I have spent a lot of time telling you that it is hot! I am sure that most of you are saying,
"Enough already! We get it!"
Well, I thought it was hot before...
I am going to explain to you what a day, in this heat, entails on a farm with animals.
The day starts early by letting the chickens out. I try to let them out as soon as I can, because they need to get out and forage. Once the mercury starts to rise, they head back to their coop. If you weren't aware, chickens are not the smartest birds on the block. They have their moments of brilliance, but when things turn extreme they only have a few stand-by options to choose from. They seem to associate their coop with safety. I suppose I should take this as a compliment, but when we started hitting 100+ degree days, their coop wasn't the coolest place to be. There were options outside in the shade that would have been smarter, but these girls have not topped the charts on any aptitude tests.
Originally, I was hosing down an area on the ground in the back of my horse barn that they seemed to enjoy hanging out in. Interestingly enough, it was the larger, all-black breeds that picked up on this first. The wet ground was cool and the shade from the barn helped also. Then I had one chicken die from the heat in the coop. I was very sad about this, but she was an older bird and I thought that her age probably played a big part in that. Most farmers won't talk about animal loss, but this blog started in the interest of exploring small-scale farming, so I am sharing what we learn here. I will tell you that after a hen slows down on her egg production or stops completely, she continues to have a place here. We are small-scale, but we are also fair and there is a nice retirement plan in the contract. This goes for all animals here. I feel like it is only fair after a year and a half or more of production, a girl should get to live out her days.
The next thing on the list is to feed the horses their grain, and the cat gets his dry food. You have to feed him or you will be tripping over him. He can be very persistent with his crying, purring, and rubbing on your legs. After I get the horses grained, I clean their stalls. It starts with Deuce, only because it is easier to clean his stall if he is eating. If not, he is all up in your business. I have had him bite the wheel-barrow and try to pick it up. He has grabbed the handle on the muck bucket, if I decide to go that route, and overturned it. This is frustrating because it is counter productive. After his stall is cleaned, I put his fly mask on him, and give him a quick spray with some fly spray. I dump his water buckets, make sure they are clean, and then fill them up for him. I finish by giving him his hay and a little alfalfa. He loves his alfalfa. He equates it with dessert, and he eats dessert first.
The above steps happen almost exactly for Blaze, with a few exceptions. For one, I clean her stall after she has finished her grain. She can be nasty when she eats, and I don't tolerate being pushed around or treated like I may be competition for her food. We have had many conversations about how I gave her that grain, and I can take it away. I have taken it away before, and that really confused her. She lives each day to be the boss of someone. She wants to be the lead mare, but unfortunately, she has never had a herd to lead. Part of dealing with her is just understanding her, and because of this, I either clean her stall after she eats, or before. It just so happens that in the summer, the schedule allows her to have her grain first. In the winter, it is the reverse. She can be difficult, but she will stand where I tell her, as long as the bucket is empty.
She then gets a quick shot of fly spray, no hay for her, and she gets kicked out to pasture. I go ahead and do her water as well, mostly because I have a fear of the water department having an issue. I found myself without water one day when we first moved here, and when I called the water company, the little girl explained that we had a main line break. Well, I needed water, and was wanting a time frame of getting it back on when she explained that they had all three guys working on it. One of those guys had to be in his 80's.
You gotta love living in a small town.
The next thing on the agenda as far as the horses are concerned is making sure all the fans are running, and then emptying their daily contribution into the compost pile. This may sound like a small task, except that those piles are cooking between 130-160 degrees. Try standing next to that on a 100+ degree day.
Usually at this point, I go back to the chicken barn and make sure they have clean water and fill their feeders with grain. They have to eat when they come back in, and I will tell you that they are eating their share. If you have bought eggs from them, they thank you.
As the heat continued to rise this year, I lost two more hens. These were younger girls, and it didn't take long to realize this was becoming a dire situation. If you have talked with me at all about chickens, you have probably heard me say that chickens will show you how dumb you are. Ask anyone that has ever had chickens, and they will tell you that chickens are dumb. Well, they are. It may sound harsh, but it is true. My point of view is that if you know this, you have to be smarter. I mean, at some point, who is really dumb here? This is where you will learn the cold, hard facts about your own IQ.
I have always prided myself on the fact that I take really good care of my animals. I go above and beyond, and most of my friends think I am crazy for some of the things that I do. Well, you know what they say about pride?
It cometh before the fall.
These chickens have kept me on my toes. I have constantly felt like most of my care-giving has been just a reaction to what ever they throw at me. Nothing pro-active happening around here. I really get frustrated when I am always behind the curve. To say that I was upset when I lost the next two birds, was an understatement. I was sick about it. It was one of the few times that the Man in Charge, just got out of the way. There was ranting and raving and all sorts of unlady like behavior taking place.
I immediately installed a mister system in their barn, along with a fan. Well, to say that they enjoyed this would be putting it mildly. They were hesitant at first, but they quickly got over it. Over the next few days, I added a second fan, and added on to the system. I put their misters on a timer, and they were set. Egg production went back up and so did feed consumption, but at least everyone was staying cool. As the Man in Charge put it the other day, our obligation is to give these animals proper accommodations, clean water, and food.
