Our plans to bury the recently deceased Nocty were thwarted by the deep freeze we are in. The ground is rock hard. The bird too.

I put Nocty in an empty feed bag and rolled it up. I’m keeping her on the porch so no big animals can get at her. As for the little ones, the undertakers, they won’t start their work until the body defrosts. Amie asked why, and I explained we humans are about 60% water and I suspect it’s somewhat similar for a chicken. She got it right away with regard to the chicken. It blew her mind that the same goes for the soil. I couldn’t say how much water is in the soil, but all the tiny spaces between the mineral molecules were flooded when it rained or when the snow on top of it melted, and then that water too froze. So the soil per se isn’t frozen, but the water that saturates it is. That’s why my shovel can’t make a dent in it.

Thinking of it now the similarities between the state of the bird and the state of the soil go further. Both seem brittle, parched, dry, because the water in them can’t do its thing, that is, moisten and move.  The soil should be awash with life and so should Nocty – Amie believes that firmly now, that Nocty should rot and give her body back to the circle. But the bird, the creatures who will do the rotting (the washing), and the medium in which this can be done (the soil/the water) – all are waiting.

Looking down into the brown paper bag at the golden brown feathers, it doesn’t feel right that she’s neither alive in the chicken-sense, nor in the rot-sense. I hope we’ll have a thaw soon.

After reading Lauren Scheuer’s book, Once Upon a Flockin one swoop, Amie now has a favorite blog: Scratch and Peck, which is adorable and very funny and, well, about chickens! She has decided that this Spring we should get one Barred Plymouth Rock, one Black Australorp, and one Buff Orpington, just like Ms. Scheuer has!

DSCF2765Amie took the news of Nocty’s demise very well, much better than I thought she would. She was shocked, then cried a little. After absorbing the news, we went to see the body on the porch. It was dark so I brought a flash light. I lifted the cardboard to uncover the body and Amie stroked Nocty’s  soft feathers. She said, “She is still a beautiful bird.” Then she became very curious. She tried to open the wing, remarked on the stiffness and I explained that when the blood is no longer flowing, the muscles get stuck and stiff. She even peeled open the bird’s eyelid and peered into the eye, searching for something.  I didn’t ask or talk, wanted to let her thoughts be free.

Then we went to check on Oreo, Nocty’s “sister,” who is now alone at the mercy of the older hens. The chickens were roosting, so she didn’t get to talk to Oreo, but this morning she went out to the coop before school and sat with her for a while. Her abiding concern, as mine, is with Oreo.

She also asked if we could keep Nocty the way she is and I explained we couldn’t, that she will rot. I explained that rotting is  being returned to the flow, that specialized insects and bacteria go in and tear down all the bonds that bind the flesh together and so release the atoms back into the stream and so on, into other bodies and new life.  I said to let that happen we should bury her, put her into the Earth, and we discussed where on the land. I proposed one of the garden beds. Then Nocty’s atoms would go into the lettuces and we could eat them. Amie liked that a lot. Encouraged, I proposed that at the end of the season we could dig up the bones. She liked that too.

We have set Wednesday after school aside for Nocty’s burial. We’ll also  do research on whether it will be safe to eat those lettuces, and on how to preserve animal bones.

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This morning I found Nocty, one of our younger Ameraucanas (she would have been a year old in April), dead in the coop. She was lying in the narrow space between the roost and the big door.  It couldn’t have happened long ago. Her blue egg was next to her, still somewhat warm. There was no blood or anything on her, and she didn’t freeze. There had been no symptoms, on the contrary, she was the energetic one, and she was regularly laying eggs. I think it may have been Sudden Death Syndrome, aka heart attack. I hope so, because I wouldn’t want there to be a disease in the coop. Everyone else seems fine, but then again, so did Nocty.

I was shocked and sad to see this sociable, sweet and funny chicken lying there so vulnerable and – I think this is what got me the most – so alone. She is still a beautiful chicken and I held her like she let herself be held in life, like a baby. Hardest of all is the realization that Amie will take it badly. Another issue is Nocty’s “sister” Oreo, who is at the bottom of the pecking order and who always found refuge with Nocty, who often pecked back at the four older hens.

It’s the first chicken we’ve lost, indeed the first pet (that’s how Amie thinks of her). I’m getting ready to tell Amie after she comes home and after her play date – which means I’ll need to keep mum the whole time they play. For once I hope it rains and they can’t go play outside, with the chickens.

On a warm and sunny day last week,  I let the chickens out in the yard. Amie came home from school just then and she joined the flock. For an hour she herded the hens around, nattering and scolding like a mama hen, with some marvelous life lessons (for chickens). What is the difference between needs and wants? She explained it to them. It is thus: If you need something but you don’t want it, it’s always a mistake. If you want something that you don’t need, it could be a mistake. It depends. Luckily, for chickens the factors aren’t too complex. In the end the chickens ran back into the coop out of their own volition, knowing full well what they needed.

Most of the snow melted.

Yesterday a snowstorm blew in and dumped a lot of wet, thick snow. The land is transformed again. The clouds above are fat and fast.

