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Reining in the Free Range

Single egg in the nesting box.

One is the loneliest number.

When we dismantled the fence around our hen yard and emancipated our chickens last weekend we patted ourselves on the back for doing this very farm-y thing. We could do it, we reasoned, because we’d habituated our flock to the nesting box. We had attained ‘chicken people’ status.

Ha. In a matter of days the whole affair has unraveled and our wayward hens have become the neighborhood’s #1 Menace.

Our egg acquisition has dwindled from 7 to 1 per day. Yep, we’ve got a single hen bothering to lay in the box and lord knows where the rest are ending up. Judging by the dog’s expanding girth I’d say she’s got some idea. We came home last night to zero chickens – none – within eye or earshot. An hour later they began pouring out of the woodwork, literally: out of the woods, noisily pecking and pooping their way across other people’s back yards, and one even came scrambling back from across the road.

They were an embarrassment to the family.

Heading in to the Great Unknown.

Heading in to the Great Unknown.

Then this morning, as I sat in a sunbeam enjoying a mug of joe, the god-awful racket of chickens in distress shattered my kum ba yah. The dog and I darted out across the neighbor’s yard see what the probem was – trampling upon a freshly seeded patch of earth and leaving behind flip-flop and dog paw impressions (a cop lives there so forensic evidence will unquestionably link us to this crime) – to find the man about a quarter a mile down the road chasing three of my chickens with a stick. The hens were scattering and squawking, his bathrobe-clad wife was yelling for him to stop, and he was yelling back that he certainly would not because the damned things kept pooping on his patio where decent folk were trying to walk.

I do not for one second blame that man. Had I a stick I would have gladly joined him. Ever try to catch a freaked-out chicken? There is no dignity in that activity. This fence-less free-range business will not stand.

I’ve battened down the hatches on the coop and am systematically luring my hens home with bread. I’ve got four in lock-down and don’t have a clue where the other two are. All I know for certain is that they never showed up for breakfast and will probably come stumbling home around noon looking bleary-eyed and asking if there’s any coffee left.

Tomorrow we shall put the fence back up around the hen yard and begin collecting eggs again.
Just like real chicken people do.

Yogurt of the Gods at Wake Robin Farm

When I stopped into Wake Robin Farm this morning I found the Jersey cows out to pasture and Megan Schader darting about the store with the speed and precision of a hummingbird. I asked if she was getting ready for the Regional Market. “Always,” she replied without hesitation.
She ushered me into the creamery were we talked while she busily labeled and crated Wake Robin milk. What I wanted to discuss was the yogurt – my favorite on the planet – and find out why they pulled it from a major area grocery store chain last year. As anyone who knows her might expect, Meg was open and direct.
“See how I’m preparing this milk?”
“By hand?”

“Right. We do the same with our yogurt. We were preparing it here then loading it up in our truck and delivering it ourselves to each store. We were spending hours and hours on the road and putting hundreds of miles on the truck. We went back to the store and told them it just wasn’t working for us. We asked if we could deliver the yogurt to their central warehouse. They said, ‘no, this is how you have to do it.’ It was hard because they were a major revenue source for us. But we realized we had some decisions to make.”
“That must have been scary.”

