good morning

This morning before work (so sometime between 6:30 and 7 a.m.), Anne came in as I was going out. Well, intending to go out. She wouldn’t let me leave, wanted to show me something.

And she did.

chick

Welcome, then, to this little chick; the first live domestic birth here on The Quarry Farm.

 

Winter 2016 newsletter

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Prepping the back field for the Bee Buffer Project is one of the items in the latest issue of The Quarry Farm Newsletter. Click here to read all about it and what’s happening here as the snow flies and the seeds sleep.

You’re The Great Pumpkin, Dave Hilty

There’s a story that makes the rounds every autumn on farms and in fields, and especially here on The Quarry Farm, about the generosity and beneficence of The Great Pumpkin, who rises from the pumpkin patch some time during the month of October and gifts all the good chickens and ducks and donkeys, turkeys and geese and goats and pigs with succulent orange orbs packed full of seeds and strings and goo. And while it’s rumored that the legend of The Great Pumpkin is born of humans, that particular mindset gains little acceptance on the farm, for it’s as the goats say, Humans spend most of their brainpower just maintaining their balance. And for the few that still might think otherwise, the donkey’s argument always prevails, one which he delivers in the most solemn of voices: Schulz, or no Schulz, Peanuts are for eating.

This year, as in years past, the residents here all waited anxiously as the month wore on, staring to the south for a sign of His (though some say Her) coming. Baskets of apples were delivered and pears by the bucketful and truckloads of zucchini and they were greatly appreciated, certainly, and swallowed down to the very last seed. But of The Great Pumpkin, there was no sign. October came and went and…

Nothing.

It’s just as we thought, the geese cried. Great Pumpkin, piffle. Great Poppycock is more like it. To which comment there was general agreement, particularly among the fowl (birds of a feather, you know). The goats made do, browsing the trees and bushes. Buddy, the donkey, cropped grass and chewed hay and if, occasionally, he seemed a bit tearful, nobody said a word. Little Pig, though, kept her own counsel and spent a good bit of each day off alone, walking along the southern fence line, eyes on the horizon, waiting.

And so it was that Little Pig was the first to see him: The Great Pumpkin, sitting in the cab of his red and silver pickup truck and towing along behind him a veritable mountain of pumpkins. A whole week late, he was, the first full week of November having past, but those that live here on The Quarry Farm are quick to understand simple truths: Time is fluid and Better late than not at all, not to mention All that matters is what matters in the end, especially when it’s pumpkins in the end.

The Great Pumpkin pulled in through the gate and up the stone drive before stopping and hopping down from his perch. To either side of the squash-laden wagon he threw the great round balls of sheer joy. The pumpkins bounced and broke and spilled their treasure of seeds and strings and slippery orange goo.

Heaven! Little Pig shouted. Slippery orange heaven!

The pumpkins flew and flew and still they flew and, finally, when the ducks and chickens and turkeys and geese and goats and donkey and pigs were certain that he had finished, when the blue and gray sky was no longer streaked with orange, what they heard him say made them all stop and stare.

How ‘bout if I just leave the wagon, The Great Pumpkin said. I won’t need it again ‘til spring.

turkey

They all looked to the wagon and it was heaped with pumpkins, mounded with pumpkins, buried in pumpkins as if not a single one had ever soared and fallen and broken and exploded in great gouts of seeds and strings and (heavenly) slippery orange goo.

The Great Pumpkin fiddled about a bit at the front of the wagon and then hopped into his red and silver truck.

Give a shout when you’re through, they all heard him say. No hurry, though.

The Great Pumpkin waved as he pulled away and through the gate, moving south until he’d disappeared from sight. Every duck and chicken, goose and turkey, donkey and goat and pig thanked him a big thanks before tucking into their chosen pumpkin. And if Little Pig was a bit greedy, if she pushed aside a goose or three to suckle at the slippery orange goo, nudged out of her way a chicken or a turkey or a duck, well, then, maybe she could find forgiveness in the eyes of those who keep the faith, in the hearts of those who believe.

