Country Journal/December 5, 2015

On the Subject of Chickens and a Year End Summary

The perfect chicken and the ultimate chicken coop–they don’t exist, but after several years of keeping chickens we are both older and wiser. This place came with a chicken house, in a manner of speaking. It was far from ideal and it bore no resemblance to clever little backyard painted coops that grace the pages of chicken keeping magazines. It is an eleven by eleven pole building with a shed roof ranging from 7 feet to 9 feet. The outside is covered with corrugated metal. The roof leaked until this year when we were finally able to get that fixed. The roost was falling apart. The nestboxes were ancient and badly designed. Worst of all, it had a dirt floor and the absence of anti-dig skirting meant that there was no protection against nighttime predators, most of whom are excellent diggers. There was no outside run. Our first round of improvements was to add an outside run with a chicken wire roof, replace the missing chicken wire on the front of the chicken house, and install a makeshift anti-dig skirt. It wasn’t pretty but it was safe. The chickens were thrilled. For them it was a step up in the world.

This year, in addition to replacing the roof and the roof rafters that were rotting, we also re-built two walls. George did this work. He dug trenches and installed concrete block footings–much better than our temporary anti-dig skirt, poured concrete to fill the blocks, beefed up the framing, and turned the corrugated metal from horizontal to vertical. I managed to get one wall–the back–painted. Then we stopped for the season as we were out of money and out of good weather.

George re-built the roost, putting the back of it on wheels so it can be moved back and forth to facilitate cleaning. I saw an idea on the internet that featured a wooden rack that held five gallon buckets for nest boxes and George undertook to build that. He is part way through this, but has decided that rectangular plastic tubs would be better than buckets.

I hate that dirt floor but there is nothing I can do about it right now. I went out this morning, shooed the chickens outside, and cleaned. I attacked the cobwebs, raked the floor, cleaned the water dispenser, cleaned the feed bowl. I threw out chicken scratch and cut up a butternut squash to give them for a treat.

George came out and did a little more work on the nest box rack which is a work in progress–one of many.

And, as always, it took much longer than I thought it would.

My original flock, plus a motley assortment of donated birds, are now middle-aged to elderly. They still lay, but it is probably time to add some younger birds. I’ve now experimented with several different breeds, both standards and bantams. I reviewed the possibilities and decided that I will now concentrate on just one breed. I picked the blue-laced red Wyandotte.

I like the color. I like chickens with “camouflage.” I love the look of feathered feet, but, in view of that dirt floor, I think I’d better stick to clean legged birds. Plus the Wyandotte has a rose comb that is less likely to get frostbitten. They lay light brown eggs. I won’t order them now; I will wait until warmer weather.

In addition to the chicken house flock I have three spare roosters and they are a royal nuisance because each one must be separately housed. There is also one odd hen who is the consort of my bantam rooster.

What is ahead is the re-building of the remaining two walls of the chicken house, re-working the original pen, building a second pen. I’m guessing we are talking two to four years because there is also much other work to be done. We can’t just spend all our time on the chicken house.

The present chicken census:

1 Blue Cochin rooster, rather elderly, a bit lame, very sweet, named Mr. Blue

1 Buff Brahma bantam rooster (called B.B.) and his mate who is a small black “Easter Egger” of unknown parentage. She’s a cute little thing named Ebony. She lays pale turquoise eggs.

1very elderly black Australorp rooster who is quite lame. That is Mr. Black.

The inmates of the chicken coop consisting of a Hamburg rooster, one Brahma light, one buff “Easter Egger,” two barred Plymouth rocks, three silver laced Wyandottes and two golden laced Wyandottes.

George also moved three ancient appliances that must be sold for scrap from the inside of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) into the yard. He will begin hauling them to the scrap metal yard on Monday.

George had improvised heating lamps above the roost, but that is not doing the job. I ordered heating pads for the separately housed chickens and a poultry heater that will create a “warming hut” inside the chicken coop. The downside, as I said, is the dirt floor. The upside is that it is roomy and there is space enough to add “furniture” as needed. This is the first winter I have had a heated waterer that does not freeze.

I came inside, took a short nap, and spent some time on the internet pricing accessories that might dress up this very shabby place: new house numbers, new mailbox, that kind of thing. I didn’t order anything; I was just getting a rough idea as to availability and prices. The actual ordering will come later.

