It was a very dark, extremely cold, and blizzardy night at Frog & Toad Farm.  When I looked out my back window, I was shocked to see a window in the distance with a distinctly red light in it.  Like many of you, I have been to Las Vegas and Amsterdam, watched countless old westerns as a youngun’, have plowed through way too many period dramas, and have a pretty good idea what that international symbol means. I feared for my neighborhood!

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Red window in the distance

And then I remembered:  What do you call a building full of females with a red light in the window?  My hen house with a warming lamp on a seriously frigid night!  Last week was the first time we had used the lamp, because the temperature was dipping into single digits.  In spite of the posts I’ve read on http://www.backyardchickens.com saying that chickens can tolerate even sub-zero temperatures as long as they can go inside, I couldn’t stand the thought of my sweet girls huddling together and shivering after a busy day laying and clucking.  I would feel sooo guilty if Yetta had frostbite on her floppy comb or Rosie on her soft wattle. After adding the lamp to the coop I felt like a good chicken-mama indeed!

The next morning I went out as soon as I woke up to check on them and they were as beautiful and chipper as ever. See for yourself.

Thursday night was stormy in Delaware, OH with rain and not-quite-howling wind.  It wasn’t enough to nudge me awake, but the noise did poke at me a couple of times, such that I knew the storm had happened.  But today I have a new standard for judging wind:  whether it is strong enough to shake the door of the chicken coop/run enough to open the latch.  Thursday night it was!

A few minutes before we needed to leave for a day of hiking in the Hocking Hills, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a flock of large birds under a maple tree.  My first thought was that we had some wild turkeys visiting, which has happened a few times before.  Then, I realized that they were our girls gone wild!  I yelled to my co-farmer and out we went to round them up, with no idea how that would go.  (We have only kept them in the coop/run so far.)   Luckily, I thought to keep the pugs inside.
The hens were awesome!  It was so much fun to watch them waddling in the lawn and garden, digging in the mulch, running around. (I might have been less happy if it was spring, the mulch was new, and the garden just planted!)  And, one of the best parts was that they just eagerly followed me right into their coop/run….and I rewarded them with lots of dried mealworms.  Yummm.
Our hikes at Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave were awesome, too.  It was one of the last days with color on the trees, and a perfect temperature for a t-shirt and light jacket.  We enjoyed an escape even more than the grandchickens!

From the depths of memory arose the phrase “Sunday bath” today.  That was partly because it is Sunday and partly because I witnessed the uninhibited joy of bathing outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  No, I didn’t actually do this myself and it wasn’t really, totally outside but….read on and you will see.

http://youtu.be/MH-iNVRQupo

Chickens take baths in dust!  They do this to keep their feathers clean and conditioned.  They wallow in dust or litter and work it through their feathers by flapping their wings and kicking their legs.  When they’re done dusting they stand up and shake themselves, and the dust billows out. When the weather has been suitably dry, our grandchickens do this outside in the run.  When the run is not suitable, they dust-bathe in the shavings and litter inside the coop.  We haven’t had enough dry weather to be rid of the mud that hides under the layer of straw outside in their run.

I’ve been away and haven’t been able spruce up the coop for a couple of weeks, until today. The October air was fresh and   sunny so I opened the door and windows, raked up the shavings and re-spread them around, and put clean shavings in the nesting boxes.  It felt really good to me….but obviously even better to the hens who were inspired to clean themselves and celebrate.

Now, it seems counter-intuitive that anything could get clean by rolling in the dirt.  Don’t we say something is dirty and therefore we have to clean it? I thought so until I remembered a product from the past:  Minipoo!  Anyone “of a certain age” is likely to recall the commercials that sang, “If you can’t shampoo, Minipoo!”  You can read about it here:

http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1414219

There is definitely something timeless about poultry!

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OK, so you may feel cheated by the title.  You may even be saying, “Oh, no! Not more about the ‘Grandchickens’….” but bear with me because I want your opinion on something.

When we ordered chicks from Meyer Hatchery <www.meyerhatchery.com> the catalog had divided the hens into Brown Egg Layers, White Egg Layers, and Colorful Egg Layers.  Being novices, we decided we would keep it simple and just get the assorted mix of the brown.  They were the most popular, most docile, and best producers.  I have to admit, it was tempting to go for the colorful eggs rather than the dull brown but we thought there would be time for that later.

