Monday, January 31, 2011

Morning chores

Illustration by Willow
Yes, we have morning chores on our suburban farm. On our particular farm,  none start at dawn. Being unschoolers, and being as how the kids are at their most intellectually and sometimes physically active late into the evening, we don't get to bed until midnight or one, most nights. So farm chores start about 9 a.m. or maybe 10 if my Facebook friends are posting especially prolifically.

The first chore is turning the florescent grow lights on the spinach flats and the mixed seedling flats, which will stay under them until the sunroom gets enough sunlight to warm it sufficiently. Some days, they stay under those ballast boxes all day. (One cool and one warm bulb gives about the same light as a significantly more expensive set of official grow lights, if you're looking for a cheap way to start seeds indoors.)

The next chore (this and the previous is usually done by Steve, as he is first to bed and first to rise most of the time) involves going into the laundry room and opening the window to add chicken feed to the feeder hanging just outside, and checking the waterer on its heated base to the right of it to make sure it's full and clean. Steve is very proud of this feature of our house, the fact that you can feed and water livestock from the basement laundry room.
Stupid uploader. This is the proper orientation in it's original file. Don't get wryneck looking at it!

We keep our chickens in a run under our back deck, with coops that Steve built (one four-chicken coop built before we realized how many eggs Willow would eat in any given day and one that can house 10 or 12 birds) providing further shelter. I love walking by the laundry room and seeing two or three chicken faces peering in, heads cocked sideways, wondering if we might be delivering treats soon.

If the weather is nice enough, which it mostly is, we let the chickens out to scratch in the backyard and they generally make a beeline for the back upper corner of the yard, where the sunlight falls first, to scratch in the dirt under the elderberry bush and warm themselves. Once the gardens have unprotected crops in them, the chickens will have to make do with a small outside run just off their deck enclosure. This will not please them, and at some point in the growing season I will fashion temporary fencing in a part of the yard and herd chickens back and forth to it every day in a ridiculous waste of time that I nonetheless enjoy.
As always, you can click to enlarge

About the time the kids get up, the sunroom is often warm enough to move seedlings, flats of greens and our flowering bulbs into it. The other morning, Willow and I lay on the floor of the sunroom, peering at the just-emerging seedlings that I will transplant out into a cold frame (broccoli, beets, leeks and onions) or pot up for a couple of months (tomatoes). She was admiring the deep pink stems of the beet sprouts, and I was pointing out the amazing way that onion and leek seeds send up one long, doubled up shoot that grows for several inches before the top end of the stem finally emerges above ground and the shoot slowly unkinks and stands up straight. I think that is the coolest thing I have learned about seedlings so far.

The young pullets in their old metal feed trough in Steve's office will get fresh food and water at some point during the day, and every couple days I'll cover the area rug in his office with an old massage sheet and take the birds, which are now about the size of pigeons, out to run around for an hour or two. They poop often and everywhere still, but they love to flap their wings and race about all excitable like.

One of those pullets, the barred rock, gave us quite the scare a few weeks back when she began suffering a siezure-like fit that is probably wryneck. It's often fatal, if the birds can't get enough nourishment, I guess, so we separated her and hand watered her for four or five days with vitamin-laced water and, for lack of anything more specific to do, I practiced my new energy work training on her. Delightfully, she began to recover and now, she is back with her sisters. While she will still devolve into her neck-writhing and moon-walking when she get overly exerted, she can pull herself out of it reasonably quickly and she seems to be doing well and putting on weight again.

At the end of the day, the seedlings and greens and flowering bulbs go back inside, edibles go under the grow lights for a few more hours, the chickens wander into the coop and we lock up after them, gathering any eggs while we're at it. That's about it, and I like it this simple.

That said, with this arctic blast we're about to get that will take tomorrow night's low down to 18 below, I'm going to move the chickens into my sunroom this afternoon. I've put cardboard down on the floor, brought up a nest box, food dispenser and waterer. I may replace the deck lightbulb, which throws a fair amount of heat off into the newly enclosed sunroom, with the actual heat lamp bulb from the coop, though the light from that shining through the curtains on the sliding glass door might make it hard to get to sleep. I decided that if I was going to spend energy keeping the birds warm in their coop, I might as well use that energy to keep the sunroom, and the bedroom attached to it, a bit warmer instead. I'm all about stacking, right?

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