Now for the summary: We have now been in this house almost six years and we started with one horrible little house and some long neglected outbuildings. We’ve done a lot, but there is still much to do. It doesn’t look pretty. It doesn’t look anything close to pretty. That may come later. Key word there is “may.” And then again maybe not, depending upon how our health and strength hold up.

  • We ripped out all of the old flooring except for the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen and painted the slab. That was, on our budget, the only solution I could manage. It was not done properly. We didn’t have the funds to grind or level.
  • We tore out some walls, re-built some walls, tore out some kitchen cabinets and all the bathroom cabinets. They were too awful to salvage. We added baseboards, top molding (very plain), and corner moldings to fill gaps.
  • George tore out the brick chimney that was located in, of all places, the hall. I don’t know how he did it but he did it, bringing down a pile of bricks, mortar, soot, and clinkers. We repaired holes in the ceiling.
  • George tore out an ugly built-in cabinet in the back bedroom.
  • We re-built the interior of every cabinet and closet in the house.
  • I painted the inside of every cabinet and every closet–multiple coats as they had never been painted.
  • I painted the entire interior, ceilings, walls, floors–multiple coats as I was covering dark paneling and the previous owners smoked.
  • We changed light fixtures. George did a lot of work on the interior wiring. It is still a long way from code, but it is much improved.
  • Besides the work on the chicken house, George re-built three walls of the big metal barn (Alice’s Barn) and added two small stalls inside. We have plans for more improvements. The south wall still must be re-built. I painted the three walls that he did re-work.
  • We installed a new kitchen sink and cabinet.
  • We replaced all the single paned windows with double paned windows.
  • We did a whole lot of caulking
  • I replaced the lower third of the tile surrounding the bathtub and patched missing tile in the pantry and kitchen.
  • We put in a new propane heater that vents to the outside in the living room.

In the same period of time George had two shoulder replacements, one hospital stay while recovering from an accident on the scooter, and cataract surgery. I spent five months in bed with the shingles and had two hospital stays. We had almost no money to work with until this year.

I don’t know how we did it.

This past year has been much better. We paid off the mortgage and the car note, put a new roof on the house, put new roofs on all three outbuildings–“Alice’s Barn,” “George’s Workshop,” and the chicken house. We installed the big steel canopy in the pecan grove for an outdoor seating and cooking area. We are now able to keep the place mowed. We got all the trees pruned and that’s a lot of trees. We have a new electric line between the well house and the breaker box–George did that. And, last but not least, we were finally able to get a new toilet, new bathroom lavatory, and get the plumbing fixed. For the first time since I came to Arkansas in 1907 I can take a hot shower whenever I like and I live in a warm house.

The entire adventure–the final years in Fort Worth and the time in Arkansas–is ten years I don’t ever want to repeat. There is still much to be done. The Lord willing and the creek don’t rise we will have a nice little country place in about 4-5 years.

Country Journal/December 1, 2015

It is the middle of the night. I can’t sleep. I have one huge life goal and that is to become the person I want to be and think I should be. I think each of us has an internal picture of that and I’m sure it varies enormously from one individual to the next.  Right now I’m not talking about achieving nirvana or even becoming morally better, although those are laudable. I’m talking about inefficiencies, niggling bad habits, getting in one’s own way, not working at one’s peak.

I can promise you, every time I make a change directed towards improving my health habits one certain result is insomnia. The spirit may be willing but the flesh will trip me up every time. So, let’s say, for instance, that I decide to forego the evening glass of wine, eat healthy, and exercise more. I guarantee that I can’t do it all at once because if I tell my elderly body that we are suddenly going to make big changes said elderly body will lay me out flat in bed in addition to making sure I don’t sleep at night. I guarangoddamntee it.

Then there’s Polly, my poor unhappy, obnoxious, loud, difficult macaw. Who ever heard of a bird with insomnia? Every other bird in the house goes to sleep when it gets dark and/or the cage is covered and sleeps, with only a few half-awake noises, until morning. Not my Polly. My stealthy footsteps down the hall, the tapping of the computer keyboard, any sound at all will wake that unfortunate creature. Then I will hear her gently fussing and tearing up the newspapers on the bottom of her cage. No harm in that but she needs the sleep. A pin drops and that macaw wakes up. That severely limits what I can do during the nights I can’t sleep. The only thing I can do that doesn’t bother Polly is to sit up in bed and knit. Right now I am in no mood for that.

