You can take the girl out of Spenard but you can't take Spenard out of the girl.
October 31, 2007
Happy Halloween! I have a treat for you.
Here's a little video of some of the chickens eating a sweet potato, as seen from the sweet potato's point of view.
October 28, 2007
The cooler weather is definitely bringing the animals out of hiding.
Last week I heard a fox barking in the woods. It kept up the racket for about an hour. Yesterday afternoon I watched a couple red tailed hawks circle high above the property - even got to see one do a power dive as it went in for the kill. I've seen a couple rabbits over the last few days and there's fresh deer tracks in the driveway. I recently watched a raccoon snuffling around in the brush just before sunset. Yesterday morning on my way back from town, a bobcat ran in front of my truck.
Good thing I finally got a more secure roof on the chicken pen. Up until now, it was merely a tarp tied over the top. Now it's all chickenwire. This also lets a lot more light into the coop since the tarp was blocking some of the light from coming through two of the three windows.
I've framed about 80% of the second pen. Still need more chickenwire to completely enclose it. I'm going to see if I can scrounge some up for free or by bartering before I spend any more cash. I recently blew $40 on chickenwire and really don't want to spend anymore. Other than buying nails, that's the first money I've actually put into Frankencoop. And it shows.
Look at that carpentry in the background. It looks like M.C. Escher built my chicken pen.
That's Cheepacabra perched on my head. She flew up there while I was securing the pen's new roof. I reached for the camera to get a picture of us together but I couldn't fit us both into the frame.
This is what will be the east wall of the second pen. That's actually my grandma's old kitchen screen door on the bottom. The stairs are made of two kinds and five varying ages of wood - some coming from other parts of Frankencoop, some from the barn. They lead up to what used to be grandma's kitchen window and what will now be the entrance to Frankencoop's east wing.
For those of you in Anchorage, be sure to check out the 3rd annual Dia de los Muertos celebration and exhibit at Out North on Friday, November 2nd.
As you can see on the poster, Rancho Spenardo's own Angela Ramirez is one of the featured artists. She contacted a few members of the tribe to contribute skulls decorated in honor of our "cultural ancestors." She mailed me an unadorned paper-mache skull which I decorated for my favorite writer, Hunter S. Thompson.
The puppets and marionettes of Buzz Schwall from Buzz-O-Plex will also be on display in the gallery starting Friday. They'll be up all month but the Day of the Dead exhibit is only on Friday. So if you're only make it one day - go Friday.
Oh, and did I mention...IT'S FREE! You have no excuse. The exhibits will be on show all day. Performances start in the late afternoon and run into the evening. Definitely make it part of your First Friday evening.
October 21, 2007
Had three Navy jets pass overhead within an hour of eachother today. Three jets in an hour is uncommon - but to have it happen on a Sunday is unheard of. I've never even seen one on a Sunday before - and only once on a Saturday.
Two passed a little to the east of my property but one flew directly over my head while I was down at Frankencoop building a second outdoor pen for the chickens. I heard the approaching roar and turned to watch. It appeared about 150 feet above the treetops - almost as if it was rising out of the forest. This was one of the closest passes I've seen. I've never had such a clear view of the markings on the belly of the plane.
He gave me a little wing-dip to say hello.
Sadly, I had a hammer in my hand at the moment and not the camera. But the good news is the camera is fully functional again! Can I get an amen? Not only am I able to download pictures to my computer again, I also have a new memory card. That means more photos and better videos! Specifically, chicken videos!
Here's Gimpy showing off his set of pipes. It's a common misconception that roosters crow at dawn. The truth is that they merely start crowing at dawn. He can keep this shit up all day long. If I had a cellphone, I would make this my ringtone.
The chickens have scratched a big ol' hole in the middle of their pen. This is where they take their dust baths. Yes, chickens keep clean by getting dirty. Here's one of The Greys in the middle of her bathing routine:
The refugee chicken is also working on getting her hygiene up to snuff. Spending her first year of life in a giant building with 10,000 other chickens did nothing for her complexion. Her tailfeathers are pretty ragged. I imagine they were pulled by other chickens at the factory farm. She has some clumps of chickenshit stuck in the feathers on her back. Presumably, it belongs to some of her 10,000 former roommates.
