"We heard there was going to be a post!"
As I've mentioned before, we're renting the property we live on from my dad, who had to take work on the other side of the state and was not in a position to sell his house. This meant leaving behind his garden and at least 3/4ths of his worldly possessions in my care, but he still returns for a visit about once a month to check on things, catch up on yard work, and look for something terribly important that he forgot to take with him the last time he was here. His most recent visit was this past weekend--just in time to help us relocate The Skunk--and he'd made the trip for the specific purpose of finding one very important piece of paperwork in the sea of belongings stored in the back room. He'd already spent several hours searching through boxes when I mentioned I needed to go out to the garden and see if I couldn't knock down some of those sunflowers.
"Oh, all right!" he exclaimed in mock exasperation. "You talked me into it--I'll help!"
So we gathered up our tools, gardening gloves, and bandanas and headed out into the garden to deforest it.
Now, initially, I had planned on tackling this task myself. Alone. Like a fool. Within an hour I realized how little I would have actually gotten done if it weren't for my dad's help! The tallest of the sunflowers was over 15 feet high, and most had stalks like small tree trunks. To make matters worse, they were hopelessly entangled with each other, so even when you cut one off at the ground, it was almost impossible to remove. Little by little, bit by bit, we cleared three beds of sunflowers, and though the temperature should have been a pleasant 75 F, there was absolutely no breeze and far more humidity than is reasonable for an inland climate. Dripping with sweat, we called it a day after barely clearing a third of the garden. Had I not had my dad's help, I doubt I would have cleared so much as the first bed.
As for the sunflowers we pulled up, they went straight over the fence into the chicken run, where the ducks and chickens had a grand ol' time searching for aphids, tasty weeds, and mature sunflower heads. Though I had initially planned to let the sunflowers mature completely and harvest the seeds for chicken feed, they proved to be an exciting enrichment object as they were. They will also provide some protection for the over-exposed soil so that new grass can start growing in the run.
The sunflowers before...
...And after. Notice how you can actually see the ground in the garden now.
The next day, Dad and I mustered our strength and tackled a bit more of the garden, but by now ragweed was getting the better of me and I was swiftly losing my motivation to do battle with the sunflower army. As he wrapped up the last of the row we were working on, I wandered away to tend to the chickens, and that's when I found her. Owlet, one of my oldest hens, was lying on her back in the middle of the run, dead.
For a little backstory, Owlet was one of the chicks we purchased our second year owning chickens. She was one of five "ameraucana" chicks that we quickly learned were actually "Easter Eggers". Because she resembled an owl chick more than a chicken to me, I dubbed her "Owlet", while her broodmates earned names like Chipmunk, Mouse, Creampuff, and Eclair. (I had a little trouble committing to a theme there.) They all started out friendly, but quickly developed their own personalities. Chipmunk was courageous and friendly, Creampuff neurotic and terrified, and Owlet... she fell somewhere in the middle. She wasn't friendly, but she wasn't shy. She wasn't nervous, but neither was she comfortable with us being too close to her. All in all, she was an entirely unexceptional chicken, but she held a special place in our hearts because of her beautiful, metallic gold feathering and large, green eggs. As if to make sure we knew exactly how much she was contributing to the egg basket, every egg she laid was marked with a signature wrinkle on the narrow end, and it was for this reason that we knew that she continued to lay rain or shine, summer or winter, even when the rest of the flock took a break and let us down. No other hen laid eggs with a wrinkled point, and Owlet never seemed to lay an egg without it.
Owlet the Easter Egger
As time passed, Owlet's brood began to disappear. Creampuff was the first to go. Inexcusably neurotic, we sold her to a family wanting a hen who was already laying, but didn't care about personality. Chipmunk was next--a victim of my dog Boomer. The last three--Eclair, Mouse, and Owlet herself--stuck around for years after that, and it was starting to seem like they'd be a part of our flock forever, but one day a few months ago, Mouse passed away suddenly with no sign of illness or injury. One day I just went out and found her lying in the run, as though she'd toppled over while just going about her business. A few weeks later, Eclair passed the same way, so when I found Owlet lying there, just as her sisters had been, it was no great shock. Since no one else in the flock had died in such a way, and all three girls had all come from the same hatchery stock, it was clear that what had claimed their lives was an inherent health condition.
By the time she passed away, Owlet wasn't giving us very man of her signature wrinkled eggs. I found the last offering she would ever give us a couple of months ago, and had tried (unsuccessfully) to hatch it in the incubator. When she passed away, I was all the more disappointed that I hadn't been able to hatch her last egg, but then, when I collected eggs a few days after she'd passed, I found it...
... a little green egg, obviously from a pullet, with a signature wrinkled point.
Could one of these chickens be the daughter or granddaughter of the late Owlet?
While we're on the subject of legacies, it's time to return to the tale of Miroku and his unexpected offspring.
Prior to relocating Miroku to the outdoor classroom that fateful night, he was roaming free in the main flock, along with my purebred Ameraucana hens. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he successfully wooed one of them before I separated them to start breeding them to their new rooster. When I collected their eggs to put into the incubator that week, I knew it was far too soon to hope for purebred chicks, but I wanted to try anyway. I had no idea how much that shot in the dark would end up meaning to me. When that little blue egg finally popped open and the little black chick with feathered feet tumbled out, I was initially disappointed that I'd ended up with a mutt. Breeding purebred Ameraucanas has been something I've been trying to accomplish for more than a year and a half, so I had been hoping--how ever remote the chance would be--that I would get to celebrate my first purebred chick after so much effort. Whatever disappointment I felt quickly evaporated the moment I saw the five-toed foot. Though I have many chickens in my flock, including 7 white silkies, Miroku was the only mature silkie rooster in my flock at the time the chick was sired--there was simply no other chicken who could be the father. And so, despite losing Miroku, a part of him lived on in this tiny protege.
As for the chick itself, it's in very good hands. Rather than raising them in the brooder, I have entrusted the care of this batch of chicks to my team of duo broodies--Violet and Daisy. The two hens went broody within a week or two of each other, and both tried to nest in the same spot. Because The Skunk was still raiding nests, I didn't give them any actual eggs, and instead let them sit on a couple of blown-out shells while I incubated eggs in my incubator. Skunk relocated, eggs hatched, and hens still broody, it was a simple matter to introduce the new family to each other. The two hens immediately took to the chicks, and even took turns picking bits of egg goo off of one especially messy youngster.
Violet (barred rock mix) and Daisy (bantam cochin) with their new shared brood of chicks.
That's all for now! Until next time!