It’s now 5 months into our foray of country life, and I have to say that time has flown, but it seems like an eternity since we’ve been here. It all started with a dream of a simpler life, homemade as much as we could manage, and a loving place for kids and critters to grow and thrive. So far, its been glorious and its been ugly, but it’s totally ours.
Our adventures started with the renting of a house on Polaris Drive in Grass Valley, California. On about an acre of land, it was perfectly set up for what we wanted to do. There was already a grand palace for chickens (my fella calls it the chicken “coup”, but I call it the hen-house-we are still working out the nomenclature of such things), and a garden ready for the planting.
However, this year we had quite a long stretch of “unsettled weather”. What this means is that there will definitely be snow, and freezing cold temperatures, with patches of sky that give you a glimmer of hope, followed by black clouds that rival Mordor. For living at approximately 2500 feet above sea level, we had more than our fair share of snow. Our last snow was in the middle of May. MAY, I tell you! Why is this relevant? Because I planted two gardens, both of which failed (I’m blaming it on the weather-not the fact that we both work full-time, an hour away from home, and weren’t around to facilitate the proper watering, venting, and general care that seedlings require). This last garden is doing well and is comprised almost entirely of volunteers from the previous tenant’s garden, and starts from a local nursery and farm. We lost the third batch of cucumbers and watermelon to that May snow. Curse you, Weather. CUUUURRSSE YOOOOUUUU!
In addition to the garden, around March we embarked on the scariest part of our journey thus far: Chickens. While chickens may not seem scary to you, the idea that we were going to be fully responsible for a clutch of birds that we had no real experience with was definitely frightening. My fella and I read up on everything we could, tried to get our girls involved, and generally just tried to figure out the basics. Thank the Gods for Carla Emery‘s amazing reference: The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
After several discussions, I had thought we were pretty settled on getting 4-5 chickens max, to see how we did with them. On the day of our housewarming party (brunch, with snow-covered grounds), my fella (aka the Pater Familia—and he IS Bona Fide), took the girls to the feed store, and returned with all of the necessary items: wood shavings, feed, a watering container, and SEVEN baby chicks. I was a bit overwhelmed, but tried not to show my surprise. (if you know me at all, you know I cannot hide anything). We had a mixed batch: one Columbia Rock, one Rhode Island Red, one Bantam, and 4 absolutely gorgeous black chickens that we still haven’t figured out what breed they are. They were quite adorable and would be living in a big box in the house for the next twelve-ish weeks. We lost the bantam the first night, which was a terrible blow to the girls. But we quickly replaced her with what is now my favorite, a Self Blue Old English Bantam named Pigeon.
The chicks grew leaps and bounds over the next couple of weeks. So much so, that the box apartment was expanded to a 3-room flat complete with several roosts, thanks to the architectural skill of the PF. Eventually the day came where it was warm enough to move the ladies to the coup outside which was accomplished without incident. However, we did need to put the ladies to bed each night.
That means the first night we had to chase them around the chicken pen, catch them one by one, and jam them through the opening of the hen-house door, trying not to let one out while we put one in. Time: 32 minutes. The second night, the ladies gathered by the ramp and clucked until we came out and picked them up one by one. This time, we put them on the ramp and nudged them up into the hen house. Time: 21 minutes. The third night, was the same, except they got on the ramp themselves after several minutes of tapping on the top of the ramp. They each paused for a petting from the PF (he was talking to them in the magical “quiet voice” which calms any female creature). Time: 26 minutes. The fourth and fifth nights were the same. After that, we often didn’t get outside until after they put themselves to bed, and we just closed the door. All was bliss until we got the next round of liberated chickens. But that is another story.