Chickens Again, Part I

Getting started with a new batch of chickens.

Penny with Chicks
Penny suspected trouble when I got into the truck with this little box.

A few weeks ago — just a few days after returning from my 2-month California trip, in fact — I bought 8 chicks. I set them up in my shed, in the stock tank I’d bought last year for my poor man’s hot tub.

Chicks in my Shed
My little chickies, huddled together in their nursery.

I’d had chickens before, in Arizona. They’re a lot of fun and you really can’t beat fresh eggs. Because I knew I’d have chickens again, when I moved to Washington, I took along most of my chicken-rearing equipment: feeders, waterers, and heat lamp. That saved me a bunch of money when it came time to get these started. And the stock tank in the shed really beats the cardboard boxes I used to use in my garage to get the chicks started.

The Chicken Yard

Of course, they couldn’t stay in the shed. Eventually, they’d need a chicken coop and a fenced-in yard. Like Wickenburg, this area has coyotes and I’d have to protect the chickens from them. It also has large hawks, eagles — including Bald Eagles — and owls, so a net across the top would be vital. I wanted the chicken yard to be large enough to accommodate all the chickens and, with the real possibility of free-range egg sales, even more chickens in the future. And although I only wanted to build it once, I didn’t want it to be permanent. (I’ve come to realize that I don’t want anything in my life to be permanent because nothing really is. But that’s a philosophical discussion best saved for another blog post.)

I explored many options. “Hog panels” looked good, but the only ones available in the area were very large and very costly. Someone suggested a dog kennel and even sent me to Costco in search of one that seemed like a good deal. But they were out of stock and I was running out of time. I needed the chickens out of the shed before I headed south for a few days on personal business.

Gardening with a Backhoe
Jeff cleared a space for my shed and garden and left a pile of bunchgrass and weeds in the area just north of the garden patch.

Covering Conduit
After he moved my shed and dug a trench, I ran conduit for my temporary electric and water lines to keep them off the driveway and he covered it back up.

Meanwhile, Jeff, the earth-moving guy, was preparing the pad for my future home. He had a honking huge backhoe and an i-beam that he used to scrape the ground. I wanted a garden and I wanted my shed moved to the other side of the driveway. (Originally, I figured I’d sell the shed when my building was done, but I realized it would make a great place to store garden tools so I decided to keep it.) I realized that Jeff could give me a good head start on my garden prep with that i-beam and I set him to work on a small area near where I wanted the shed. He dug out the few sagebrush there and scraped the ground clear of bunchgrass, leaving it piled up in an area north of the garden. He even dragged my shed to its new position — it was built on skids — and got it level for me. And dug a trench so I could run power and water for my RV and shed under the driveway so the cords and hose would not be run over by construction vehicles this summer.

When he left, I looked at my future garden location and the spread-out, uprooted bunchgrass beside it. The chickens wouldn’t mind all that grass. And it would be nice to have them next to the garden so I could let them in to eat bugs. Without even intending to, Jeff had chosen the spot for my chicken yard.

I wound up buying 150 feet of 5-foot tall “horse fence” at the nearby Coastal Farm and Ranch store. I wanted 6-foot fencing so I’d have plenty of room to walk around under the net, but this was on sale for a good price and it’s not as if I’ll be hanging out in there with the chickens. I also bought a few 6-foot T-posts. I already had a T-post driver and a bunch more T-posts that a friend had given me.

But I began realizing that I’d have a problem when I got the roll of fence home. It was too heavy for me to lift. I couldn’t even push it out of the truck bed. Clearly, I’d need help.

Assembling the Fence

Help came in the form of my friend, Mike. He’d come up from California with his helicopter towed behind his motorhome. After dropping off the helicopter at the airport, he rolled down my driveway and greeted me with a big hug.

Fence Under Construction
Some of the T-posts in the ground around the future chicken yard; the roll of fencing was very heavy.

After getting a tour of the place — building pad, “lookout point,” apiary, chicks in shed — we talked about the things I needed to do. I mentioned the chicken yard and the fence, never even thinking about asking him for help. That’s when he offered to help me.

