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Archive for the ‘Turkeys’ Category

If you read my blog post entitled Down in Birdland, you may be wondering what happened with our turkey hen, Isabelle, who had been broody since mid January. We last left her setting on a clutch of 10 chicken eggs, with no idea if this arrangement would be successful. Well, strange things happened over the 3 weeks of incubation: eggs disappeared (was she eating the unborn chicks?); she finally started laying her own eggs again for the first time since January; and then, in the midst of all my playing God, she allowed Thomas to mate with her, for the first time I was aware of since last spring when she hatched her own clutch! I covered my eyes and shook my head, not to give the lewd couple privacy, but because it was sinking in that after all my fancy arranging, Izzy was now capable of setting on and hatching her own clutch!

Of all the nasty tricks.

Meanwhile, I had timed everything to the nth detail, like a finely choreographed ballet. I “gave” her the chicken egg clutch exactly 21 days before the feed store was to receive day old royal palm turkey poults (she and her mate, Thomas, are also royal palm), and day old guinea keats. If she wasn’t going to kick out of the broody phase, she was not going to lay her own eggs, and her eggs would not be fertile unless she came out of her box long enough to let Thomas mate with her! I wanted poults for Thanksgiving and sausage! And, I very much wanted guineas for squash bug control. And I also ordered 22 chicken chicks (yes, in addition to the 15 I had been hand raising for 4 weeks already) – 16 cockerels (young roosters) bound eventually for the freezer, and 6 more pullets (young hens) to further supplement our laying flock. The plan had been to stage a fantastic adoption caper, shoving 3 different species under Izzy for her to mother.

Perhaps I was overzealous. Perhaps this plan was a bit bold. (Ya think?) But, hey, I always say, why just get your toes wet when you can dive straight in? Right? (Plus I had a Plan B – to raise them by hand if Izzy should fail.)

Well, the first paragraph of oddities should have clued me in that Mother Nature does not like to be upstaged. The next sign definitely had me looking guiltily at the cloudless sky. The mail order chicks arrived 4 days before I expected them!! As I was uncomfortable putting to-be-adopted chicks under Izzy before her own clutch started hatching, this sent me for a loop! I got the call from the PO and had to do some serious scrambling of setting up the wee chick scene once more. I was out of wood shavings, I was almost out of starter feed (the teenager chicks could now graduate to grower feed), and I needed another heat lamp as the first was in the teenagers’ outdoor house. However, everything was ready for Izzy’s adoption set up (she would be the natural heat lamp and already had her own feeder and waterer), of course.  Add to this stress the fact that the PO called me at 6am on a SUNDAY, and were, of course, closing for the day as soon as the truck was unloaded. I did not get the message until 7am – MUCH too late. So the wee babes had to sit in the PO for 24 more hours – rather heartbreaking for a maternally-minded mom such as myself.  At least it gave me time to prepare…

Weds, “hatch day”, came and went. No chicks appeared. Thurs arrived and still no hatchings. The poults were getting older, waiting at the feed store for me to collect them. I did not want to offer Izzy poults that were too old for fear of the adoption backfiring. Never knew that raising poultry was much akin to rocket science, did you? The same morning I saw a Facebook posting for 2 adult guinea hens who needed a home. Hmmmm…. It was time for some decisive action. I messaged the guinea woman, got in the car, and headed to the feed store. Two hours later I returned home with 4 royal palm poults of unknown sex, peeping with confusion and fear.