 The egg basket you see above is full of today’s eggs.  They are brown, but each is a different hue or shade with a soft glossiness.  Now I know why paint finishes include one called “eggshell.” I wanted to better describe the colors, so I grabbed the hard-copy Roget’s Thesaurus that sits above my desk to find more descriptive words for “brown.” What I found was a list of approximately 100, many of which totally new to me.

Some of the more unusual were:

alesan, anthragallol, Argos brown, bister, bracken, bunny brown, dead leaf, fox, French nude, Havana brown, Italian earth, Mars brown, meadow lark, Merida, mummy, oriole, philamot, resorcin dark brown, Saint Benoit, tenne’, toast, Vandyke brown and a variety of “reddish browns” such as coptic, piccolopasso red and Tanagra.

So, when you look at the eggs pictured above how would you describe them? To me there are at least 3 different shades of brown.  Leave a comment.

Every day I get gifts from my grandchicks.  Some of them are coffee brown, some are darker, and some are a pinkish beige.  They are all delicious with a firm golden yolk, tender white and are protected by a hard shell.  People have asked me if the fresh eggs taste different from store bought.  The answer is that they have a milder, cleaner taste but it is more notable that they never develop the rubbery texture that I get frying the store brand.

It was a surprise to me that eggs can remain unrefrigerated for at least days as long as they are not washed because of a protective (and invisible) coating.  It’s very exciting to pick one up and feel its warmth!

A very special gift today was the viewing you will see below.  The starring chicken is one of our Barred Plymouth Rocks.

My apologies to anyone who had trouble reading my post from yesterday.  I don’t know what went wrong, but I believe it is fixed….please try again.

Yetta with floppy comb

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A blooming waterlily inspired me to blog today after an absence of 2 years!  It confirmed a truth that has been demonstrated to me repeatedly this past year:  the “life force” is everywhere and persists with all the power of the universe.  I have seen it in every plant that pops up in a tiny crack in the sidewalk or a fern that grows in the side of a ravine.  It was in my 90-year-old Dad’s eyes when he was seriously ill this spring, only to recover to enjoy his great-granddaughter Rachel. While traveling in Alaska recently, I felt this life force in every animal and plant that has adapted to survive the extreme climate.  And on this Yom Kippur, for which I’ve done nothing observant, I am grateful for the lesson that was reinforced by a flower on the cool autumn day that I picked the last weak remnants of my vegetable garden.

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For those of you who haven’t visited us at Frog & Toad in a while, you will see that we have made some adaptations, too.  A few years ago we lost the magnificent Weeping Willow that stood by the pond.  At first we kept the tree stump about 3 ft. high, thinking we could make something meaningful out of it.  One year we planted flowers and herbs in the crevices but the deer ate them.  In the way the “life force” persists, the tree stump kept sending off willow shoots that, we finally realized, we could root and later plant to replace their ancestor.  Now we have 3 saplings growing on our farm.  That is what I call Willowpower!

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We have done some construction, too.  Ron built me a wood-duck nesting box that will be all ready when they stop by next spring.  In the meantime, we have had some very confused bluebirds nest in it.

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Bluebirds abound here! They also made a home in a decorative, hand-painted birdhouse that my artist/sister Susan gave us when we first moved to F & T Farm.  I had just hung it to decorate the pergola we added last year.  Since then, it has had almost constant residents.

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Adirondack chairs invite us to watch the pond and relax, which we rarely do because…………..

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I have saved the best for last.  CHICKENS!

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Yetta and Rosy

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Faye

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Dearie coming down the chute

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Twelve in all including: Goldie, Dearie, Faye, Minnie, Jane, Rosie, Tootsie, Gussie, Fanny, Maxine and Yetta.  Some of the divas haven’t selected a name.  All are laying hens that we got the day they were hatched (April 23) at Meyer Hatchery in Polk, OH. We found the first egg three weeks ago and today I found four.  It won’t be long before they are all mature, when we can expect about a dozen eggs a day!  (If you want to get on the “free eggs” list, send a comment.)

And the ladies are very lucky to have the best protection in the world from the myriad predators.

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VINNY AND LOLA aka Guardpugs

If you ever doubt that the “life force” is unfathomably strong, just spend some time around pecking, running, clucking, flapping hens who lay eggs every single day without a rooster in the house!

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