I’m not an idiot. When someone offers to help me with a difficult task, I say yes! We got to work right then and there.

The work went surprisingly well. Within about 2 hours, we had completely fenced in a 9 x 25 foot area beside my future garden, leaving only a 4-foot wide doorway for a gate. Although it wasn’t perfect, it was a lot better than I expected it to look.

Chicken Yard
The nearly finished chicken yard.

Finishing Up. Almost.

The next day, I bought some bird netting at Coastal. Although it was supposedly 14 x 45 feet in size, the 14 foot width could not span the 9 foot width of the chicken yard. (What was that all about?) But with a little creative cutting and attaching, I was able to fit three pieces across to protect the chickens from aerial predators.

The next morning was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. I decided to try out the chickens in their new yard — I really needed to get them settled in before I went on my trip. I dragged the stock tank out of the shed and into the chicken yard. I closed the makeshift gate I’d made behind me. And then I tilted the stock tank so it was laying on its side, thus freeing the chicks.

They were not happy. And Penny, of course, went nuts. She couldn’t get into the chicken yard and she wanted a piece of those chickens. The chickens ran around and Penny ran around the yard. And that’s when the chickens started squeezing through the fence.

What followed was a comedy routine that involved me and Penny chasing 3-week old chicks. Penny was good at catching them and, for some reason, she didn’t kill them. I managed to get them all back in the stock tank. After putting food and water in there, I went back into the RV, hot, sweaty, and dusty.

The chicks would not be much bigger before I headed out on my trip. That meant that if I wanted them in the yard, I’d have to put something around the bottom edge of the fence to prevent them from squeezing through. What? I had some chicken wire, but I’d bought 4-foot width and that was overkill. It looked as if I’d have to head back to Coastal for some more chicken wire.

Reuse, Recycle

I was back out in the yard, contemplating the situation, when my eyes fell upon the 22 bales of straw I had in two piles in my yard. I’d bought the straw the previous autumn to stack around the base of the RV to winterize it. When I moved the RV out for my California trip in February, I’d stacked the straw neatly to get it out of the way.

If I laid the straw around the base of the chicken yard, right up against the fence, would that prevent the chickens from getting out? It certainly seemed as if it would.

8 WD
Although I bought this little flatbed trailer — a Craig’s List deal — primarily to move my bees around in the future, its size and low bed make it perfect for moving my ATV and straw bales.

So I got to work. I’d brought my ATV home, along with the little cargo trailer I’d bought years ago for yard work up at our vacation property in northern Arizona. The cargo trailer’s tires had been replaced and it was all ready for use. But last week I’d also bought a very small flatbed trailer that was larger than the ATV’s yard trailer. With a ball on the front of my ATV for towing the helicopter, I could tow the little flatbed trailer. It would be perfect for moving all that straw.

A formerly wise man used to say that any job is easy if you have the right tools. How true. I had the straw moved and positioned in less than an hour.

I was thrilled. My solution solved more than just the chicken escape problem. It also temporarily solved the problem of what I was going to do with all that straw.

A while later, I tried again to let the chickens out into the yard. This time, they didn’t escape.

Chicken Yard
The chicken yard this morning. I haven’t done a headcount, but I’m pretty sure all eight of my little girls are in there.

Temporary Coop
The temporary chicken coop is nothing more than a stock tank on its side with a piece of scrap plywood as a lean-to wall.

I set up an automatic waterer that I think might be a bit too big for them. Then I set up their chick feeders and waterer. I left the stock tank on its side against the side of the fence as a makeshift shelter for them; later, I leaned a piece of scrap plywood against it to enclose most of it. My list of things to do includes building a chicken coop, but I’m not sure I’ll get to that before my trip. The chicks are still small and should be okay in the stock tank, at least for a few more weeks.

The sun has just risen as I’m tying this. Seeing movement out the window, I took a closer look. The chicks are out in their little yard, scratching around in the early morning light. They’re exploring their big automatic waterer and, with luck, will soon be using their hanging feeder, too.

It looks like I’m on the road to chicken success. More later, after I’ve built their coop.

Penny, the Frequent Flyer Dog

A look at how Penny the Tiny Dog has accrued airline miles since September 2012.