POSTSCRIPT:
Special thanks to Dave and Jane Hilty, who are this year’s Great Pumpkins at The Quarry Farm.

yesterday and today

Life in the DevonianBefore The Quarry Farm in its current incarnation, with Red Fox Cabin and the gardens and a forest and the sanctuary, there was the quarry farm, pasturage for cattle and two ponies. Before the quarry farm, there was a great forest of hardwoods, oak and hickory and maple, on the very southern edge of the Great Black Swamp. Before the forest on the edge of the swamp, there was a glacier that traveled inexorably south, planing everything before it flat. Before the glacier, there was a vast, shallow, warm sea boiling with life in what we’ve come to call the Devonian Period.

And we live there now, on the floor of a sea that died some four hundred million years ago. Even so, the reality of it remains.

crinoid segmentsThe Quarry Farm isn’t simply The Quarry Farm (though, to be honest, there is little simple about it). It is also literally our home. We built here fifteen years ago and when they excavated our basement, they pulled up all manner of wonderful things; bits and pieces of what once lived here that had turned, over time, into stone. There were round chunks of coral, too big to play softball, but too small for soccer, and flat sheets of dolomite speckled with clam-like brachiopods. Later, as we began to seriously explore Cranberry Run, we found smaller pieces of coral, smoothed by time and weather and water, and tiny stone discs and columns of discs: the individual segments and broken sections from the stalks of crinoids. And all of these things were evidence of what had once been, of an ocean with strange and fantastic animals that struggled for survival before ultimately, for some at least, making their way onto land to begin a whole new aspect of life.

Everything changes. Everything evolves.

Turkey VulturesCurrent scientific theory is that present day birds are what remain of the dinosaurs, that over the course of some fifty million years, dinosaurs shrank in size and developed feathers in greater abundance (while it was once thought that only avian dinos had feathers, discoveries in the mid 1990s indicated that even non-avian species, including velociraptors, were feathered to some degree). So, the blue jay in the yard, the crows in the spare bedroom, the turkey vultures that soar over the quarry, the ducks and geese in the stream…all descended from dinosaurs. And, oh yes, the chickens.

I spend a lot of time with the chickens that live here. There is something comforting about them; the nonchalant way that they roam the property looking for food, their quiet crooning. I enjoy their interactions Smart Girland I am particularly appreciative when one, or more, chooses to spend time with me, to sit beside me or in my lap and simply be. I find them calming and inspirational and a source of nearly endless fascination. As odd as it may sound, they bring me peace. Every now and again, though, they remind of me of where they come from, what they once were.

There is one hen in particular, an eighteen-month old Jersey Giant that, when we call her anything, we simply call her Smart Girl. Smart Girl will leap into the apple trees and throw fruit down. This isn’t some phenomenally new behavior; others have done it. But when she climbs, she always throws down enough apples to distract the other chickens, ducks, geese, goats and any other animal swirling about the base of the tree before throwing something down for her. She plans her actions. And, it’s possible, she hunts. On three different occasions, I’ve seen her run across the yard with a small adult bird in her beak. On a fourth, she was carrying either a small rat or a large mouse. It may be that she’s finding these animals, dead, on the ground or stealing them from a neighbor’s cat, but I can’t preclude the possibility that she is actively pursuing prey. Sometimes now, when I’m watching her as she roams the grounds of the sanctuary, I see her differently, her and the property she’s stalking.

Time travel, as it turns out, isn’t all that difficult. All you have to do is squint.

chicken feet 3

simple gifts

People never cease to amaze. As a species, well, let’s just say that I often prefer to spend my time in the company of others (chickens being the perennial favorite). As individuals, though, there are so many who shine. I met three such last Wednesday: Becki and Mustaq Ahmed and their granddaughter, Kennedy.

Not this weekend immediately past, but the weekend before, Anne and I set up at the Bluffton Farmers’ Market on behalf of The Quarry Farm. We really didn’t have anything much to sell – a basket of tomatoes, a dozen glass jars of jelly, some notecards – but farmers’ markets are great places to get the message out, to do a little self-promotion. And with the second annual Acoustic Night coming up (Saturday, September 13, from 6 pm to whenever), it seemed like a good time to make a personal appearance, be a bit more high profile. Becki and Kennedy were wandering through the market when they saw our table and picked up a copy of the latest newsletter.