I carried the wee ones inside, out of the wind, and set to filling feed trough and water bottle. This time, with the sad experience from last spring, I added small gravel to the water ring so the poults would not drown in their own waterer (chicken chicks do not need this sort of babying – they are a lot smarter). I stacked all the supplies on top of the towel draped box of babies, and headed to the barn. Fiona, our first time pregnant goat, heard the cheeping as I opened the gate, and tore to the opposite corner of the barnyard in stark terror. Goats can be so darn goofy. Hazelnut did not seem to care and escorted me to Izzy’s enclosure, presumably because she smelled the corn in the feeder. I shut the gate and opened Izzy’s hatch. Immediately she heard the peeping and stretched her neck up inquisitively. She slowly raised her massive, white body up off her chicken egg clutch and peered out of her broody box like some prehistoric dinosaur. Just the mere sound of peeping babies caused her to answer in characteristic pips and coos. I felt encouraged. I opened the peep box and removed the first poult, tucking it gracefully beneath Izzy’s raised body. She looked between her scaly legs and tucked and shifted as I added the remaining 3. Her eyes took on a misty look of pure bliss as she continued to shift and adjust. I tried to roll the 5 remaining chicken eggs out from under her but she was having none of that and rolled them right back beneath her chest. As I left her, she settled back down with the utmost care, not a poult to be seen, not a peep to be heard, her eyes happily at half mast.

I sighed with my own happy smile. The newest chicks would be moved outside in another 10 days or so, then after a month they could be joined with the teenagers. I would introduce adult guinea hens for squash bug control as soon as I could pick them up, without having to raise them from keats. And Isabelle finally had her babies. Now I could gratefully push this series of poultry stresses to the side and focus, with renewed calm, on what was next on our plate…..

Our first experience with goat kidding (GASP!! CPR! I NEED CPR!).

Three weeks and counting. 🙂

The adopted poults are dwarfed by Isabelle's prehistoric bulk.

The adopted poults are dwarfed by Isabelle’s prehistoric bulk.

And here is exhibit B, Izzy's poult disappearing act!

And here is exhibit B, Izzy’s poult disappearing act!

************************************************************************

Addendum:

Turkey poults are very fragile little beings, and very, very intellectually challenged. Within a few hours of adoption, I returned to check and found one poult already dead, squashed between the eggs, and another squashed pretty flat, but still alive. I helped revive the latter poult, helping it to it’s water and food. It drank clumsily for about 5 minutes straight – obviously dehydrated. I forcibly removed the last 5 eggs at that point – their time had come and gone in my opinion and they were now a danger to the poults. Randy and Isla cracked them open to check and found 4 to be unviable and one with a fully formed, but dead, chick. Sad. I tried reviving that one too but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I jumped the gun on removing the eggs, but it was either them or the poults it seemed. The good news is that at least we now know that turkeys CAN incubate chicken eggs.

The next morning I found a second dead poult. But as I gently lifted Izzy up to her feet (I can barely believe she lets me do this), the remaining two came running out looking chipper and healthy. If they made it through that night, I feel hopeful they will make it in the long run.

Later still:

It’s been almost a week now and I have brought home 3 more poults, and lost 2 more. We seem to be leveling out at 3 healthy babies. It’s been hard to be sure, although I try hard to be a tough chick myself. But those mama tears just keep escaping each time I remove another limp baby.

But of course, no one said being a farm girl was easy….

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A perfect evening I almost missed.

I was on my way to the bath, 2 fingers of single malt scotch over 2 cubes of ice, tinkling in my hand. I was behind the Lyme curtain, in a haze of achy joints and muscles, exhausted from just making it through another day of mommyhood and farm life. All I could think of was BATH. ACETAMINOPHEN. SCOTCH. But I looked back…. and saw…. Randy, who was also exhausted from a hard day of work, still in his BLM uniform, unshowered, running hot water in the sink to tackle 24 hrs worth of dishes… then feed the animals… and then cook dinner… while keeping an eye on Isla. All while I was in the tub. Crap. I may be in a Lyme relapse, but that was just plain unfair.

“How about if I feed the animals first honey?” He turned towards me with gratefulness in his eyes. Gratefulness. Not resentment. Not sarcasm. Not anger. That is this man I married. “That would be great,” he smiled. “Thanks.”

And that was how my perfect evening began.

I truly thought I was still going to the bath, but before I knew it, Isla and I were filling water tubes and petting the goaties and counting eggs into the basket. For the first time I let Isla scoop out the grain rations herself and mix them in the big red bowl. I have been working hard on this – resisting the urge to be a helicopter mom. And I fought the urge then to look over my shoulder and instruct and micromanage. To my proud delight – I won my internal battle by busying myself tossing hay flakes to the goats. Then Isla filled chicken feed tubes and scattered scratch while I set things up for morning milking. We got lost collecting perfect turkey feathers that Thomas has been moulting – snow white with flat, black tips. I have an idea of selling them on EBay one day. We did our best to pet Noche, our one and only 2012 chick, but she is still rather skittish. (At least we hope she is a she.) Then we dropped the eggs off in the kitchen and I retrieved my scotch to follow Isla around the yard on her balance bike.