Frequent Flyer Dog
Penny waits near the gate for a recent flight, chewing a bone in her travel bag.

One of the best things about having a tiny dog is just how easy she is to travel with. Indeed, Penny has been with me on almost every single trip I’ve taken since I brought her into my life on June 27, 2012.

Think I’m kidding? Here’s a quick look at the trips Penny and I have taken together since September 2012. This is just airliner flights and doesn’t include the helicopter and small plane flights we’ve done together, like the trips to Winslow, Williams, Page, Phoenix, Tucson, Lake Havasu, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Georgetown (CA), Woodland (CA), Quincy (WA), Wenatchee (WA), and other places.

I’ll update this periodically so I have a permanent record of her frequent flyer status.

Date Departure Destination Miles
9/15/2012 Wenatchee Seattle 98
9/15/2012 Seattle Phoenix 1,106
11/12/2012 Phoenix Seattle 1,106
11/12/2012 Seattle Wenatchee 98
11/21/2012 Phoenix Sacramento 647
11/28/2012 Sacramento Phoenix 647
12/16/2013 Phoenix Dallas Ft. Worth 752
12/16/2012 Dallas Ft. Worth Jacksonville 796
12/30/2012 Jacksonville Dallas Ft. Worth 796
12/30/2012 Dallas Ft. Worth Phoenix 752
1/30/2013 Phoenix Seattle 1,106
1/30/2013 Seattle Wenatchee 98
2/6/2013 Wenatchee Seattle 98
2/6/2013 Seattle Phoenix 1,106
2/21/2013 Sacramento Phoenix 647
3/5/2013 Sacramento Las Vegas 345
3/7/2013 Las Vegas Sacramento 345
3/10/2013 Sacramento Phoenix 1,106
3/18/2013 Phoenix Sacramento 1,106
3/27/2013 Sacramento Phoenix 647
4/10/2013 Phoenix Sacramento 647
4/23/2013 Wenatchee Seattle 98
4/23/2013 Seattle Phoenix 1,106
4/26/2013 Phoenix Sacramento 647
5/6/2013 Wenatchee Seattle 98
5/6/2013 Seattle Phoenix 1,106
10/22/2013 Wenatchee Seattle 98
10/22/2013 Seattle Newark 2,394
10/29/2013 Newark Seattle 2,394
10/29/2013 Seattle Wenatchee 98
2/16/2014 Sacramento San Francisco 86
2/16/2014 San Francisco Santa Barbara 262
2/19/2014 Santa Barbara Seattle 907
2/19/2014 Seattle Wenatchee 98
4/21/2014 Wenatchee Seattle 98
4/21/2014 Seattle Sacramento 605
1/26/2015 Wenatchee Seattle 98
1/26/2015 Seattle Phoenix 1,106
2/11/2015 Phoenix Seattle 1,106
2/11/2015 Seattle Wenatchee 98
2/25/2015 Sacramento Seattle 605
2/25/2015 Seattle Wenatchee 98
Total Airline Miles   27,256

Too bad I can’t get her on a frequent flyer plan.

My Desert Dogs

A bit about my Arizona dogs.

I’ve had dogs almost my entire life and four of them have lived with me in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.

Spot and me in front of my old house in New Jersey. Spot didn’t really like the desert much.

The first was Spot or “Country Squire Rorschach,” a Dalmatian that I got for my birthday years ago when I lived in New Jersey. Spot was getting on in years by the time I moved to Arizona and he wasn’t the brightest bulb on the tree. He never quite understood the importance of finding and standing in shade on hot days. I took him hiking out in the desert just once with me and I thought he would die of heat stroke by the time we got back. I have a photo somewhere of him standing by a big saguaro cactus, but I can’t seem to find it right now; if I do, I’ll post it here.

Next came Jack the Dog, a Border Collie/Australian Shephard Mix. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I adopted him from the local shelter about a year after Spot died. He proved to be an excellent hiking and horseback riding companion. He liked going out on horseback rides so much, that he once followed two friends of ours when we let them ride our horses without us. He was a true “desert dog,” spending most of his time loose in the backyard, overseeing the scant traffic on the road that led to our house and barking at any vehicle that didn’t belong. When he was forced to spend time in Phoenix, in the tiny condo my husband had bought, we did what we could to get him out and about on long walks. But I know he was happiest at home and on the 40 acres of ranch land we owned near the Grand Canyon.

