BACKYARD CHICKENS, not for amateurs

Henrietta, always our over-achiever, head chicken, mean girl, had been looking unwell for a day or so, back feathers dirty and matted, so we consulted our Backyard Chicken books, and determined that we should isolate her to see if the condition improved. Larry got to work and installed some of the fence sections we’d stored against next spring’s project and created a separate inclosure for our sick chicken. Made a little nest, moved one of the watering systems in — looked pretty cosy.

But Henrietta wasn’t having it, thank you. Chickens can fly, of course, and some new fence wasn’t going to keep this girl away from her posse. Okay, then. We closed the other birds into their run/coop and gave Henrietta the run of the orchard. Thought she’d move in to her new digs as the sun went down.

But as it became dark and the other chickens retired for the evening, Henrietta paced the length of the run, tying to join them. So I couldn’t stand it and let her return to the flock for the evening.

Next morning, though, her wound, or whatever was worse. She was apparently, inescapably, egg-bound. Use your imagination. At least, the problem is not contagious, and I returned to my books. Whew. The suggestions there were, well, think about it. A warm epsom-salts bath for 30 minutes? What, how am I going to keep a chicken sitting in warm water for half an hour? I won’t describe the other remedies, one of which was to contact your local vet. Bingo.

Please try to picture the look on the faces of the young women behind the counter of the vet emergency care facility (the only establishment which treats avian patients, i.e. chickens) as this cute little old couple comes in bearing their pet chicken in a cardboard box. Unalloyed delight, was what it was. Barely contained.

For that matter, imagine how well Larry loved this whole affair. But we were shown to a room. Henrietta was quiet, there in her box, and we were amazed at how well the — let’s see — intern? was able to handle her. Even weigh her. Four pounds, fourteen ounces, for the record. It was a busy morning at the vet’s and an hour later it was our turn. Larry had left for lattes when the doctor entered. Didn’t take long. She’d need a scan, X-rays, antibiotics, possible surgery — STOP! No, despite the expectations of the staff who imagined this was our little pet darling, I’m sorry. Would she recover without intervention? No. And no, thank you, we didn’t want the ashes for a little burial ceremony.

So, she is at peace, we presume. Without pain. And we are again short a chicken. Yes, it is sad. I don’t know how the other chickens will fare without their boss-lady.

We determined to pick blackberries late in the afternoon. We’d collected half a bucket when the worst scenario unfolded. Larry dropped the bucket and the berries nestled, taunting us, in the tangled, evil, spiny, vines at our feet. Damn! Okay, start over. We were both bleeding from multiple sites on hands and arms when we finally gave up with half the second bucket full. The vines are at least twenty feet high, and the thought of one of us falling into the briar patch was sobering, to say the least.

But we could hear the thump of the drum as the OSU band warmed up for the evening football game. The late afternoon sun painted everything golden, and I thought there is no where else on earth I’d rather be.

Now, Saturday morning, as I type, I admire my purple hands and blackened nails. To make blackberry jam, it’s necessary to cook down the berries, then suspend them in a cotton towel and squeeze the juice into a bowl. I’ll have to wash a lot of dishes before my fingernails look presentable again. To be honest, I don’t much care.

Tomorrow is Larry’s birthday. We’re going to Eugene to secure hotel reservations for Amy’s graduation next June, then on to the White-Davis Manzanita cabin for the remainder of the Labor Day weekend.

No photos this time: will do better going forward!


We’ll start today with some statistics: One adult Black Angus female will drink 2 gallons per hundred pounds of weight per day. Double that amount if lactating.

One well producing 5 gallons per minute will require 8 hours of pumping to provide daily water to 30 lactating cows. We have such a well, those cows, plus 30 some calves and two adult bulls. See where I’m going with this?

Right. We came up dry last Thursday and began to go into panic mode. I began to go there; Larry, of course, was pragmatic. The well would recover. Life would go on.

But in the morning, when the well had not recovered, we put in the call to Ryan. Cows are gonna get thirsty, (and you should hear those cows when they’re unhappy.) Ryan, as always, was on it. The solar pump idea wasn’t working, but he has two tanker trucks and the equipment necessary to get water to his animals. We were now able to turn off the water to the tanks fed by our exhausted well. Here’s what the new system looks like:

You will notice that there are no cows availing themselves of this new water. That’s because they like the old tanks, the ones with the friendly goldfish. It’s where they like to take their afternoon naps. Fortunately, however, the well had resumed pumping to our cistern, and we could again look forward to normal amenities, like showers and the dishwasher.

We’ll get back to this. But in the meantime, we had been noticing a strange circle of vibrant green grass near the orchard. We’d remembered the spring that was discovered at the construction of the fence, and wondered if it was responsible for the lush growth. Did this suggest that there may be an aquifer below which we could tap into for the water we’re missing?

A neighbor, who happens to be an engineer, scoffed at this idea. “You have a leak in your sprinkler system.” End of story. But he was kind enough to give Larry a piece of copper wiring, which could be stripped and made into water-witching rods.

This was fun. You bend the wires into an angle and hold them ahead as you walk, and see what happens. For Larry, nothing. But for me, damned if they didn’t want to cross. It was strange to feel the pull as one rod wanted to cross the other. The wind? Maybe, but the wind didn’t make them cross for Larry. Pretty clear I’m a witch! But were they pointing to a spring or an aquifer?

The neighbors wanted to try their hands at witching, and neither could produce the magic. But nothing would shake Ted’s conviction that a leak was causing the green patch. And to prove it, he, a talented post-hole digger (we all have our gifts) would dig a hole into the area with, as it turned out, a tool Larry had somehow inherited from my dad.

Tried to insert a photo here without success. Sorry, Ted. He is indeed talented at digging holes, and the hole he dug soon filled with water. But from the leak or my spring? Timed passed. We called Jake, our pump guy, who came over on Saturday afternoon to install a switch which would turn off the water to the affected area. Sure enough, the water in the Ted-dug hole dissipated, so yep, a leak, not a spring. But I still maintain that there is a spring, my witching proves it. I went back to my blog in 2015 to find the entry proving its existence and found the reference. Ha.

Larry and I spent the morning today working on the fence destroyed by the downed tree. Missing Peter and Andrew here.

Not easy, requiring tools not in the Viehl tool chest (and no, I’m not speaking metaphorically here), so we adjourned the effort and simply loaded the truck with downed branches, destined for the next fire. The cows, meanwhile, were having a loud, demanding conversation. There was no longer any water in the tanks they prefer, and they were outraged. Finally, following some herd instinct, they began to flow, a black river, down the hill to the next pasture.

When they had all made their way to the correct (according to us) pasture, we were able to shut the system of gates that would lock them out of their favorite lounging site. And this in turn, allows me access to a magnificent stand of blackberries, ripening in the August sun. Feeling a little too pleased with ourselves, we relented and opened the faucet for the one tank within their reach, so that they may continue to enjoy what water our well, may provide.

And, by the way, the chickens are fine. Thanks for asking. See you next time!