On Tuesday, Becki called and asked if we’d like some of her “small and knotty” apples. She’d seen that we ask for apples in our wish list and hoped that hers would prove acceptable. From my experience, I assured her, goats and pigs and donkeys and chickens and ducks and geese and turkeys aren’t the most discriminating of gourmands; so, yes, please, apples.

The Ahmeds and their apples

She and her family came out the next afternoon with two large containers full of fruit. We off-loaded the apples, enough to fill a large, red wheelbarrow typically used to transport hay and straw. It was an excessively humid day, as many have been of late; while there was precipitation, it was more of a sky-dripping, really, than rain. The wet had most everybody under cover: the pygmy and Nigerian goats under the pines, the turkeys and chickens at the base of the crab tree and under what remains of the forsythia, the pigs in their various shelters. The ducks and geese were gamboling about, too overjoyed with the quality of the day to bother with anything as mundane as visitors.

Elora

While we waited for the sanctuary residents to recognize their windfall, Kennedy, with Becki in tow, set out to deliver the good news and meet some of those about to benefit from their gift. Mustaq tagged along behind, photographing and filming their interactions.

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Humperdink and AndiThe giving roosterMister Bill, a recently arrived Boer goat, was the first to discover the largesse. He set to with a will, scattering bits of apple and not-so-bits of apple in a wide arc before him. The geese and the ducks discovered the bits, which alerted the chickens and the turkeys, and they tucked in. The pygmy goats followed the Ahmeds and Kennedy to the feast, where they stood on their hind legs, front feet braced on the edge of the barrow, and bobbed for apples. The three pot-bellied pigs rolled up next (three hours later, you could have almost literally rolled them away). Finally, the two Nigerian dwarf goats and the miniature donkey caught wind of the event and made their way over. It wasn’t long before the wheelbarrow was on its side, the apples spilled across the ground, allowing everybody easy access and laying waste to the old expression, “Don’t upset the apple cart.” All in all, a most wonderful day.

Buddy and company

Thank you for that, Becki and Mustaq and Kennedy. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

 

Zen and the Art of Chicken Dancing

For those of you who’ve been paying any kind of attention, the fact that I have a singular fascination for one particular type of bird should come as no surprise. Chickens. I’m talking about chickens. For those of you who thought, “crows”, fair enough, but no. While all corvids caught my heart long ago, they’re a different chapter in the work-in-progress that is The Quarry Farm.

So, chickens. And, more to the point, my fascination with them. And, to grind out an even finer point, how that fascination manifests. I’ve spent more than a fair amount of time wandering with the birds that share this piece of ground with us. I’ve fed them, held them, chatted with them, sung to them and simply sat and pondered the meaning of life with them. And they do, in my opinion. Ponder the meaning of life. I assume, anyway, that that’s what they’re doing when they grow still and quiet, their eyes unfocused and staring. They’re trying to make sense of the nonsensical, resolve order out of the chaos that surrounds them. Or so I choose to believe in more contemplative moments.

Chickens. They’ve proven fine companions, a wellspring of calm and the source of a flurry of creativity. They have, and here we get right down to the point, served collectively as a literary muse, even going so far as to inspire a unique style of poetry. It has Asian roots, but its own voice and a distinctive East meets Midwest vibe.

We call it Chaiku.

Chaiku, in its most basic form is nonsense, but nonsense with a direction. Take this piece, entitled surprise and the very first chaiku originating at The Quarry Farm:

buck buck buck buck buck
buck buck breeawwk-uck buck buck
buck buckGAWWWK buck buck

There are, of course, other pieces that fit a more traditional mold. They range from the absurd

unconventional wisdomPriscilla
Angry chickens dance,
feet drumming their dark fury.
A wise earth trembles.

to the comical

a matter of perspective
What is now a hen
was, times past, a dinosaur.
Respect your breakfast.