Jack at Howard Mesa
Jack the Dog taking in the view at our Howard Mesa property in northern Arizona.

Charlie on a Rock
It’s hard to believe that this photo was shot only a year ago, when my soon-to-be ex-husband and I were on a hike out in the desert behind our house. He’s taken Charlie from me; all I have left of him are photos and memories.

Charlie came about a year after Jack’s demise. My husband and I had gone to an adoption event in Phoenix, feeling ready to bring home a new dog. After taking two unsuitable dogs for short trial walks, I spotted Charlie, wet from a dog wash and looking pretty ragged. We took him out for a walk — against his will, I might add — and decided to make him ours. It’s unfortunate that he spent most of his time at that damn Phoenix condo, but when I was with him there, I took him to various Phoenix dog parks so he could run free with the other dogs. We also played catch daily with tennis balls at the condo’s unused tennis courts. Like Jack, he was happiest in Wickenburg, though, roaming around the yard or accompanying us on Jeep rides or hikes in the desert. The horses were gone by then, but I sure think he would have liked accompanying us on rides. It saddens me to think of his current life with my husband in Phoenix and Scottsdale, in walled-in yards and boarding facilities. A dog like Charlie needs to roam free.

Penny on a Rock
I shot this photo of Penny just the other day — on the same rock I’d shot the above photo of Charlie on the year before. She’s hard to take photos of; she just won’t sit still!

I got Penny the Tiny Dog in Quincy, WA near the end of June, 2012 as a foster dog. I missed Charlie terribly — he had become an important part of my life during the long days I was stuck at the Phoenix condo the previous winter. Although my husband and I had been talking about him and Charlie spending the summer with me in Washington, my husband had gone silent (again). Still, for some dumb reason, I had high hopes of them arriving, perhaps on my birthday at month-end. I really looked forward to seeing Charlie and Penny playing together — Charlie loved playing with our neighbor’s Chihuahua in Phoenix. But three days after I got Penny, I got the birthday call from my husband asking for a divorce. Penny has been a huge comfort to me since then — I officially adopted her only two weeks later. She travels almost everywhere with me — even in the helicopter and on airlines — and, like Jack and Charlie before her, loves hiking out in the desert. She’s outside now, as I type this, walking along the top of the short wall around the backyard, looking for lizards on the hillside below her.

My days in the Arizona desert are numbered now — when the divorce winds up, I’ll finally be on my way with Penny. Although I’ll miss the hiking and Jeeping here, I know there are new adventures ahead of us — in other deserts and in canyons and forests and along rivers. Penny and I are both up to the challenge.

Maria 1.0, In Photos

Going through some old photos brings back memories of a former life.

While I was away this summer, my husband gathered up huge bunches of my things and stored them in boxes or cabinets, likely to keep them out of sight. Among these things were photographic prints and slides. Unfortunately, some of them ended up in cardboard boxes that he put in my hangar; a summer flood destroyed everything left on the hangar floor — photographic keepsakes and so many other papers and books are gone forever. Others were spared destruction by being simply crammed into a cabinet or box and mercifully left in the house.

I’m going thorough these photos now. I’m finding mostly vacation photos from years and years ago — the 1980s and 1990s. I used a film camera back then and usually shot print film instead of slides. (My husband was dedicated to Kodachrome.) There are also some aerial photos from our aborted attempt at providing aerial photography services. Most of those are trash.

But I’m also finding a few random photos taken from way back when — in the days of what I’m now calling Maria 1.0. That’s the version of me from birth right up until the point I started my relationship with the man who would later become my husband.

I thought I’d share a few of the Maria 1.0 photos with readers. Keep in mind that these are scanned from very old prints, so the quality and color is somewhat questionable.