Sometimes when you buy local it isn’t just because buying local is a good thing; sometimes you buy local because the product is, literally, the best on planet Earth, and even if it wasn’t the cool thing to do you’d still go out of your way to get it. That is the case with Elderberry Pond’s basil; it’s the case with the truffles at Lune Chocolat. And it’s the case with Wake Robin Farms yogurt. I’m a yogurt person. I used to be loyal to a national brand you’d recognize, oblivious to the high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor and coloring it mostly was (go ahead, check your own fridge). One taste of Wake Robin yogurt and I dumped it like a bad habit. It’s not just that WRF’s yogurt contains just a few simple ingredients, or that you get to see the happy, healthy cows responsible for it grazing in the pasture when you buy it, or that the people who make it are committed to quality and love what they do; what hooks you and keeps you coming back is the gorgeous flavor. Creamy. Buttery. Delicious.
I’m glad the Schader’s decided to continue their dairy farming endeavors rather than pursue a career in truck driving.
Their yogurt is of the gods and you can get it for yourself in these four places: the Wake Robin Farm Store on Brutus Road in Jordan, the Skaneateles Bakery, the CNY Regional Market, and the Syracuse Real Food Co-op. If you visit the Farm you can pick up some Wake Robin milk, their award winning artisan cheese and a variety of other regionally produced foods. And if you’re lucky you might also get to see the cows.
Oh how I enjoy the Wake Robin Jerseys. Watching them in all their glorious cowness is a mesmerizing affair. I confess to gawking impolitely which is probably why they weren’t especially impressed with me this morning. I stared; they chewed; stared back. Then one shook its head in disapproval and trotted off. I swear I heard it mutter under its breath, “Why don’t ya’ just take a picture, it will last longer.”
So I did.
The color you see is natural; not a drop of bronzer needed on these Jerseys.

The Husband enjoys Wake Robin Farm plain yogurt for his savory dishes; The Girl likes Wake Robin Farm vanilla yogurt for her smoothies; I prefer Wake Robin maple syrup yogurt to top off my morning granola, pictured here with Mu Mu Muesli cereal, sold in the Wake Robin Farm Store, topped with dried fruit and nutmeg.

Why Working From Home Totally Sucks

So disappointed are these chickens with their surroundings they are no longer on speaking terms.
A hardliner for the quarantined plate, it grosses this chicken
completely out when the speedwell touches the violets.

     The most annoying thing about working from home is when sunshine gets in your eyeballs and you have to go outside to see what its deal is. Then the chickens see you’re out there and think, hey, it must be the weekend so they start in with the endless squawking until you let them out to roam. This, obviously, makes the dog terribly jealous so you’ve got to throw the ball to prevent further hurt feelings. By the time noon rolls around you’ve had enough fresh air and meditation to make your skin crawl.
Fresh air fills this dog with disgust.
When this chicken would not stop following me
I was forced to punish her with this strawberry

Like this entry? You might also like Sixty Dollar Eggs, Hark the Hardboiled Egg Eggshells Sing and First Snow.

First Snow

The first snow is falling. Tigger and I went schlepping through it under a colorless sky. Even before I pulled on my boots I could hear those crazy birds squawking over developments in the hen yard. The dog shot off like a rocked but later I found her panting at the back door, evidently cured of cabin fever. I feel like decorating for Christmas.

Sixty Dollar Eggs

The Winter Coop is bird-worthy at last. Two weeks in the making. Five treks to Lowes. Twice to Ace. A few [dozen] modifications to the original blue print.

The upkeep of chickens can be a harrowing endeavor.
In the process of the Winter Coop’s construction my husband and I learned we may be “chicken people” – thus ordained by the nice girl behind the Ace counter who chattered fondly of birds she once raised and a ‘chicken mansion’ her brother constructed and reportedly still improves upon. Yeah, we know the feeling.
But our ladies — my word, such a racket! Bigger, warmer, safer, drier…not a single new-coop feature could impress our finicky flock. They bickered and fussed and turned huffy, indignant shoulders toward the new windows and fancy nesting box. Impossible to please, these.
But tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day forecast calls for snow. Though our ladies refuse to thank us we will nonetheless sleep soundly this holiday eve knowing our climate controlled, temperature-monitored, easy-access coop is nothing if not a striking force against any New York squall. Bring it.
And in the morning we will feast with gladness on our eggs. The current cost of acquisition: sixty dollars a piece.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Please: Ignore the Chickens

It is best to ignore our ridiculous chickens as the more attention they’re given the more demanding they become. Collecting eggs yesterday morning was a unnecessarily raucous affair. It was a beautiful fall morning, although geese in V formation always make me feel meloncholy.