“Polly, it’s just mom. I love you. Go to sleep.”

I have accomplished distressingly little since I last wrote. Today was the worst. I was doing the monthly budgeting and bill paying. For once, there’s no particular monetary crisis; it’s just routine. I was unaccountably wound up, wired, unable to concentrate, and just plain nutty. It got the work done, but it took far longer than it should have done. Now I can’t sleep. I am nibbled to death by ducks, as the saying goes. My mother called it the “screaming mimis.” Not sure how you spell that. Better look it up. Okay, it is spelled two ways–“mimis” and “meemies.” Not to be confused with the heebie-jeebies which word conveys both jitters and vague fear.

I said something to George about my state of mind this afternoon.

“Been there.” he said.

He ran errands. He took care of the animals. I paid bills and quietly fell apart. Not fun. Not fun at all.

Later the Same Day

Too many things to do and too little time. Too many needs and too few dollars. The weather cleared sufficiently that cleaning the car was possible, so we went to town. Mailed bills. Did a small amount of necessary shopping for supplies at Walmart. Got the car cleaned at our local DIY car wash. Actually, that is not accurate. We got the top layers of grime out of the interior and off the exterior. I don’t like to ask George to do this by himself. He won’t admit it is difficult for him, but he’s not very agile and vacuuming odd corners of a car interior does require that.

By the time we finished we were both chilled. I wanted something hot and fast. We went to McDonald’s for a sandwich and hot coffee. Then we went home. I unloaded the car and re-arranged the car. This is make-ready for inserting tarp and traveling macaw cage into the back seat while leaving space for Star in the hatchback area. George went to work doing animal care and I took a nap. I got up, made a cup of very strong hot tea and started wrapping Christmas presents. I did not get far, but at least I made a start.

We did stop at the bank this morning. Unfortunately someone had left an issue of Flying magazine in the lobby. George pounced on it and has been buried in it off and on all day and will remain buried in it until he has read every word and he’s a slow reader. He did take care of the animals, but he will be good for nothing else until he is finished with his magazine.

It’s not what we did; it’s what we didn’t get done that bothers me. I need to re-work the heating arrangements for the chickens and for Gray Lady (outdoor cat). That is a must. Freezing nights are in the forecast. I am once again behind on routine house work. I have barely begun the clean up work in the living room. The car port is a mess. George won’t keep it clean and is incapable of cleaning it. Cleaning he can do only if walked through the process. I can’t supervise George and do anything else. After thirty years of living with George and his very odd brain I’ve learned what will work and what won’t.

I need to do some cleaning in the kitchen. I can’t; it will wake Polly who is in the adjoining dining area. It’s no different from having a sleeping baby in a small house. House is too small to give the macaws a dedicated room and, if I did that, I then create the problem of lack of social interaction with us which is also very important for them.

After working with the monthly budget I asked George, “Would you rather have special holiday food or liquor this month?” He didn’t hesitate; he wanted his evening snort. Okay, but that means a long drive to a liquor store because we are in a dry county. It’s an incredibly beautiful place and two-thirds of our county is pristine national forest, but there is a downside to everything. Arkansas has some of the strictest liquor laws in the nation.


George explained that he has been observing a learning curve among the cats. We have too many cats to have them all inside. They are outside by day and in crates in the barn at night. That protects them from nighttime predators. They are fed in their crates in the evening and then George fastens the crates for the night. Last winter I had to bring all of the critters into the house every night to keep them warm. That was an incredible amount of work and obviously not the way to go. No one needs a crate of 12 chickens in the kitchen every night and 12 cats wandering about on top of a large dog, multiple birds, and two elderly roosters–one in the bathtub and one in a large tub. This year I bought heaters, heated waterers, various other equipment, and plush and foam domes–enough to equip each cat crate plus some extras. At first the cats just pushed the domes down flat and went to sleep on top of them, creating little cat nests. I was not happy because that defeats the purpose of the domes. To stay warm each cat needs to go inside and curl up. But George reports that last night, with a forecast of a light freeze, each cat had figured it out and every single one was tucked away inside his dome