College Days, with my Cat

The date on the back of this picture says June 1981. That would be about a year before I graduated. This is me with my first cat, Fig Newton (or Figgy). It’s probably in my summer dorm room. By 1981, I’d moved out of my parents home and was living year-round at Hofstra University. I worked for Facilities Management and, because I had a job all summer, I could stay in the dorm rooms at a reduced rate. Figgy wasn’t legal to have as a pet, but that didn’t stop me. He was just a kitten here; he eventually did grow into his ears.

Maria and Figgy

I didn’t start wearing contact lenses until the fall semester. And it wasn’t until about two years later that I finally got fed up with long hair and started wearing it short.

As for the cat….well, when my future husband and I began living together in 1984, I had to find homes for him and the second cat I’d gotten not long afterward. My husband has asthma and is allergic to cats. Giving up Figgy and Rover was the first of many sacrifices I made for him.

Rooftop, Seeing Double

I got interested in photography when I was in my sophomore or junior year. I even dated a photography student for about a year. I had an Olympus OM-10 35mm camera. You could probably consider it an entry level SLR. It certainly had limitations.

But even back in those days, knew how to work around limitations. The image here is the best of only a few examples of a double-exposure shot within the camera. In other words, I shot two images on the same film frame. By masking one side of the frame for one shot and the other side of the frame for the other shot, I was able to create a double-exposure that shows me on both sides of the photo. (Of course, nowadays a shot like this is easy enough to make in Photoshop.)

Seeing Double

This was done on the roof of the apartment building I lived in in Hempstead, NY. I lived there for about a year and half, right after college. It was on the border of a nasty neighborhood that occasionally had shootings. But it was all I could afford, so that’s where I lived.

The dress I’m wearing is unusual. It’s actually a long, wrap-around skirt. I discovered that if I fastened the waistband under my armpits and put a belt around my waist, I could wear it as a dress. This is one of the many items of clothing I made for myself back in those days. I was pretty poor and couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, so I made them.

The date stamp on the back of this photo is December 1983, but I suspect it’s either a reprint or I just held off on getting it printed. No way I’d be on the roof in December without a jacket. The year is probably right, though; 1983 is the year I met my future husband and I know my hair was wild from a growing out perm back then.

Asleep in his Arms

I guess it’s appropriate to end the photo show of Maria 1.0 with a shot from the end of that era. When I met the man I’d share 29 years of my life with, I was only 22. Odd as it may seem, back in those days it wasn’t unusual for me to fall asleep in his arms, often on a rock or some other hard surface outdoors. The first time it happened was at Montauk Point, where we’d gone very early one morning to watch the sun rise. Afterward, we lay together on one of the big flat rocks making up the breakwater and fell asleep. There aren’t any photos of that, but this shot from later in 1983 reminds me of that morning, too.

Asleep in his Arms

Back in those days, we did a lot of outdoor activities with friends. I’m pretty sure this photo was taken at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains, possibly during a Columbus Day weekend trip. I remember taking the gondola ride up Gore Mountain and hiking down to enjoy the fall colors. I vaguely recall being there with our friends Bennett and Marion, who also met that summer and later married. One of them must have taken this photo.

I really miss the guy in the photo.

Penny and the Peanut Butter Bone

An odd solution to a puppy problem.

I am an early riser. I have been for at least the past 15 years. I’m usually up and out of bed by 6 AM. My body wakes up and, since I either didn’t want to wake my soon-to-be ex-husband or I had things to do, I’d get up and start my day.

My day starts with a routine that I’ve shared with Alex the Bird for almost 10 years — since Alex the Bird came into my life. I throw on some clothes, come into the kitchen, and brew some coffee, often reciting the mantra “Coffee is the most important thing” — a phrase that Alex the Bird still hasn’t picked up. While the coffee brews, I prepare Alex’s scrambled egg in the microwave. I cut up half of the egg and give it to Alex in a little dish atop her cage. Then I settle down at the table with my coffee and my laptop or iPad and enjoy the very first cup of coffee for the day while catching up on Twitter or writing a blog post — like this one.

(When I was home in Wickenburg or Phoenix with my dog Jack and then Charlie, the routine also included letting him out for his morning pee, putting a scoop of food into his dog dish, and topping off his water. He’d get half of Alex’s egg, then wait around Alex’s cage for the pieces of egg that dropped and gobble them all up. But those days are apparently gone for good, so it’s best not to dwell on them.)