 

NOAA predicts -13 F or -25 C for tonight. I’ve been perusing the historical weather data for Massachusetts and that looks like a record cold. If we make that, we beat the low of -12 of 1957. This kind of cold was on my mind when I went out to give the hens a bowl of fresh warm water and a bowl of warm oatmeal, which they devoured. There is no electric heating in their coop, which isn’t insulated, but due to the deep litter method there is some heat (you can feel it when you hold your hand over it) and on cold nights like this, I close the coop hatch.

The powdery snow that fell last night (about a foot) creaked and crinched around my boots. The sun was already low in the sky and the air was dead calm. There was something eerie about it. It is that kind of big freeze that I wonder might set in and never end, not in my lifetime. That makes me half-remember that there’s something I may have to do to make it end, but that I’ve forgotten the old ways of making the sun come up in the morning, of making the world go on, the warmth return. I’m part curious, part terrified.

As I write this, the chickens they are hollering. They holler every evening when the sun sets. I used to think, like most, that they’re claiming their spots on the roost or reporting on their day. This interpretation doesn’t befit this evening, or any evening, come to think of it. I think that instead they’re lamenting the end of the world and voicing their doubt that there is anyone left willing and able to make it go again tomorrow.

Jenkinson says we need people to join the crew of pushing the sun up every day. The chickens are counting on it.

Yesterday night it went down to 9 F (-12.7 C) and tonight they predict 5 F (-15 C), -1 F with windchill. That’s cold. The two inches of snow that remain creak and crunch under your boots. Speaking of which, I shelled out for a good set of boots: MuckBoots, with steel toes. I read some reviews, especially Anna’s on the Walden Effect, and went for it. No more this:

DSCF9863 wet feet, frozen toes

Now I’ve got warm, dry feet in these:

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But I am most impressed with my hens. They have no heating, no insulation in their coop, and I leave the little door to the first part of the run (which is predator proof) open at night. They are all healthy and energetic, not even a touch of frostbite on their combs. Unfortunately, yesterday when closing the larger coop (not predator proof, I forgot to check for eggs. So this morning I found this:

DSCF3737frozen egg

We are visiting my family in Belgium, so I’ll be off line for a while. We’ve got a friend house sitting, a marvelous arrangement for both him and ourselves that I might write about later.

 

 

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This afternoon, taking advantage of the warmer weather and the abeyance of snow/rain, I spent a good three hours splitting, moving and stacking close to 1/4 cord of firewood. While I was at it I conversed with the chickens, whose coop is next to the woodpile and the chopping block (eek).

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Two friends happened by to admire my ax form and give me gifts! A. gave me a huge bag of carrots she and her family pulled at our CSA Farm’s carrot pull last weekend, and R. brought me a pumpkin she grew in her garden. I moved all the split wood to the porch and then the sun set.

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I came in and started a fire in the stove, which sealed the deal: a hot shower was in order to wash away the sweat, dust, wood splinters, soot and muscle stiffening. I give thanks for hard work, the reward of warmth, and friendship.

 

 

Finally I can  hit the “molting chicken” meme! Skipperdee started molting very fast and suddenly and is now a ghost of her former self. Picking her up is the weirdest sensation: ribby and bony and very light. And she doesn’t like it.

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Amie calls her “Turkey Chicken”

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She has no tail feather left. But the new feathers are coming in fast.

DSCF3282Today was a glorious day: sunny and nearly 70 F. DH and I cleared gutters, raked leaves, cleaned up the porch so it is ready for another row of firewood, and generally tidied up. The only thing I didn’t get to do was plant garlic. But I did get to install the de-icer in the chicken watered.

I have and absolutely love the Avian Aqua Miser: three nipples installed in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Last month, I actually won second prize in the Walden Effect’s picture contest (click here  for the other submitted photo). I won the new system, nipples that you can install on the side of the container, which allows you to stand the container down, instead of having to hang it.  I was planning to outfit the new one with heating, but found that there isn’t enough space in the run part underneath the coop, especially in winter. So I left the new system in the box for next year, and retrofitted the old hanging system.

After a lot of research, much of it on the Aqua Miser chicken blog, I opted to go with Farm Innovators’ 150 W birdbath de-icer ($33 on Amazon). It is thermostatically controlled, seems efficient and built simply enough to last a long time, and it got great reviews.

The next decision was where to make the connection with the extension cord. The de-icer’s cord is quite short, so if I made the connection outside the bucket, I couldn’t lay the de-icer down on the bottom (where I need the heat). Also, to connect it on the outside meant I’d have to figure out rain protection. I fixed both issues by making it inside the bucket, right underneath the lid. I never fill up the bucket beyond 1/3 anyway. On the outside I also guided the extension cord along a hook so this side of the bucket is pretty well protected from the elements.

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Being so careful with our home-produced electricity, I am a bit concerned that the de-icer will work/consume more than necessary. One case of that would be if the thermostat failed. For that case I’ll add a Thermocube ($13 on Amazon) on the other end of the extension cord: it’ll turn on at 35 F and off at 45 F. I’ll monitor how all this works.

We’re looking at a couple of nights in the 20s next week, so that test will be here soon.

{UPDATE: it went down to 12F last night and this AM, still 9F, the water was not frozen. So it works!}