Check. Check. Check.
As hot as it was, it managed to climb higher. This has added a few other chores to the day. I now only leave my mare out until about noon. I bring her in, hose her off, put her fly mask on her and get her under the fans. As the temperatures have climbed even higher, I now drag my stallion out and hose him down after her. This should be easier than it is, but he is funny about the hose. He really only enjoys it if you are getting as wet as he is. I can't explain it, but he gets ants in his pants if you try to stay dry. He can't keep his feet still. If you let him stick his nose on the end of the hose and shoot you back with a nice spray every now and then, he stands perfectly still. Most days we argue about this, but lately, I haven't minded getting hosed down a little myself.
On top of all of this, as I mentioned in a previous post, we have been hauling hay to get us through to next year. This is not a fun chore, anytime of the year. We have managed to put up over 100 bales of hay, so far. The first load was stacked by a newbie, and I had to go back and re-stack some of it. I purposely left about six inches between my hay and the north wall of the chicken coop. This wall is made with chicken wire, and I didn't want them picking through any hay that they could reach through the wire. This seemed like a good plan at the time. We have since stacked this hay to the ceiling almost.
I know it is hard to describe it visually, and once again, I am thinking, duh - pictures.
The barn is divided into hay storage and coop. It is half and half, and divided with wire. The north end of that barn was used as an over-sized stall for our old stallion. He is no longer with us, but there are two doors that lead out into the pasture on that end. Luckily, they are dutch doors, so I can keep the bottom door shut, and leave the top door open. This lets the air move through there nicely. One would think that was smart. Again, chickens will teach you how dumb you are.
The other evening, my Full-timer took a shift and she went out to check on things. She was going to gather eggs and check on the girls as well. She took a little longer than usual, but I wasn't concerned until she came back in. She was hot, red-faced, and mad. Apparently, my little sprinter chicken had managed to find her way over the bottom dutch door into the hay storage area. Somehow, she also managed to get in my six inch space and was stuck. She was running back in forth, but she couldn't get out.
I am sure that after hearing my rampage on losing chickens, my girl flew into a panic. She immediately jumped into action and grabbed the hay hook. She started jerking down hay bales, letting them fall where they may. Once she had as many down as she had room for, she climbed on top and dove down in this small space to grab her. Well, the chicken was not really cooperating, and this was making it harder than it had to be. As my faithful helper was describing the scene, she kept repeating that if the chicken died, it was her own fault. Then she went on her own tirade about how she herself could have gotten stuck in that small space. She was sure that she only had one leg sticking up as she was hanging upside down, trying to hold on with one hand and chasing the chicken with the other. She assured me that she was fine when she left her, and then she stormed off mumbling things under her breath.
As I began to get the visual of this little exercise, it was more than a little funny to me. This did not go over well with the Full-timer, and she returned. She is little, but she is mighty, and she may have a mean streak. I tried to keep a straight face, and take each word seriously. We didn't have a plan to solve this problem, but we quickly came up with one. We couldn't remove the six inch space, but we did re-stack the hay she had pulled down, and when we brought another 20 bales in, we stacked more hay on top and blocked the front gap with the rest of the hay. That should do the trick. Right?
As things have kept heating up, we have been trying to stay on top of things. As if life isn't interesting enough around here, after unloading hay last week. I noticed a nice little rash on my chest. Thinking it had to do with all the hay that made its way down my shirt, I wasn't too concerned. You can't unload and stack hay without getting it everywhere. I have even found it in my pockets, socks, shoes, you name it. Everyday, out in more heat, moving more hay, the rash spread. Chest, stomach, back, and it started down the underside of my arms and up my neck. It was mildly itchy, especially out in the heat, and it was beginning to be a little concerning. I managed to squeeze in a doctor's appointment. Explaining some of my duties, she was hesitant to give me my diagnosis. Apparently I have a type of rosacea that is common in people ages 15 to 35. Good news in the fact that my body thinks it is younger than I know it is, but bad news in the fact that this thing will have to run its course. A course of 3 to 8 weeks.
Some people get this, and some people don't. The good news is that once it is done, you won't get it again. More bad news, heat aggravates it.
I am now on antihistamines and steroids. I don't do antihistamines. They knock me out, and make me mean. I have been known to have an all out fight in my sleep under the influence of Benadryl. I certainly can't take them during the day, there are too many chores to do. The steroids can cause insomnia.
Sound like a roller coaster?
So, this all happens on Monday. You may have noticed the record temperatures this week. I made it home, checked on the girls, hosed down the horses every couple of hours and just tried to hold on that day. We have had a misting system in our horse barn in previous years, but we haven't fired it up in a while. I headed out in the evening to check and see what kind of shape it was in. I felt certain that I could get it running, but it would have to wait until Tuesday. I needed air conditioning.