She also has some of her own shit stuck to the fluffy feathers around her vent (the all-purpose hole for poop and eggs). She came to Frankencoop like that but it didn't help that she soon came down with a nasty case of diarrhea. I think the sudden change in her diet did it.
She's better now. She's dropping giant gobs of healthy fertilizer all over the place. She's perhaps twice the size of some of the other hens and at least 50% bigger than the roosters. But her poops are at least four times the size of the other chickens' - like miniature cow patties. When she had diarrhea, it was as if khaki paint was spraying out her backside, half a pint at a time.
Anyway, she's taking baths now too.
Had one of those experiences last week that could only happen in a tiny town. One of those things that you forget still exist in modern-day America.
I drove out to a farm supply store about ten miles away to pick up a 50-pound sack of chicken feed. I'd only been to this particular store twice before and the last time was a month ago. I spent less than $20 total on the two previous trips. The point being I was by no means a regular customer.
I got the feed and a couple other small items. I pulled out my debit card and the man behind the counter apologized, saying they didn't take plastic. He said if I didn't have cash I could write a check or he'd give me credit.
I didn't have any cash. I told the man I had my checkbook but that it was an out-of-state account - Alaska to be exact. He said that was alright but he'd still be happy to give me credit if I preferred. He said I was welcome to take the stuff and just come back another day with the cash.
I handed him the check and asked if he wanted to see my ID. He shook his head, said no and stuffed the check in the register.
Try getting away with that in the city. I dare you.
October 17, 2007
I got another chicken - and not just any old chicken either. She's a refugee.
One of my neighbors has a large-scale chicken operation. He raises 20,000 birds at a time for some poultry company. When the hens are a little over a year old, they're picked up and delivered to the slaughterhouse. Then he gets 20,000 new chicks and starts all over again.
Last week, when the chickens were being picked up for slaughter, one plucky hen escaped by hiding in a crawlspace. Normally, any hens that miss the one-way trip to butcherville are killed and burned. That's the rules.
But on Sunday, the day before 20,000 new chicks were to be delivered, my neighbor and his young son knocked on my door. They asked if I wanted to take the refugee chicken.
Well, of course I did! Would you expect a big softie like myself say no?
We took her down to Frankencoop and initially placed her in the pen with the other chickens. Oh, it did not go well. The roosters, Gimpy and Barabajagal, were not pleased. Within minutes, a fight broke out between them and the refugee hen. They were bumping chests and pulling feathers like in a good old-fashioned cockfight.
Being at least six months older than the rest of the chickens, the refugee outweighs them by quite a bit. I'm not so much worried about her holding her own as I'm worried about the roosters getting hurt. Barabajagal has always been a little on the wussy side. Plus, he's pigeon-toed and is often tripping over his own feet. And Gimpy is...well...a gimp.
I stepped in to break up the fight and put the roosters in the coop, shooing the other chickens in with them. When it was just me and the refugee in the pen, my neighbor helped me put her in the cage and then we moved the cage into the coop. I hoped that a day or two of having her confined but still in close proximity might help ease the transition.
This afternoon, I thought I'd see if they were ready to mix and mingle. I took the refugee out of her cage while all the others were outside in the pen. She showed little interest in anything but scratching around in the wood shavings on the floor.
Eventually, a couple of the young hens came into the coop to investigate. The refugee paid them no mind and kept on scratching. The other chickens would occasionally get close and the refugee would lift her head up and stare at them. The young ones would usually just back off but a couple would step closer and get in her face. The refugee would respond by snapping at them and they would run away without a fight. Then the refugee would go back to her scratching.
It wasn't long before Gimpy showed up and decided to let everybody know who was boss. He started by getting alongside the refugee and roughly bumping into her, as if goading her to throw the first punch. She took the bait and the fight was on.
The pecking order must be established and this is something that they are going to have to work out. I stood over them to make sure it didn't get too rough. But then Barabajagal showed up to see what all the commotion was about and decided to join in.
Now it was two against one and, even though the refugee is a tough old bird, this didn't seem like a fair fight. I had to step in and break it up. It's not easy to break up a fight between three chickens while eight more are squawking "Fight! Fight! Fight!" from the sidelines. I'd get one rooster out of the mix but it would return as soon as I removed the other one. For a while, it seemed that all I was doing was moving the fight from one side of the room to another.
