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.

A Day in the Life of a Writer Who Is Not Writing

IMGP4191September 6, 2015

I was awake at first light. I made a cup of tea. I did a batch of hand washing and hung it on the line. My washing machine has a cycle for delicates but my washing machine is not working at the moment. I got on the internet and checked the weather forecast with NOAA. I checked incoming e-mails. I told Sally Bob (cat) and Baby (scarlet macaw) that I would be with them shortly. I fed Gray Lady (outside cat). I told Polly and Paco (blue and gold macaws) to just keep their feathers on and someone would attend to them soon. I put up clean dishes and stacked dirty ones for washing.

I made a cup of Coffee for George and then went and shook him awake. He was not happy and I don’t blame him, but the fresh coffee helped. We had a brief caucus about plans for the day. I said there were two hens who were being badly pecked and must be separated from the flock. Where to house them? We figured that out. George was grumpy because every segregated bird means another cage to clean and another food and water bowl to manage. George asked if I had called the washing machine repair man yesterday. I said no, but would start calling daily on Monday. We’ve been trying to get him out here for two weeks. I said I thought I had better set up to do all the laundry by hand outside as there is not enough in this month’s budget for trips to the laundromat. George said, use the washing machine; it works except for the timer. I was doubtful but said I would give it a try. I loaded it and started it. George said he would mind it and advance it manually through its cycles. He then completely forgot about it.

We went out to inspect the work in progress on the back wall of the old chicken house where we are re-building and repairing. We discussed what to do. George said he could not finish without additional corrugated metal. I said we have some. He was not convinced of that so I walked him over to the big barn and showed him. He said that he thought he had enough materials on hand to finish the back wall. We discussed priorities. We decided that he should first carry all the household trash to the drop off point and next get gasoline for the car and for all the various gas cans that constitute fuel for the riding lawnmower and reserve gas for the car. He began loading the car.

I discovered the washing machine stuck on wash and leaking water from the bottom of the machine. I told George. He said that he would move the dryer so that he could inspect the washer. He did that. Dryer is still outside the back door (covered with a tarp in case of possible rain) and it is now 1:28 of the following day. It will stay there a few days as I hate to ask George to move anything unnecessarily; it causes him a lot of pain. George checked all visible washing machine connections and said they are tight. I said we can’t use the machine until it is repaired as I have just painted that floor and don’t want the paint peeling because of moisture.

George did the trash run and gas run and then asked again about priorities. I said stay with the back wall of the chicken house until it is finished. He did the morning animal chores and then started on the chicken house. I went into the house, collapsed, and slept for an hour. I got up, made myself tea and started on kitchen clean up. I can’t let it go; we are afflicted by both ants and mice. I watered all the house plants. That is a big job. They were bone dry. I watered some outside plants. I constantly checked on the drying clothes on the line and got them in as they dried and piled them all on top of my still unmade bed. Over the course of the afternoon I got them all folded and put away. I wrote e-mails. I ordered bird food from the internet. I can’t buy the kind I feed locally. I checked bank balances, credit card balances, and started the work of planning a short trip I will make in October.

George came in, hot and tired and hurting. He has artificial shoulders plus he is 84. He had been knocking bad wood off the back of the chicken house with a sledgehammer. He rested. He promised to water the outside newly planted trees this evening. That won’t happen. He has too much to do and he will be exhausted.

I took a shower, washed my hair, gave myself a very quick manicure and pedicure, very superficial. George brought in the mail and discovered that we have a car safety recall to refit the car with new airbags. That must be done immediately. George tried calling the dealership. No luck. He said he would go to Hot Springs on Monday (fifty miles) and make an appointment for the work on the car and also pick up the dry cleaning. I said I needed the car on Tuesday to go to Mena to deal with my medical records and my insurance problem and that is also something that must be done and cannot be postponed.

I checked on the chickens. They were overheated so I turned on their overhead shower which is an irrigation hose on the chicken wire roof of their outside pen that provides a drizzle in hot weather. They flocked to it. They like the fresh water and the wet ground.

I picked up a piece of unfinished knitting, corrected a mistake, and got the work re-started correctly.

Sometime during the day I ate two plain slices of bread, fixed myself two scrambled eggs, and drank one glass of wine.

I sent more e-mails pertaining to the October trip. I heard from the woman with whom I will be staying saying evrything is cool and come whenever ready.

I got Baby out of her cage and put her on the back of my home office chair, fed her a peanut, and talked to her while trying to figure out why a password that has always worked on a particular website is not working now. No live person is available for help–please go to our forums. I sent a message to said forum.

I thought about re-writing a speech in Chapter Two, writing the Prologue, and about what will happen in Chapter Three, but was too tired to do anything about it.

George spent the evening doing animal work. He fed the cats, cleaned the bird room, sort of, and arranged all chickens for the night. With the back wall off of the chicken house they must be crated and brought inside each night.

I composed a dramatic monologue in my head that should, let us hope, shame the washing machine repair guy into getting himself out here and fixing my machine. Over a lifetime I have had plenty of experience as a motivational speaker getting two kids and two husbands off of their butts and doing whatever they needed to be doing.

I picked up the bathroom and got all damp towels out on the line to dry.

By 10:30 I felt very tired and sleepy. I went to bed. I dozed very lightly until about midnight and then woke up and could not go back to sleep so I got up. I started transcribing a previously written short story onto my website and then I wrote this.

It’s probably a forlorn hope but I will now go and try to sleep.