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Pretty little chicklet before her head feathers grew in. I took this photo the middle of May, before I left for New England.

Even babies like to roost, as this one does in mid May. Look at her sleepy eyes.

I’m taking a break from telling what I did on vacation to update what’s happening at my place lately. It’s a cloudy wet day, so for a change I am not outside working hard. I wandered around with a camera instead, to supplement photos that I did not have already.

First of all, I want to talk about the chicklets, the Lil’ Hussies. They were tiny and cheepy when I left, with fuzzy fluff on their heads instead of feathers. I returned the end of May and almost all the fluff is gone, and everyone has big girl feathers. They eat and drink so much now! I am grateful to Tara’s dad, who housesat and kept all my animals alive while I was gone.

The growing chicks are filling up their cage, but so far still plenty of room for them. There is a box filled with straw in the top, and on cold nights they all huddle together there and stay warm.

The chick on the right is an Ameraucana. The chick on the left is a Buff Brahma. She has feathers on her feet.

The Ameracaunas can get a puff of feathers at their cheeks and neck.

The first thing I had to do when I returned was to mow the property. I should know better than to leave during May – the fastest growing time of year for grass around here. In the weeks I was gone, my land became a jungle. Then I had to mow it! And when I got the grass cut down in the flat areas, I began with the weed whacker and began hacking down the grass along the creek and around the trees, where I can’t mow.

Some deer grazed in the luxurious grass in the back of the property near the bee hives before I had a chance to mow down there.

Looking over the top of my riding lawn mower. What a job ahead of me! Oy!

Time for weed whacking. The grass was literally taller than me.

While fiercely hacking the 6-foot tall grass down to size, I unintentionally exposed a bird’s nest. By the time I realized what it was, I had cleared all the protective grass on every side. Thankfully I did not disturb the nest itself, or the blackberry shrub it is built in. Once I realized what I had done, I grabbed piles of the long cut grass, and laid them against the side of the nest, to provide shelter on all sides, with a couple small holes for the mama to get through to the nest. I hope I haven’t ruined this baby’s chance at life, but I certainly didn’t help. I hope mama comes back.

A bird’s nest in a blackberry bush.

Such a beautiful egg. I don’t know what kind of bird it is though.

I had heaps of laundry to take care of when I got back, obviously. I washed my sheets while I was at it. Racecar, who was not quite ready to let me out of her sight, wanted to be on the bed while I made it with clean sheets.

Racecar is nonplussed when I toss the sheet over her.

Likewise unperturbed when I tossed the comforter over her.

The next morning she burrowed under the covers for the delicious warmth of the down comforter. I got up and left her there.

I left the bed with Racecar still burrowed beneath the covers. I had been working at my computer for two hours when I detected movement. She emerged, and gave her paw a few licks. “Good morning!” I called to her. She immediately curled up and went back to sleep. Yeah, I’ve had a morning or two like that.

Racecar is not yet prepared to face the day.

When I left, the apple trees were blossoming, and the peach, and the plum. My little orchard is still there for me, with one casualty. I had not been able to recall what one new tree was, but it died over the winter, so now I don’t need to remember. I’ll have to pull it out and replace it with something else. I have a green apple, red apple, peach, plum, and pear. What should I have next? A cherry I think!

An apple tree in blossom before I left, and bees happily collecting pollen.

A close up of one of my wonderful honey bees.

The plum a few days ago. Look at all that fruit! (and all that tall grass in the background I still need to cut down)

While cutting the tall grass, I kept staring down the bank at my “dam.” It was created over time. Remember that winter when I lost so many trees? Well, a tree fell across the creek at this spot and is firmly lodged there. I don’t own a chainsaw or a tractor, and have spent the time since just fretting about it, and worrying that it could result in a dam and a flood. Well, it happened. Someone upstream of me must have had their woodpile flooded, because a bunch of cut wood came down the creek and stopped right there at the downed tree. Once the big holes were stopped, then all the little branches and weeds of winter creek flow got lodged into the big pieces of wood, and blocked it up. I had my dam.

As I swung the weed whacker back and forth cutting grass on the hill above the dam, I thought what I had thought twenty times already: that could be firewood if I could get it out of there. So the next day I put on shorts and water shoes and climbed into the creek.

Turns out, those water logged pieces of wood are a lot heavier than they look. I thought I would be able to lift most of it and hurl it from the water. Nope. They will have to be dragged out. And the big trees will have to be cut up. I suspect that I will not be able to put off learning to use a chainsaw forever.

First look at the dam.

After a couple hours of work, not enough difference to satisfy me. How frustrating. I did another hour of work after this and then gave up. All the rest is too heavy for me to lift.

I had to take a shower. All that wood and plant debris held in situ in stagnant water. Phew!

And finally today the rains came, so I had permission to stop working. Instead I ran around taking photos of flowers in my gardens.

Buttercups are supposedly a weed, but they are so pretty. And the deer love them!

Foxglove is one of my favourite wild flowers.

Groundcover doing well in the shade beneath a hemlock tree.

Salmonberry is past flowering stage. I haven’t seen one ripe yet because as soon as they get close, the birds eat them.

Vinca also likes the poor soil beneath the hemlock tree.

I don’t remember what this is called, but the deer don’t eat it. That makes it a favourite plant.

While deer won’t eat rhododendrons, they are happy to eat their cousins the azaleas. Thankfully, these are close to the house and escape the teeth.

These lavender flowers remind me of badminton shuttle cock. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve played that game since high school. Ah, I digress…

This rose is a surprise and a joy. I bought it last year, mostly dead, at a 75% off plant sale at Fred Meyer. It was so cheap it was worth the gamble. Look what happened.

Another plant I bought because it was on sale for being mostly dead. It came to life too, but I don’t know what it is. This is the third year it has come back. I just love those rich red trumpets.

Well, that’s most of the big news. Small news is: no, I have not even started weeding. One of my gardens is so buried I’m not even sure where the actual plants are anymore. I need a warm day, a good audio book, and some sturdy jeans so I can sit my butt down and weed for an entire day and give my pretty plants a new life. Oh, there’s some bad news too: I went to check on my oak tree down by the creek and I can’t find it. That means those bratty deer ate it again. I had the thought before my trip that I should cover it, since they ate it last year too and it had some nice strong stems and lots of big healthy leaves in May. Well, a good idea is wasted if I don’t act on it. Drat. Now I need to find the tree and hope they left enough of the stem so it can try again next year. Grrr. Deer!

{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.  I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

One of my many guises

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