to the truly zen

scratch
Hungry red chicken
stalks the yard in fits and starts.
Too late, cricket jumps.Big Girl

and

evening
red and purple sky
horned owls stir in cottonwoods
in the coop, silence

and

morning
little yellow house
staccato taps on white door
chickens are restless

Audrey, Too and Anne

Audrey, Too and Anne

Postscript This winter, eight new chickens, four roosters and four hens, joined the flock that calls The Quarry Farm home. They were part of a larger seizure of dogs, ponies, horses, pigs and fowl carried out by the Allen County Humane Society in the middle of what climatologists called the Polar Vortex and that I simply thought of as The Damned Cold Days. Suffice it to say that the conditions all of the animals were in were inadequate. The chickens came here skinny and dehydrated and while all bore signs of frostbite, some were missing toes and pieces of toes. One, a big white congenial rooster, didn’t survive the winter: a consequence, we believe, of both age and injury. So now there are seven: Wesley, who we suspect to be a bantam rooster cross; Audrey, Too, a red hen who has developed the habit of leaping to our shoulders or onto our arms; and two white roosters and three spotted white hens who have yet to reveal their names. At present, the individuals in the flock total 31, though with Easter on the horizon, that number is likely to rise.

In the Storm

IMG_5770[1]Things here at the Quarry Farm are as they are everywhere else it seems. We’re cold, we’re trying to keep warm, and we’re trying to keep everyone else warm. The drifts at the start of the drive are at least four feet deep and the wind persists in howling. The auxiliary heat in the house has kicked up and we humans, when not caring for the animals, are glued to our books and Netflix, covered in layers of dogs and cats and they in turn are covered in blankets and pillows.

Outside, the turkeys are in with Johnny and Andy (Canada goose and duck), the chickens reside in their henhouse, the pygmy goats are staying in their shed, and Buddy and the goats are huddled together beneath their own roof.  So far, we have kept everyone alive.

This cold is dangerous, as the weathermen and sheriff departments keep telling us.  The pigs almost flat-out refuse to go outside—bellowing and pushing backward until we’re able to shove them out the door. Lolly, our bulldog mix, has so little fur to cover her skin, and so it makes the cold that much worse for her. On her first outing she ran out and right back in, but on her second go, she went around to the side of the house, became too cold, and huddled crying beneath the hutch off the side deck. She had to be carried back in the house.

IMG_5780[1]It is Buddy, however, that has made us worry.  He made it through the night, which we worried about, but he is still here. However, as you can see, he is sporting a new look. Quite fetching, I believe.

Our neighbors across the road just plowed out our drive. We saw them start to, but were on a mission to look after another house with animals, so a quick thank you by waving was all that was conveyed. I shouted a thank you across the road when we returned home, but they had already retreated to the warmth. So we shall have to thank them properly later. When it is warmer.

To all:  I hope your days in the snow storm have been at least slightly comfortable. Good luck for the rest of the duration!

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

There are milestones in all lives: births, deaths, graduations, marriage, love. As much as this statement may sound like the prologue to a soap, these are the events that shape our lives. I’ve experienced all of the above and have to include another: chickens. I’m going to wait a few seconds while you take that in, get whatever comments you feel you have to make out of your system.

Everybody okay? May we move on?

Now I’ll say it again. As much as any other event in my life, chickens have helped to make me who I am, here and now. And, man, did I fight it.

It was Anne’s idea to get chickens, Anne’s and Rowan’s. I had … reservations. Many of them. They smell, right? They’re mean. They’re stupid. They’re noisy. They attract pests. The list was longer, but I’ve forgotten most of it. All of it was true in my head at the time and all of it, as it turns out, was wrong.

They came in a little box, delivered via USPS by our local mail carrier, Dorothy. There were sixteen of them. We had ordered fifteen, but somebody counted wrong or it’s the practice of the hatchery we ordered them from to throw in an extra. At any rate, there were sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet chicks in a little container that was half the size of a shoebox. We set them up in a storage tub in the house, dedicating a room to their safekeeping. They were tiny and yellow and fuzzy and cute and busy in their dedication to growing. I found myself fascinated and spent hours watching them, holding them, talking to them. We called them all Priscilla, each and every last one of them, and, yes, there’s a story there, but not one for the telling here, now. I discovered that all of the preconceived notions I had about chickens were, for the most part, wrong. Do chickens smell? Only because their living quarters aren’t properly maintained. If you keep their coop clean, smell isn’t an issue. Are they mean? They give what they get. If you treat them like property, like machines, and take, but never give, then yes, probably. I wouldn’t know for sure. The chickens here are friendly. Are they stupid? Well, they’re not going to be doing calculus any time soon, but, then, neither am I.