The routine is pretty much the same when I live in the Mobile Mansion in Washington. After all, coffee is the most important thing.

Enter Penny the Tiny Dog. Or Tiny Puppy right now. Her routine is a bit different. After her morning pee, she comes in and cleans up after Alex the Bird’s scrambled egg droppings. And then she comes to me where I’m invariably sitting at my desk and starts jumping up on me. She wants to play.

Of course, I’m just getting started on my coffee. Not even half of it is gone. I’m not ready to play. Heck, I’m not even fully conscious sometimes.

A side note here…yesterday, one of my Facebook friends shared one of those images with a message — you know, the kind always floating around Facebook. This one said:

My favorite coffee in the morning is the one where no one talks to me while I drink it.

My reply was:

Mine is the one where a tiny dog doesn’t jump all over me for attention while I’m drinking it.

Making the Peanut Butter BoneThe solution is to distract her with something more interesting and rewarding than me rolling around on the floor with her. And that solution involves a beef soup bone and some peanut butter.

I bought the bone at the supermarket about a month ago. It didn’t take her long to eat the marrow out the ends. The bone is nice and dry and kind of clean. The holes on either end go in pretty deep. Sometimes she still plays with it.

I bought the peanut butter to bait the mousetraps. I don’t really like Skippy because it has sugar in it and I don’t think peanut butter should have added sugar. And although I like peanut butter, sometime over the past 10 years or so I’ve developed a sort of allergy to it; after eating it, I just don’t feel quite “right.” I switched to cashew butter, which is harder to find but very tasty. Of course, it’s not on my diet, so I don’t have any around for me or the mice. So I went to the supermarket and bought the smallest, cheapest jar of peanut butter they had. It turned out to be Skippy. I don’t care about feeding sugar to the mice.

Penny and her Peanut Butter BoneOne day, on a whim, I put a bit of peanut butter in each end of the bone and gave it to her. I was rewarded with about 15 minutes of peace and quiet to finish my coffee. Afterwards, she found something else to keep her busy.

Now it’s part of our morning routine. When she’d done cleaning up after Alex and she starts jumping up on me to play, I prepare the peanut butter bone and give it to her. I can then enjoy my coffee in peace.

The only problem is, she’s getting really good at licking that peanut butter out of the holes.

Hiking with Penny

We’re still working on it.

Yesterday, I went on my first real hike with Penny. This differs from our orchard walks in that we were out in the woods with a lot of unknowns.

My goal is to get her to walk with me off-leash and reliably come when I call her. She’s fine off-leash — she doesn’t go far and she seems to stay out of trouble. But she doesn’t reliably come when I call. And that’s just not acceptable.

I’m hoping its because she’s still a puppy. We figure she’s about 5 months old.

She’s also still tiny. I weighed her yesterday. She was 4.7 pounds. The vet seems to think she might get up to 6 pounds.

It’s hard to photograph her for two reasons:

  • She’s almost all black. It’s really tough to get a good exposure of her features. Photoshop’s Shadows/Highlights feature really helps.
  • She never stops moving. To get this shot, I had to place her on top of a rock that was too high for her to jump off of.

Anyway, here’s the latest photo:

Penny on a Hike

I’ll keep working with her. Eventually, I think she’ll come around. She’s not a dumb dog. She just doesn’t have her priorities straight yet.

Dog is My Co-Pilot

And here’s the picture to prove it.

Penny and I flew from our Wenatchee Heights base to Lake Chelan, WA (shown here) to Coeur d’Alene, ID and back yesterday to help a friend reposition his helicopter. Penny is now a seasoned helicopter pilot, having logged about 6 hours of cross-country flying. The sound and vibration doesn’t seem to bother her. She sleeps most of the trip, getting up for a look only when the helicopter drops out of cruise flight or lands.

This is a frame grab from my GoPro “cockpit cam,” which shot video for the entire flight from Wenatchee Heights to Chelan.

Dog Is My Co-Pilot

By request; a larger frame from the video.