What the Animals Do in the Heat

It’s 90 degrees F. today. (That’s 32 C.) It’s hot. There’s no breeze. Candy knows how to stay cool. She’s stretched out in the shady earth of the compost. By the way, she loves eating old, brown leaves, even when there are fresh greens around. I think she likes the crackly-crunch of them.


The chickens know how to stay cool. They’ve scratched up the dirt in the shade to the side of the coop. This morning all seven hens and Candy were in this one spot, but when I came out to take the photo, only Coco was there. She is a very pretty bird. And sensible.


On the other hand, Scooter is not so sensible. He is a heat-loving dog, sleep-the-day-away dog. His favorite thing to do is to stretch out on the porch step, in the full sun, and fry his brains. 


Where Are They?

It is almost the end of April and I haven’t seen one chipmunk. Around here we are usually overrun with the active little creatures. After a winter hibernating in our stone walls, they come out, eat my blueberries and keep my dogs on their toes. I keep a gardening calendar and mark when I see the first little guy. I looked back to double check what is normal. Usually they start to appear at the end of March. 

The population of these small prey animals cycles along with the populations of their predators. Some years there are chattering chipmunks teasing my dogs at every corner, and other years only a few are scampering about. But this year there’s nary a one. I’m getting worried. 

Does anyone know what is going on? I hope there’s not an illness going around, like the white fungus that is killing bats, or the mysterious bee colony collapse. Today is a warm and sunny spring day. It’d be perfect, but I’m missing the silly chipmunks. 



An average large laying hen eats 1/4 pound of feed a day, drinks about 4 ounces of water and produces 1/4 pound of manure. Chickens, like other birds, don’t pee; it all comes out in one, fairly solid, glob. Chicken poo is smelly, but a well-cared for coop and yard is not. The trick is to keep it picked up and compost the waste.

I’m rather lazy about my compost. I don’t bother to add water, or microbes, or turn it. I let the chickens and time do the work. I have a three-step system. Kitchen scraps, garden refuse and weeds go into a section of the chicken run.


You can see it here – this view is in the HenCam yard. It’s around the corner to the side of the coop and out of sight of the HenCam camera. Notice that there’s a piece of fencing in the yard. The materials to be composted get tossed behind it. The chickens can get in – there’s a foot opening on both sides, but because of the fence, despite the girls’ active scratching, the material stays in that corner. I don’t bother to chop up the stuff that goes into the compost – the chickens do that work for me. I don’t have to turn it, either. They do all of that work, too. In this photo I’m standing outside of the chicken run, in the next stage of the compost. Once the chickens eat what they want, and shred the rest, I shovel it into this next bin. Here I add the manure and shavings that are cleaned out of the coops. I also put in kitchen scraps that I don’t want the chickens to get – like coffee grounds and moldy strawberries.


These two bins outside of the chicken run are fenced to keep the material in and the dogs and chickens out. The one that I’m standing in was filled over the course of a year. In the spring, I shovel the old compost from one side to another. I’m almost done here! The really good stuff at the bottom goes into the wheelbarrow and is taken to the garden. The rest of it gets to age a little longer, and in June is used for my pumpkin patch. It always looks like a lot, but it is never enough. 

Now that the left side is shoveled out, I’ll be starting a new bunch of compost.

Look how lovely, fluffy and dark the compost is in the wheelbarrow. There’s no stinky odor. Here I am, spreading it under my Fox River Birch. Isn’t that the prettiest bark?


BTW, did you notice the yellow tee-shirt I’m wearing? It’s my Chick It Out tee from the Chicago Ridge Public Library. Read about what they are doing this month to celebrate all things chicken and how Tillie Lays an Egg inspired them, in this article in the School Library Journal.

Dog Training/Training Dog

I always teach my dogs a “trade” command, which means whatever they have, they give to me in exchange for something else. Do this right, and a puppy will hand you your expensive leather glove instead of shredding it to bits. It can be quite useful. My previous dog, the late, great, Nimbus, would drop a dead squirrel in exchange for dog biscuits (four, never less).

It ‘s not only humans who can use this to their advantage. My husband leaves his slippers inside by the porch door when he goes out to care for the chickens. Lily, my border collie/rat terrier mix, waits for him to leave and then she hides them. When he comes back, he says, “Where’s my slippers?” Lily gleefully drops one at his feet. “And where’s the other?” he says. She brings the second one and waits by the canister that holds the treats. She thought this up all by herself and it never fails to amuse all of us.

Lily has also learned to take my rubber boots and put them in the center of a mud puddle. Of course, she knows that I’ll need her help. I say, “Fetch the boots,” and she does. The “fetch” command is something that I taught her. The rest of it all comes from her inventive mind.

She is a dog, and a good trainer. Does that make her a “dog trainer?”


We had just sat down for dinner when my son jumped up and said, “Look!” This is the view from the dining room window to the backyard. 


Wild turkeys. Sorry that the picture is grainy, but it was dusk. These are big birds. They can be quite aggressive. Even my good dog Lily, who usually chases anything that moves, didn’t ask to go outside and tangle with them. I went out, waved my arms a bit, and they sauntered into the woods.

We sat back down at the table and my son once again jumped up and said, “Deer!”


This is a view from an upstairs window. That fence is where my flower bed is. To the left, out of view of this shot are my peach trees. I do NOT want deer in my backyard. Lily does chase deer. She scared them off. It was a pretty sight, them leaping, white tails flashing in the growing dusk. My athletic dog at full speed. Lily does her job and comes right back. 

Lily got a treat. We finished our dinner. There were probably other visitors at night, but we didn’t see them.