“Watch me Mama!” She careened around the garden fence with no chance of Mama catching her. That girl needs a pedal bike, I thought. Molly, the Pyrenees, did a much better job of keeping up than I. Randy had wandered out into the garden with our big metal harvest bowl to get some veggies for dinner. I stopped and we talked about our days while leaning on the fence. Isla yelled to me from behind the chicken coop, still waiting for me to watch her. (!!!) I walked slowly around the corner of our 3 Sisters patch and commented on 2 new winter squash fruits getting started on the edges. No telling what was happening in the middle – it was an absolute jungle of red flint corn, Taos Pueblo red beans, winter squash and amish pumpkins. The paths I had carefully raked in Spring, had disappeared in July. I’ll have to remember to give the plants a more generous spacing next summer. On the east run of fencing I leaned over and checked the Calypso beans. A few pods were dry. They were ready to begin harvesting. Isla adores shelling the colorful dried beans. And there is something so satisfying about digging your hands into a bowl of hard, cool, shiny, colorful beans – Ireland Creek Annie (greenish-white), Calypso (black and white) and the Taos red beans (brick red) – and hearing the shooshing and tinkling sounds as they bounce back into their ceramic bowl.

I rendezvoused back with Isla near the play set. We watched a large spider in it’s hole for a few minutes. I thought it might be a tarantula, but it was not. But we did coax it an inch or so out into the light. And then I offered to push my nugget on her swing. This may seem like a normal occurrence, but the truth is that it’s rare. Randy is the one who swings her in the evening when he comes home. I am too busy working around the farm or house in the days, or too tired in the evenings. I have never been one of those “make and do” sort of moms who has time for activities with my child. Isla and I spend our time together doing house or farm chores. She has her own broom and mop, her own tool belt with real tools, her own rake and shovel. When we muck out the coop, we do it together, filling her wheel barrow first and then mine. And in the rare moments I can read a mommy-farm blog, I savour in the fantasy of being like them – art and sewing projects, music time, general creativity. But I am not, sigh. That was why this moment was so very sweet and special.

We counted the swings together to 30 and then she pumped her legs and swung herself. Randy and I chatted more through the 7′ high sunflowers. Isabelle and Thomas flapped their prehistoric wings up to their roosts, and watched us from their bleachers, pink wattles wagging as they retained their balance. The Tommys alighted one after another, sidestepping closer to mom. Then Father sun dropped below the low western clouds and lit the landscape with a sudden shot of alpine glow. It was like a pink filter had been dropped over my eyes. I sat in the second swing and Isla slowed beside me. And for the next 15 minutes we watched the spectacular scene, side by side, as it changed from moment to moment, making sure we checked over our shoulders as well. The swatch of dusty rose tiptoed up the mountains at our backs, and launched off the top off Taos Mountain into lavender and powder blue. The setting sun said goodnight, leaving the horizon blazing in neon salmon, hot yellow, and smears of blueberry. A curtain of pale purple virga reached its fingers toward the parched desert land, but was intercepted by the low relative humidity, never realizing it’s distant goal. Too bad for our garden, but stunning to our eyes. A baker’s dozen of grackles flapped over our heads heading to their roost on the eastern hills. Thomas gobbled. Molly barked. Willie crowed. And in perfect synch, Jay Jay, the neighborhood’s donkey let loose a rusty, winding bray! The scent of grilling burgers reached my nose – burgers from the 1/4 cow we buy each year – local, organic and pasture raised. And grilling slabs of zucchini – I could smell them too. The color slowly faded from the sky, starting from behind us and retreating over our heads toward the west.

