Sid is sporting a new wet look for the day. What do you think? Let’s have a little creative writing contest here. There’s a free Quarry Farm t-shirt for the winner. The most descriptive commentary will be awarded a shirt in the author’s size. You have until June 1 to weigh in here on www.thequarryfarm.com.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Sue Kreidler Frey shared these images that she captured on May 12 during the spring Photo Shoot and Sketch Walk. “My sister and I attended the PhotoShoot at The Quarry Farm today. We had a great time, and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. The Farm is a beautiful area – I loved all the farm animals too. I can’t wait to come back to take more pictures, and help pull the dreaded garlic mustard.”
Rita’s Garlic Mustard Pesto
• 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 Tbl pine nuts (we use walnut pieces)
• 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, about 1 ounce
• 4 cups of garlic mustard leaves
Instructions: Place all of the ingredients except for the garlic mustard in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, then add the garlic mustard a handful at a time, blending until all of the greens are incorporated and the pesto is smooth.
Two weeks ago, we received a call from an acquaintance on the east side of Findlay, Ohio. He’d found a female opossum at the side of the road near his home and she was still nursing a litter of babies. When we arrived, he led us to his old horse barn where he’d stashed mother and babies. The mother appeared to have been rolled by a car; she bore a series of scrapes and small lacerations and was favoring her right front leg. The little ones had their eyes open and were covered in a fuzz of short hair. We bundled her into a carrier and brought her home, called Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education to let them know we’d picked up the family and set them up in a hutch just off our north deck.
Over the ensuing two weeks, we fed her a combination of dried cat food, soft cat food, apples, peaches, corn and duck eggs. Lots and lots of duck eggs. Once she began restlessly moving around the hutch, we decided it was time to cut her loose. Last night, we opened the hutch door and walked away, went about the business of entertaining ourselves on a Friday evening. Before calling it a night, we checked to see if they had indeed left, or if the amenities of the hutch were too much to take for granted. I was more than a little suprised to find the mother opossum gone, but her little ones still huddled in a corner of the hutch on the blanket we’d provided as bedding. We caught a glimpse of the adult as she moved away and into the tall grass in the bottomland below our house.
I was shocked. While the young opossums had grown considerably during their time here, they were still nowhere near ready to go it on their own. We waited by the door and watched to see if she’d return. She didn’t. Finally, too tired to maintain a vigil any longer, we shut the hutch door, locking the nine babies inside, and went to bed, disappointed and confused and more than a little heartsick.
This morning, a quick glance out the door showed the babies scrambling over the wire mesh of the hutch door. On the deck just outside the hutch and trying to figure out how to open the door was the mother. She barely reacted when I stepped onto the deck and still didn’t as I walked to the hutch, reached over her and pulled the pin that keeps the hutch door closed. The little ones scrambled out and found perches on their mother, who, after all of her little ones had climbed aboard, turned and, lumbering under their weight, climbed down off the deck and away.
I can only guess at what drove her off to begin with; there’s no shortage of nocturnal predators here. But I can say with certainty what brought her back. Call it instinct, if it suits you. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
From The Quarry Farm to all mothers, thank you for your love, sacrifice and determination. Happy Mothers Day.
While this space (I’m having a very hard time using the word “blog”; it seems alien to me, like something out of a ’60s sci-fi novel) is designed primarily as a venue to talk about The Quarry Farm and its inhabitants, activities and progress, I want it to behave interactively, need input from elsewhere. Part of what I perceive The Quarry Farm to be is community. Not community in the it-takes-a-village sense, so much. But community in the reality that without interaction, there is no progress.
Because of the nature of things, perhaps the nurture of things, open access is out of the question. By that I mean that just a very few will have the ability to blog, do you grok? However, please, please feel free to comment and comment at length. Feel free to express yourself in whatever fashion seems appropriate. Having said that, and again because of the nature/nurture of things, there are RULES, albeit, very few. No strong language (and by that I mean anything your grandmother would deem inappropriate). And no hate speak. Not only is it unappreciated, it isn’t tolerated. One of the many cool things about the service through which this site is enabled is the ability to blacklist certain words and phrases. They simply won’t appear. We’ve kept the list small; very small. I don’t like censorship. If you feel the need to test it, feel free. But enough about this. I don’t want to dwell on the negative. Talk to me. Talk to us. But, please, be civil. And, again, enough.
Finally, be patient. I’m new at this. More, and hopefully more interesting, tomorrow.
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