I was finally able to pick up the refugee and return her to her cage. The other hens lost interest and went back outside. Gimpy paced around the edge of the room. Barabajagal was standing just outside the cage, trying to peck the refugee through the wire. He was still pissed. I imagined him saying "I'll cut you, bitch!"
I knelt down and picked him up. I held him in my lap and tried to calm him down. He finally settled and sat down in my lap. I noticed a little blood on his beak. The refugee had obviously gotten in at least one good jab.
After about five minutes of sitting in my lap, letting me pet him, he hopped down and went to sit alone in a dark corner. I'm probably anthropomorphizing here, but I think his pride was wounded more than anything else. After I killed Joshua the alpha rooster last month, Gimpy moved up to the top spot and Barabajagal became second banana. He seemed content being number two but now he was faced with becoming number three again - and he wasn't happy about it at all.
I'll try another introduction again tomorrow. This time, I think I'll limit it to one on one encounters with the roosters.
October 12, 2007
There's a lot of air traffic in the skies above Spenardo del Sur. Since this area is in the middle of nowhere, none of these flights originate or wind up here. This is fly-over country.
The majority of this traffic is comprised of high-flying commercial airliners. Often you don't even notice them during the day unless they leave a contrail. At night, their blinking lights are visible and, if it's quiet enough (which it usually is), you can actually hear them.
Smaller commercial planes fly lower and can easily be heard, yet they're still pretty high up there. The small, low-flying, private planes that are so common in Alaska are a rarity around here.
My favorite passing aircraft are the Navy jets that scream directly overhead a few times a week. You can hear the approaching roar just a few seconds before they come into view. They always come from the north, traveling from a base in North Carolina to one in Pensacola, Florida. These are the lowest flying of the planes - often only a couple hundred feet above my house. The vultures fly higher than that. Hell, my Kool-Aid man kite flies higher than that.
The most surprising aircraft had to be the blimp I saw cruising across the valley back in the spring. But that was about five miles away, not directly over my little patch of land.
Occasionally, helicopters pass overhead. Their distinctive sound makes it easy to distinguish their approach from that of airplanes. I still have a very vivid memory of three helicopters flying in tight formation over my house, headed west at the exact time the sun sank behind the Talladega Mountains. I remember the soundtrack in my head playing Hendrix's version of "All Along The Watchtower" as they disappeared into the sunset.
I assume some of the helicopters I see to be military. Perhaps some are medical. Others I figure are part of marijuana eradication efforts.
This morning, there was no doubt in my mind which kind of helicopter I was looking at.
I was working in the garden, perhaps about 10 am. I heard the tell-tale sound of an approaching helicopter. I looked around and saw it coming straight across the valley from the west - headed directly for Spenardo del Sur. I stopped what I was doing to watch it pass overhead. So little happens around here that the close pass of a helicopter is enough reason to put down the shovel for a few minutes.
It was only about 50 or 60 feet above the ground when it crossed my property. I turned to watch it disappear behind the trees but, instead of continuing in a straight line, the helicopter turned a tight circle over the woods. The only thing that I can imagine caught the pilot's eye is the tarp-covered pen attached to the back of the chicken coop. It must've looked like a potential marijuana grow operation. After completing its 360-degree turn, the helicopter continued east.
Even though my gardening efforts are all completely above board, nothing quite gets the adrenaline flowing like "the man" taking such a keen interest in your stuff. But, frankly, I'm more more concerned about the fresh bobcat tracks I found in the driveway this morning. (My belief that it was a bobcat that ate two of my chickens was confirmed when one of my neighbors said he saw one in his front yard the night before the massacre.)
Less than an hour later, an identical helicopter approached from the west. Perhaps it was the same one. It followed the same straight route across the valley but, as soon as it got to this hill I live on, it started flying large circles around my property and the property of my neighbors.
Hate to tell you, Mr. Man, there ain't nobody here but us chickens. But if I find out one of my neighbors is growing weed and ain't sharing with me, I'm gonna be so pissed.
October 10, 2007
What an absolutely stunning sunset. And me still without my camera for another week.