“Let’s go set the table Sweetpea.” This was Isla new responsibility, since the child proof lock had busted on the silverware drawer and she was cutting with sharp knives now anyway. She also decided to start filling all 3 of our water cups for meals as well. She can reach the water dispenser on the fridge and the enamel camping cups are pretty safe to carry. So what if I skate through a river of spilled water – she is learning and she feels valued and responsible. That’s what tile floors are for. Then we grabbed the flashlight and went back to the barn to put everyone to bed.

With Hazelnut in her new stall, and the kids busy chowing on the grain in theirs, Isla was able to give Bucky a big hug. As he is usually too rambunctious and nibbly, this was a very sweet moment. Bucky is soon to be our freezer goat and Isla knows we need to give him lots of love now, as we’ll be eating him this winter. Fiona, our doeling, is an easy snuggler, always gentle and willing, and she responded to her attention with the usual love in her brown eyes. Then together we counted the chickens through the coop window and latched their coop door and fence door. We said goodnight to the turkeys as we passed quickly beneath them, reaching high to touch each one lightly on his or her tail or breast. Then we headed back to the house, hand in hand in the darkening twilight.

As I paused to drink in the night, count the stars and heft my daughter to my hip, I thought, “This was such a perfect night. Sure, hot baths are great too, but this was…… PERFECTION.”

And to think that I had almost missed it.

August garden

Isabelle with a Tommy under each wing facing opposite directions

Another spectacular high desert sunset from our farm

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For my 50th birthday, I got a new pair of telemark ski boots from my husband! And generous birthday checks from my dad and in-laws. And I might be getting some financial help from a certain little brother towards the purchase of a compound bow. I organized a 3 day raft trip for my family and a handful of friends and ate my favorite flourless chocolate cake, complete with candles, on the banks of the river. All for my celebration of turning half a century.

And I also got a relapse of my Chronic Lyme Disease. I don’t remember asking for THAT gift…. Or did I?

It’s easy to see how I “set myself up” in hindsight, but very difficult to push away denial in the moment as the freight train is barreling through the mountain pass. The freight train I speak of would be my life and the mountain pass all the distractions in it’s path. I can look back now, as I groan from the deep aching pains in my muscles and joints, and see how I created my own perfect storm.

Yup…. It really started with Spring…. or maybe even late winter when the construction of the pole barn for the goats began… Those were fun and exciting days, but also stressful, as we had a deadline of when the goats were arriving. Stress is a killer for those of us with CLD (Chronic Lyme Disease). Six consecutive weekends of work parties with supportive friends completed our barn raising. I was either with the boys slinging my hammer, or in the house with Isla preparing a mid day feast for the crowd. I was also the project boss – in charge of design and being sure the materials were all on hand for the day of work. It was exhilarating to watch MY barn slowly raise up from the snowy ground… but stressful and exhausting too.

Then came the goats and my goat-owner-trial-by-fire began. Intense! This was all MY thing, a long time dream of mine. Randy did not want the goats. I struggled alone through fear and worry as I taught myself to milk the mama, bottle feed 2 kids, and keep them happy and safe.

Next was garden time. This began with the planting of indoor starters, tilling and raking beds in prep for planting the garden, and a new garden addition that was around 400 to 500 square feet. In our horrific soil we have to hand spade the ground first to break it, then till in 2 directions, then rake out rocks, then add whatever supplement of compost we have, then till a third time, then rake the soil into raised beds creating the paths, then plant, and THEN set up the drip irrigation! Oh, I forgot fencing. Randy handled the new fencing and 3/4 of the spading, but I did the rest. And that was just plain STUPID. I do enjoy pushing myself hard when my health is holding, but this was idiotic. I overdid it for many weekends in a row, as well as weekdays when I had the energy. While I was wrestling with the tiller in the garden addition, Randy planted ALL of the massive garden single handedly. Then I planted the addition. And I think that was when my Borrelia burgdorferi began to yawn, stretch and rub it’s sleepy eyes.

In the midst of the garden work the chicken coop was moved beside the barn with the help of 8 strong hands, and fencing was placed around it to separate goats and chickens. Soon after I found a pair of Royal Palm turkeys for trade and brought them home. Not a lot of stress and physical labor getting the dog house moved into the goat pen for the turkeys and getting them established. But certainly some.

