes with his human and friends. Thankfully Blue grew up to be on the larger size of mini and weighs about 35lbs. By far the lightest in the pack but by the far the fastest. When Blue gets the zoomies and the others dogs are in pursuit, all you see is a light streak breeze by.

Morning treats at coffeetime

We’ve all been up here on the mountain together since mid-March and the pack has settled into a routine, although we need to break Kona of her counter surfing somehow. The weird thing is she was doing this initially, but then again Mark wasn’t baking delicious loaves of homemade bread a few weeks ago. Hopefully the weather will start warming up and we can get outside more. It has still been on the chillier side and wet and windy making being outside for too long still a bit challenging. We’ve learned after 4-1/2 years up here that you have to take advantage of the nice and mostly nice days up here when you get them.

One of the things I was able to accomplish during these last few months though is I finally started and am about to finish writing my book. It’s a book about all of the dogs that have touched my life basically. I don’t yet have a title for my book, the working title on my spiral notebooks that I have handwritten it all in simply says The Dog Book #1, #2 and #3. The other day I finally got to the point where I think I’m done with the first draft and now need to sit down at the computer and type and edit it. I’m sort of in disbelief that I have written it finally – I’ve thought about it for so long and was scared to start it. Actually I had no idea how to start it and after talking to some friends of mine who are authors they simply said “just start writing”. Sounds simple but it wasn’t for me. I had been writing notes over the years of stories I wanted to remember to tell but that’s as far as I ever got. It took me reading another book about dogs and their stories to get me going, this time I just started to write.