Tuesday morning comes. I get everyone on their way for the day, and head out to the barns. I had a few adjustments to make on the system in the chicken coop, but that was no problem. I have become a pro at that system. I had my regular chores done, and then had extra compost work to do. I pick up coffee grounds from three locations on Monday's and Thursday's. Tubs of compostable materials should not sit in the heat. I managed to get them out there and get them added to the piles. It was a blistering heat, and I was a little more than itchy. I then spent a little time watering down the piles so they wouldn't dry completely out.
That done, I headed to the horse barn. I had to take apart a lot of the old system and fix a few leaks before I was able to turn it on. The nozzles were clogged.
I messed with that thing for what seemed like forever. No luck. I stuck it out until 11:30 and it was so hot, that I threw in the towel. I went ahead and brought my mare in early because of the heat. I then hosed them both down and headed for the house. I immediately took a cool shower.
I will tell you that something weird has been happening to me.
I know... You may want to hold onto your hat.
There are days that I feel like I work like a man. I am filthy, nasty, dirty, and dog tired. For some reason, this translates to a real need to be as girly as possible, when I can. I have recently bought sun dresses, bath soap called "Sweet Pea", daisy ear-rings, I had a feather put in my hair, and I even splurged on some new perfume - Bloom. On this particular day, I really needed to be a girl. After a shower, a little make-up, put my hair up, and I decided I was long over-due for a manicure and a pedicure. I felt like I had time before my next trip to the barn, so I indulged myself, with some bright pink polish. I wrapped this up with a nice top coat and sat back to let it dry.
My next round to the barns was nearing, but I waited an extra 10 minutes. Wanting to make sure that my polish was dry. I was dressed in shorts and a tank top, not thinking that I had major work to do. Just check on everyone, top off water, and possibly hose a horse down. I grabbed the egg basket, just in case. I checked on the horses, and went to gather eggs.
Guess what I found?
That crazy little chicken was back on the hay side of the barn, and she had gotten herself stuck again. This next part may be easier to take if you know that chickens fixate on things. Once they find something new that they like, good luck keeping them out of it. With my first round of chickens, I spent weeks trying to keep my hens out of my yard and my flower beds. They would rake all my mulch on the sidewalk and eat bugs all day. We had rounds about this until I found every possible way they were escaping through the fence. Lola, daily has an adventure looking for the cat's food in the big barn. I can't keep her out of it. I have finally conceded and now just move the cat food around.
Well, this little girl thought she had found a perfect place to nest. Chickens love dark little cubby holes to make nests in. When I found her, she had dropped down into the same six inch space, and made a nest. She laid an egg in her nest, and then I am sure she panicked. As I said, this wall is wire and I could see her from inside the coop. She was laying down in an unnatural position, but I thought I saw her move. As if replaying a bad movie, I jumped into action. I ran around to the other side, grabbed the hay hook and started dragging down bales. The biggest problem was there were more bales. The other problem was that she wasn't moving and she was back farther towards the wall. I couldn't reach her. I was almost upside down, reaching, and trying to figure out how my Full-timer had done this. I easily have six inches on her, and I couldn't get anywhere. After nearly getting stuck myself, I grabbed a hoe. I was hoping that I could bring her up enough to grab her butit was not happening.
The only thing left to do, I ran to the big barn and grabbed some wire cutters. I went inside the coop and cut a hole in the wire and pulled her out. She was limp, but I started massaging her, even trying some chest compressions. I ran with her outside, and grabbed the hose. While I was waiting for the water to run cold, I kept moving her. I ran the hose on her, and tried to cool her down. I was certain at one point that I saw her blink an eye. In hind-site, this may have been due to the fact that I was vigorously trying to stimulate her.
Armed with this possibility of life, I may have even given her CPR. I don't know much about chicken CPR, but if I did try to give her CPR, it would have went something like this...
Head back, beak open.
Hand cupped around beak.
puff, puff, puff, puff, puff...spit.
If I did give her CPR, I would have only given short puffs of air, so as not to damage her lungs. I would have continued compressions, all the while keeping the hose running cold water on her body. I also would have talked to her a lot and prayed a lot.
It didn't work.
This chicken died doing what she thought was best. She thought she found a great spot for a nest, she built it, she laid an egg, and that was that. I was alone, and there are no witnesses to what did or didn't happen. All I can tell you for sure, is that once I stepped away from the situation, I had blood running down my arm from a few minor scratches, and I also have a nice bruise on my other arm. My manicure and pedicure were ruined, and there is a lot of hay that needs to be re-stacked.
I wired the hole shut that I had cut in the wall, and somehow, in the process realized what I needed to do to fix the mister nozzles on the horses. I was once again filthy, so, might as well. I made some adjustments and the horses finally found some relief. I headed back in and took another shower. I didn't fix my nails. I just left them, and wondered if I hadn't been doing that, if she would have lived. Could 10 minutes have made a difference? I still haven't re-stacked the hay, but today I covered the door openings on the North end of the hay barn with chicken wire. No one else can get in there.