THE OFFICIAL BLOG
The New Grow-Out Pen - Part 3
A short update.
Earlier this week Dave put in a full day's work in Tulsa and then came home to get the roof put on the coop side of the grow-out pen. Then there were two after-work trips to buy materials. And Yvonne and I (with the assistance of Emily who continuously provides us with water so that we will not die of dehydration) have gotten a lot done today.
We are hopeful that we can have this thing chicken-ready by the end of the weekend. And just in time - my brooder chicks are out of head-room.
I am not a farmer.
I guess it seems a little weird for me to say that, writing for our farm blog that is hosted on our farm website while quite literally being on our farm. I expect much of this blog post to be just as confusing as I am also writing from a place in my head that does not always make the most sense. But that is exactly why I feel compelled to write about this today -- I am hoping for some sanity-saving clarity.
When we pulled up stakes and moved, I had one very clear idea in my head: we had to move out of the suburbs and live on the land. There were no real specifics there in the plan. We had been doing what we could where we were for several year: learning how to can our own food, figuring out the ends and outs of composting, raising rabbits, growing fruits and vegetables in our flower gardens. At the time we were striving to learn valuable skills and become a little more self-sufficient so that in the event of a major catastrophe (such as the one we had already lived through), we would stand a better chance at survival.
That's what we had been doing before the sudden decision to move. It is not that that mindset was not at all involved in making the move, it just is that it was not the primary reason at the time. Instead, my determination was based on a growing sense that my children (as they also grew) were not living life fully. I wanted them to see meadows and play in streams, learn bird songs, and experience nature as an everyday reality rather than an occasional trip to the park.
As a homeschool mother, I was primary educator and curriculum advisor. And I had come to the realization that something very important was missing from the curriculum: real life.
I mean real life as opposed to the inherent artificiality of our modern lives. I mean sunrises and sunsets rather than incandescent or halogen bulbs. I mean taking the rocky path through the underbrush rather than staying on the sidewalk. I mean where things get dirty and stay dirty and a little rust adds charm. I mean the entire cycle of life from birth to death - played out day after day before our eyes without filters or apologies. Where respect for nature would come naturally - while at the same time stripping away any desire to worship it as some mysterious god. This often-idolized false god that they could learn to see for what it really is - only a fellow creature, but one worthy of our care and attention because there is an order to things... (an order which, out here, we have to learn to live with each and every day as our ancestors had done) and, ultimately, that there is a True God who made it that way.
Being human, I often lose sight of the goal. Especially after two years of Dave having to live away from us for his job while we simply worked to hold things together, I lost direction. If we were totally self-sufficient by now, Dave would not have to work away from home. Nevermind that that sort of self-sufficiency was never our goal... we had only wanted to learn and pass on skills that would make us less dependent on modern technology in the event that we did not have access to it at some point. We were not going off-grid. If you could make some real money at this, this will never happen again. Nevermind that we never intended to make money at this. Making it into a business enterprise would put our entire endeavor in danger of becoming artificial. If you could just increase production and advertise you could make a good profit. Nevermind that increased production would mean throwing out all of our kinder, gentler methods of raising animals. Nevermind that increased production would displace me from my full time job as mother and teacher. Direction lost.
The New Grow-Out Pen
Homesteading is not our sole occupation. Dave still commutes to work in Tulsa every day and works long hours at his job. I still have homeschooling to oversee and house-keeping duties in addition to all of the day-to-day farm-related chores. There is dinner to cook sometimes because we cannot live off of sandwiches and coffee. Although we have tried. It doesn't work. Being barely alive does not provide the energy needed to actually function in our lives. All of that is to say that time is always at a premium.
So when it comes to the more involved projects around the farm - such as building things - we are constantly looking for ways to save that precious time. Our last effort involves the purchase of a chicken coop kit from a place called EZ Frame Structures online. (I am not going to provide a link here. At least not at this point - as we have not gotten very far using their product and a link would be something of an endorsement.) I will say that ordering anything from them at all seemed like a huge risk at the time as the internet was flooded with terrible reviews regarding shipping - from extremely slow shipping with no contact from the seller to people claiming to never having received their kit... I failed to find a single decent review. That's normally more than enough to put me off from ordering from a company, but I really, really, really wanted this to work. Thankfully, we had no problem with shipping. Yes, it was slower than a lot of shipped items these days - but the seller provided tracking numbers and updates along the way and I have no complaints. About that.
The real homestead lawnmower
As anyone who maintains a small farm knows, you cannot always keep animals just because they are cute. They need to serve some practical function as well. What can a flock of geese do for you?
The guardian goose.
There is a blog post or a YouTube video floating around out there somewhere that suggests keeping a single goose with your chicken flock to protect them from predators. I have never personally encountered the original source of this information, but I have read enough blogs and such to have encountered the reference repeatedly. A lot of our customers also come out to our place looking for a 'guardian goose' for their flock. They tell me that they read that they could raise a single gosling with their chickens and it will bond with the chickens and fight to defend them as part of its own flock.
I really hate to burst bubbles here, but it simply is not true. I will give the benefit of the doubt and say that individual animals have their quirks - and it is possible that someone somewhere ended up with a goose that seemed to do exactly what they are advertising. However, such a goose is an exception and, if he does indeed exist out there, he is in imminent danger.
In our experience, a single goose will not actually bond with chickens (or guineas or turkeys and so on) no matter how young the goose is when you bring him home. It is within the realm of possibility, though I am purely speculating here, that if a gosling were actually hatched by a chicken he would imprint on the chicken and, therefore, appear to have bonded with the other chickens. However, imprinting happens a lot earlier than a couple days later when you bring a gosling home from someone else's farm. Bonding is something else entirely. A goose bond is very strong and it is not handed out all willy-nilly to any other creature just because it happens to have wings. A goose will bond with another goose if another goose is available, but a lonely gander's second choice is... you. (Because if that gosling had been incubated and hatched by humans, chances are high that he imprinted on a human.) Sure, you may be able to isolate a goose to the point of him following your chickens around in desperation for company, but he is not going to stick his neck out (pun intended) to defend those chickens. Any such behavior is self-defense and nothing more.
And this is where the real problem comes in: A single goose cannot defend itself against a determined predator. A flock of geese work together to defend their territory - circling, honking, hissing, and snapping like a multi-headed monster. To the unwary predator, that is exactly what the flock is. It is no longer a scattering of meal-sized birds, but a single, immense, obnoxious, and potentially painful creature that is just not worth the trouble for a snack. If you are following me here, you can clearly see how one goose and a flock of chickens cannot produce the same effect.
On August 29, 2005, we changed. A similar observation has often been made by those who have experienced some singularly dramatic event. For instance, they may write: "On May 1, 2014, our lives changed forever." Though I can sympathize with such an observation, I have a slightly different experience. We changed in a fundamental way on that fateful day, but it took quite some time and a lot of concerted effort for our circumstances -- our lives -- to change.
On August 28th, you would have found us to be a pretty normal suburban family -- discounting the ritual of weekend preparation during hurricane season on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My husband went to work in town every morning. I kept the lawn mowed in our postage-stamp sized yard. Our school-aged children attended the local private school. I handled the grocery shopping. We took our dogs to the groomer. We attended church on Sundays and helped out with local fundraisers and events. We drove children to soccer practice and music lessons. We ate a lot of junk food. We were entertained by the television. We managed to pay the bills and keep the house in good repair, but nothing more.