Priscilla

They presented us with no problems, no surprises, and eventually we moved them outside to a coop. I was still fascinated, spending hours with them, watching them live their lives. I discovered that, for me, they were more than fascinating, more than simply interesting observable phenomena. They brought me a degree of peace I’ve rarely experienced. They calmed me down. They made me think. They inspired me.

And now there are even more than there were to begin with. Big Girl, an Ameraucana, came to us through Nature’s Nursery. So did Audrey and Miss Kitty. Barbara, Karen, Nancy, Jeff, Ralph, Bernie and Sid all came to us from people looking to find a new home for birds they found they couldn’t handle. Most of these birds are still with us, ranging across the property and perching in the trees. Others haven’t fared as well.

Audrey

Audrey was found wandering along Interstate 75 somewhere south of Toledo. She was so docile when I picked her up from the people that had found her that I honestly believe she’d have been content sitting in my lap for the hour-long drive home (she didn’t; I transported her in a dog kennel). She’d been debeaked. Most hatcheries offer this “service.” A hot wire is used to slice a chicken’s beak from its head. This is done while they are chicks. The idea is that irritable chickens that have been debeaked will do less damage to other nearby chickens and, I suspect, to the hands that feed them. On the downside, this practice can also lead to feeding difficulties and respiratory issues. Even so, Audrey was one of the most benign animals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. She was nearly always the first one to greet us in the morning and would come and sit in our laps. She established a relationship with Buddy, a miniature donkey that lives here, and would spend a part of her day riding around on his back. She lived with us for just over a year before she died.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty died yesterday, much to our sorrow. He (and, yes, Miss Kitty was a rooster, though we didn’t know that when we named him) was, we assume, a meat production bird. Initially we believed that he was a Catalana hen (hence Miss Kitty). It wasn’t until he started crowing that we suspected the truth. He grew extremely large extremely fast and, as a consequence, developed a host of physical issues. He was less than a year old when his body simply and finally failed. Over the last few days of his life, all of the hens cared for him. He was never alone, one of the girls was always nearby. They were warm days and dry, and he spent his time lying in the shade of a crabapple tree or under the branches of an elderberry.

Big Girl

And then there are the successes. Big Girl came from a pretty rough neighborhood near downtown Toledo. How she got there is anybody’s guess, but we know how she came to be here. She was rescued by an elderly man who drove off a group boys. They were menacing her with sticks and stones. He called Nature’s Nursery and Nature’s Nursery called us. She was nervous, at first, and maintained her distance. If you took a step toward her, she took a step away. She stayed that way for months. Now she’ll shift out of the way if it pleases her, otherwise we have to step around.

Bernie and Barbara and Karen were part of a flock that kept dwindling, their coop mates the victims of an undetermined predator. Ralph and Jeff were abandoned (Jeff because he crows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and Ralph, I suspect, because he’s cock of the walk and not afraid to let you know it). While these two do lock horns, so to speak, they spend the bulk of their time pointedly ignoring one another. Sid was simply unwanted.

I suspect that our flock will grow again this year. I sincerely hope so, at any rate. I look forward to it. I gain far more from them than I give.

And I’m not just talking about eggs.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More

A Brand New Intimidation

For those of you unfamiliar with The Quarry Farm, we’re a small, nonprofit conservation farm and nature preserve located in Riley Township, Putnam County, Ohio, just about halfway between the villages of Ottawa and Pandora. It’s a family operation, as are most undertakings in this little corner of the state. Taking this whole adventure one step further, we’ve decided to start blogging; it seemed the likeliest avenue down which we should optimistically skip. In theory, at least. In fact? Well, that remains to be seen.

As this whole concept ultimately gelled, for me at least, around a small flock of reddish chickens … this, then, and I’ll bow out (for the moment):

red and purple sky
horned owls stir in cottonwoods
in the coop, silence