Underpants for Goats?

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in school libraries doing storytimes, and having email conversations with teachers. It’s been enlightening to find out what children really want to know about chickens. In Cambridge, MA, where none of the kids keep chickens, the big question was, “do chickens fly?” This is something that I don’t think about! But to the children, it’s a logical query. All of the birds that they know – the city pigeons and sparrows – fly. Chickens are birds. They have feathers. Then again, you never hear about chickens flying. Hmmm…. I explained that chickens flap.

A kindergarten class in NH has been using the HenCam and GoatCam for their writer’s workshop. They’ve been observing my animals and writing about them. If you watch the goats for any length of time you know that you see them pee and poop. If you’re five years old, this is hysterically funny and very interesting. I got a packet of drawings and letters in the mail from them. They told me that the goats should wear underpants. Nobody suggested diapers – after all, these are children who are in kindergarten and use the bathroom! The goats should, too! I wrote back and said that it’s my job, as the farmer, to clean up after my animals, and that I didn’t mind that chore at all.

Here’s one of the drawings. Notice the black chicken in the bottom right corner. That’s Tina! Look at the top knot feathers!

Goat Candy

Goats investigate their world with their lips. I think that’s why they have the reputation for eating everything, from laundry to tin cans. We’ve learned never to leave an open tool box within reach. They’ll mouth everything in it – but the goats don’t actually eat the screwdrivers – they just toss them about. If a cord dangles from a sweatshirt, they’ll chew on it. Shoelaces are also fair game.

Goats will taste just about anything, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll chew and swallow. I’d heard that goats like peanuts and bought a bag for the boys. Pip munched the whole peanut, crunchy shell and all. Caper tasted one and said patooie! I’m trying to train the goats, and would like to find a treat that both like that I can use for rewards. They love goat sweet feed, but I dole it out in very small quantities – you have to be careful with wethers, who are prone to urinary calculi.

One thing I’d like to have the goats do is to walk nicely on leashes. Goats are easily distracted, skittish around new things, and really don’t like to be told which way to go. It’d help if I had a reward that would keep them focused on me.

I’ve found out which food makes their tails wag with excitement. Unfortunately, it’s on the ground. Now I really can’t get them to walk on the leash. I can’t get them past the sprouting acorns. Last fall, they ignored the fallen acorns. But, this spring green shoots have cracked the nuts open. It’s like the difference between a mung bean and a salad sprout. One is hard and bitter, the other sweet and chewy. It’s goat candy.

See the acorn in Pip’s mouth?

An Early Spring

It’s been a beautiful spring.

This is an ornamental cherry. I used to have a tag on the bush so I’d remember exactly what it is – but the nameplate disappeared one winter. Whatever it is, it’s delicate, blowzy, pale pink and the first to bloom in the spring. The blooms don’t last long. One strong wind, and poof, they’re gone.

The only flowers that can handle our late frosts are pansies. Here are planters by the HenCam coop door. The chickens look longingly at them.

One fall, I planted 500 bulbs in the front yard. There were very fat chipmunks that year…. but a few daffodils survived.

Violets have naturalized in the poor soil on our septic mound. Soon, I’ll be spreading all of last year’s compost out there and planting pumpkins. Little by little, the soil improves.

These marshmallows bloom in the water feature. Frogs hide in them.

There are plenty of vegetables that do well, even when there are early morning frosts. The radishes are up, as are the kale, spinach, and chard. I’ve planted peas. They’re still holding out for a tad more warmth before they emerge. Meanwhile, the goats are “helping” with the spring clean-up by eating acorns. More about that in my next post!

Watch Where You Step

Tillie Lays an Egg is a work of fiction. She didn’t really lay her eggs in those silly places. However, it was inspired by a bird who did not bother to lay her eggs in the nesting boxes. It looks like I have another one of these hens.

An astute HenCam viewer emailed me with concern. Tina was walking funny. Was she ill? No. Tina was about to lay an egg. Most hens hunker down in a nesting box, where they are safe and comfortable. It takes a bit of an effort to lay an egg. Some chickens are drama queens and make it clear how hard they are working. It’s almost as if they squinch their eyes shut and push. Others sit prettily, lay an egg, then daintily leave the nest as if nothing has happened. Others, lay their eggs, and then loudly announce their achievement.

Then there are the hens who would like to ignore the whole business of egg laying. They’d rather not take a moment out of their busy days to lay their eggs. If you know a toddler who refuses to go to the potty, and has that look, well then, you know what Tina is like. She walks around, getting more and more uncomfortable, and finally leaves an egg wherever she is.

Sometimes hens avoid the nesting boxes because of fear – perhaps a predator has been in the coop. Sometimes, there aren’t enough boxes for the number of chickens. Or, maybe, there’s a nicer place, like a pile of hay in the barn. None of this applies to Tina. The other day she left an egg near the chicken ramp. I didn’t see it until I closed the girls up for the night. Luckily, Tina lays white eggs that are visible in the dark. There’s not much that I can do about this except to watch where I step.

And The Winner Is….

I received a gazillion entries in the win a chicken purse contest. (Actually, the real number was 209, which is A LOT!) Thank you so much for all of your sweet, funny, notes. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to write to each and every one of you, but I appreciated every letter!

I’ve been asked about how I deal with the lack of privacy, what with being on camera whenever I go out to the coops. The answer is – I no longer wear PJs out to the barn in the morning. Honestly, sometimes I am self-conscious. But, the trade-off is that I’m able to share this small, delightful, corner of the world with people who need it. I’ve heard from a teacher of a special-needs deaf boy, who watches the goats on a computer in his classroom. I’ve heard from people who work in windowless beige cubicles who keep HenCam on as their window to sanity. I’ve heard from elderly people who used to have chickens, but no longer can, and they watch my girls with nostalgia. Then, there’s the soon-to-be urban hen keepers looking for advice, and the chicken owners who just can’t get enough of the poultry experience and use HenCam as a community of like-minded chicken-lovers. I’ve heard from 4-H kids, and 3-year olds  who love Tillie. So, the trade-off of not wearing PJs to the barn is that I get the joy of sharing this “happy place” with so many people. On balance, I think I get the best end of the deal.

I wish that I had a purse for each and every one of you! But, after using a random number generator on my computer, the winner is Katie Johnson! Congratulations!