Got Peanuts?

Pip:  Peanuts?

Yes, Pip, you can have two.

Pip:  Just two?

Yes, it’s not good for goat boys to eat too much rich food.

Pip:  But I can look even cuter. Please?


Caper:  She’s just keeping them for herself. I bet there’s more in here.

Let go of the zipper.

Caper:  It won’t hurt to have three peanuts. Just three.


Pip:  Oh so sad and hungry! See, I’m not wagging my tail anymore.

Okay, okay. But this is the last one.

Thanks, Goat Maid. You can have one too.

My Favorite Smell

The summer that I was five years old, my brothers went to sleep-away camp. My mother, worried that I would be lonely, got me a guinea pig. His name was Chester and he had belonged to a family who no longer wanted him. He was full-grown and a chestnut brown and I thought him the most beautiful animal in the world. I didn’t miss my brothers at all. A few weeks later, when told that my brothers would be coming home soon, I howled and cried, thinking that their return meant that I had to give Chester back. Given a choice between siblings and Chester, I much preferred the piggy. As it turned out, I got to have both.

Chester lived in a plastic baby bathtub in my room that was layered with newspaper and bedded with hay. Hay at the pet store was expensive so we went to a feed store. It was an old building next to a railroad track. I was allowed to go into the loft and fill a paper bag with loose hay and it didn’t cost a thing. I remember the slants of light on the wooden floor, the quiet, and the green of the bales, a color unique to hay. It was timothy, and I recall it’s ticklish feel. Mostly, though, I remember the smell. There is nothing like the smell of hay.  It speaks of meadows and grazing animals, and of animals closed up in fragrant barns in winter. Later in my life, I would know what it was like to throw bales into a moving wagon, and the itchiness of sweat mixed with hay dust after a long day of working on a farm. I’d know about waking at five am to feed a barn full of hungry horses, and of opening bale after bale and tossing flakes to the animals. But, even at the age of seven, before I’d experienced any of that, the hay spoke of it, and I knew.

I bought hay for the goats today.

I bought two bales. I could buy more and have it delivered, but it makes me happy to go to Erikson Grain. The guy who loaded my car asked, a bit incredulous, “in here?” I drive a BMW. “Yes,” I said. The BMW smells just right now.

A Good Rain

A light mist has been falling all day. This is welcome rain. I’m glad it’s soft – a downpour in early autumn strips the trees of leaves and ruins the foliage show. But, this drizzle makes everything more beautiful. I thought that the planters on the front porch were done, the flowers were wilted and I wasn’t bothering to water. But look at them this afternoon!

Even an old spider web near the coop is dazzling.

The last of the summer’s lettuce has revived, but it won’t last long. I’ll have salad every night from now on.

However, not everything looks better in the rain.

Which One Is Prettier?

Lulu still has feathers falling out, and quills coming in, and new feathers unfurling. She is a mess. It’s saying something when the pitted old hen planter by the coop door is prettier than Lulu. But just wait till this winter. Lulu will be back to her gorgeous, graphically black & white plumage. I’ll be sure to put up a picture of her then. I owe it to Lulu – after posting these sorry views of her molting!

How Many Eggs Do Your Older Hens Lay?

In the first year of life, a chicken transforms from a fluffy ball into an egg-laying marvel. Around 20 weeks of age, she’ll lay her first egg, and then continue to lay, daily, all year, even through the dark and cold winter months.If you have a breed that’s designed for egg production, such as a leghorn, you’ll get upwards of 250 eggs that first year. Not all breeds crank the eggs out like that. Some, during their first full-feathered summer, go broody. Some haven’t read the books that say they’re supposed to lay once every 26 hours, and skip a day here or there. But, usually, you’ll get plenty of eggs from your new hens.

When the chicken is about 18 months old, she’ll go through her first molt. Egg laying ceases. Old feathers fly. New ones grow in. And then it’s winter, and this time through, the dark and cold slow down or stops the egg laying. When spring comes, she’ll resume her egg-laying, but not at the pace of her first year. The shells will be thinner and more prone to breaking.

By the time her second molt and winter comes along, a farmer who needs her chickens to be economically worth it, will harvest the old hens and start a new batch of chicks. But, most of us backyard chicken keepers hold onto the old girls. They’re still laying some eggs, and they’re familiar beings in our lives. By the fifth year, they rarely lay, yet there they are, clucking in the backyard and eating their chicken pellets.

I have a flocks of mixed ages and breeds. In the big barn, my two-year old hens, Agnes and Philomena, each lay an egg a day. One of the other older hens, I think Maizie, lays two eggs a week. The others, who are in their sixth year, don’t lay at all. I haven’t kept exact records of when my hens ceased laying. What about you? How many eggs do your three-year old hens lay? What about your five-year old hens? How old is your oldest chicken?