It was a perfectly clear sky except for cirrus clouds stretching along the western horizon. The day's strong breeze had cleared any haze from the landscape. The outline of the Talledega Mountains 40 miles to the west was sharp and crisp .
I still have trouble thinking of the Talledaga Mountains as mountains. I mean, the highest point in the entire range is only 2407 feet above sea level. That would be Mount Cheaha, which is also the highest point in the entire state of Alabama. Hell, puny little Flattop back in Anchorage is 3510 feet.
The best part of the sunset was the bright sundogs. Up until now, Alaska had been the only place I'd ever witnessed this particular atmospheric phenomenon. I certainly didn't expect to see it on a 80-degree Alabama afternoon. It was as if Mother Nature had sent me a beautiful postcard from Alaska.
I sat on the back steps with a cup of coffee while the cats stalked grasshoppers nearby. The sundogs slowly faded away as the sun sank lower. The sun slipped below the mountains, looking like a bright orange egg yolk sitting on the horizon. And then it was gone.
Time to lock up the chickens up for the evening. Drove down to the coop to find one of chickens walking around outside the pen. It had escaped earlier in the afternoon to explore the woods but had come home to roost for the night.
I had noticed it missing during an earlier headcount but couldn't find any evidence of a break-in or struggle. I had hoped it had merely escaped.
Another chicken had escaped a couple days ago in a freak fracas and apparently this second chicken used the same exit. Gonna have to fix that tomorrow.
I had been ripping down some old crappy paneling off the walls inside Frankencoop. The chickens were all outside in the pen at the time. I was making a lot of noise but none of it seemed to bother the birds. But the second I stepped into the pen with an armload of broken paneling, all hell broke loose. My appearance scared the hell out of them, sending them into a frenzy - all of them squawking and flying willy-nilly inside the pen.
In the ensuing panic, one of the hens flew up to the top of the pen and passed through a small gap between the wire and tarp. I don't know how she did it with her wings flapping. It looked like a magic trick.
She took off for the woods and actually ended up spending the night there. She didn't return until the next afternoon when thunder started rumbling in the distance.
The only chicken I ever let out of the pen on purpose is Cheepacabra, my favorite chicken. Whenever I approach the pen, she rushes to the door and hops out the moment it's open. She never flies away - just walks around and scratches at the dirt. So I let her do that while I tend to chores inside the coop. When I'm ready to leave, I just pick her up and set her back inside.
But now, especially since the recent breakouts, the other chickens seem to be more and more curious about the world outside the chicken wire. Now when I approach the pen, they all rush the door. Everybody except Cheepacabra stops short at the threshhold but I fear a prison break any day now.
October 4, 2007
Eggs, eggs, eggs, eggs, eggs. So many damned eggs! I've been trying to come up with new and creative ways to cook eggs. There's only so much egg salad a girl can eat.
I've eaten them scrambled and fried. Hardboiled and sunny-side up. I've poached them for eggs benedict smothered in homemade hollandaise sauce. I've made omelets and French toast. I've made egg-foo-yung with venison. I've even made lemon pudding from scratch. There's currently a sweet potato pie in the oven which will be topped with meringue.
Eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert yet there's still almost 20 eggs in the fridge. Plus, I'm gathering four or five a day from the coop and half of the hens haven't even started laying yet. Fortunately, egg production will slow down over the winter and give my cholesterol a chance to return to an acceptable level.
Not much else happening right now. Been spending lots of time beating back the kudzu and waging war on the fire ants. Found a whopper of an ant mound by the old barn yesterday - two feet high!
Normally, this time of year, I'd be getting ready for snow. Instead, it's in the mid-70s and I'm still outside gathering food. The garden is still full of tomatoes, basil, watermelon, carrots, greens, sweet potatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers. The gourds and peanuts aren't even ready to harvest yet. Wild grapes are plentiful and an old pear tree on the property is starting to bear fruit.
Soon it will be time to find homes for the kittens. As cute as they are, I'm looking forward to a night of sleep where I'm not woken by tiny teeth gnawing on my toes.
Well, like I said, not much going on right now...
Comments? Questions? Spare change?
Send it to Jackie at RanchoSpenardo.com
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