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little farming victories

It's hard being a pretend farmer these days, what with having a baby and a real job or two. And then there's the homeschooling, and cleaning and cooking, and our busy schedule of socializing.... Suffice it to say that I don't get to spend as much time on farm work than I'd like to. Still, there are small victories. We grew a test crop of potatoes this year, and digging them up was so gratifying: there were actual potatoes there in the dirt! I made jam from things we grew, and preserved some tomatoes, and froze salsa verde and basil pesto. I'm working on reclaiming the strawberry beds from weeds so we'll have a chance at more than a handful of strawberries next year. And, we have four more chickens that aren't really chicks any more. And they're doing fine!

While we haven't written much about them, they've certainly been a factor in our lives since we got them as day-old chicks in the middle of August. They lived in their brooder in our kitchen for a solid month, and then I started getting them used to the outdoors—first in a fenced area of their own, and then eventually with their aunts/overloads, the three surviving older hens. When I got tired of bringing them in every night they started sleeping with the big hens, too.

Well, not exactly with them. See, big hens aren't always—ever—very nice to smaller hens, and they never let the little ones come near them without giving them a peck on the head or two. Actually, that understates the case: they never see or think about the little ones without going over to them to give them a peck or two. You may have heard of the "pecking order"? It's a thing. The little hens are very fast and the big hens are lazy and not really committed to the persecution, but I didn't want the chicks to have to run away all the time, so I built them a little shelter in the corner of the run big enough for them to hide in but too small for their giant tormentors. It was just the thing, and they liked it so much that, when they found themselves left outside when dark fell, they took to sleeping in it. Or more often on it.

Which was fine when the weather was warm, but I didn't want the little things to suffer in the cold, so this past weekend—with forecast overnight temperatures near freezing—I went out each night and lifted them one by one up into the henhouse. Since chickens don't like to move much when it's dark I figured they'd stay there (though of course I didn't go back out to check—see the beginning of this post). I kept at it even when the weather turned bizarrely warm again, with the idea that I could teach them the henhouse was as a much a home for them as it was for the big hens. And it worked! After just four nights of moving them, I went out this evening and found the little shelter empty, and the four hens cuddled together on the floor in the corner of the henhouse.

Sure, they're not up on the roost yet, but now that they're in the building I'm sure they'll figure it out for themselves when they get a little bigger. And I'm also sure that they'll survive the winter fine, and that we can expect our first eggs from them in February or so. And I have no doubt that, come spring, they'll be getting a peck or two of their own on the older hens, who by that point won't be "big" any longer! That feels like we're doing something right.

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