But then the poultry drama really began. I brought home a borrowed broody bird and settled her into the broody house on top of 5 of our eggs and 18 expensive, rare breed, bought eggs. While she set on her clutch, the turkey hen went broody and began to set on a total of 18 eggs. 3 of our 5 chicken eggs hatched and a big ZERO of the 18 bought eggs. So I hustled around to two different feed stores and brought home 14 babies to tuck under the mama’s wing. After the addition of 17 chicks to our flock, the 3 chick deaths were sad, but not unexpected. But the gray fox that managed to get into the pen and kill 14 chicks and the mom – now that laid a MASSIVE emotional burden on my shoulders. And the Lyme spirochetes, hiding deep in the cells of my draining body, were on alert – they knew a chance may be coming soon for them to pounce once more.

Grief and Guilt drove me to long hours of further wrapping of the pen, securing it from all angles and heights. And creating a pen around the poultry nursery to keep goat kids from jumping off the roofs of the broody houses. Turkey poults hatched, but only five. Two of the five died leaving us with three. I was sad and disappointed. A second broody bird was borrowed and brought home to sit on top of 12 of our eggs. Meanwhile a woman in WI supposedly put 20 or so of her rare breed eggs into her incubator for me. The plan was to ship us the day old chicks who’s age would be within a day or two of the chicks hatched on our farm. But only ONE of our 12 eggs hatched and the woman in WI never put the eggs in her incubator. And she never bothered to tell me!

My plan was to double my flock this year introducing some rare breeds who laid dark chocolate brown eggs, more Americaunas (the blue-green egg layers), and some white eggs layers. AND a batch of turkey poults to sell for Thanksgiving dinners. One turkey hen will go back to the original owners of the turkey pair as agreed, one hen we would like to keep for breeding, and one turkey would be for our table. But we still don’t know the sexes. Doubtful we’ll be making any money there however, unless they are all toms. And as for doubling my chicken flock – Ha! From all the stress, loss, efforts and money invested, we end up with ONE CHICK. The joke between Randy and I is that it will probably grow up to be a rooster. However, we have LOST 2 laying hens this year to natural deaths (non-predator related), so it’s not looking good for an increase in egg production on our farm. As I write all this down, I realize I have not given the year’s poultry stresses enough weight in the Lyme equation. I think the cumulation has contributed a great deal towards this current relapse.

A year and a half ago, Randy asked what I wanted to do for my 50th birthday. Without hesitation, I said, “A raft trip down the Chama River with all my friends!” It sounded like the perfect birthday celebration! We got our permit application into the lottery in time, and were drawn for the requested weekend. The trip was on. I am the planner/organizer of the family and I LOVE doing it! All the projects and undertakings mentioned above were at my urging and pushing. Randy is garden boss, I am animal boss. And of course there is overlap. But when it comes to overall farm planning, I am self-proclaimed boss of all. (That was why I ended up doing the majority of the garden addition. It was MY idea.) Plus, when I was pregnant with Isla, it was agreed: We would buy land, create a little urban homestead, and I would run the farm and raise our daughter at home. And 3 years later, here I find myself, running our farm and raising our daughter, living the life I dreamed of. But if this career is going to work for me, I am going to have to learn to live without having ALL of my goals and dreams manifested over night.

But back to the river. The time was finally upon us and my Big 5-0 loomed in the very near future. Invites were sent out several months in advance, gear organized, menus planned and shuttles arranged. 3 weeks before launch, one family of 3 bailed. I was sad as I was looking forward to getting to know them better. We have a lot of interests in common and their daughter is only 5 months older than ours. The day before launch, my dear friend and her family of 4 had to bail as her 16 yr old was horribly ill. I was extremely sad they were canceling. I had been so looking forward to initiating them into the rafting life style and sharing this part of my life and passion with them all.

In the week leading up to launch, there seemed to be no end to the last minutes projects that needed to be completed before leaving. The turkey poults were passing easily through the chain link nursery fence, leaving their distressed mother behind. And one even continued right through the stucco netting of the goat pen out into the free world! That would NOT do! So the nursery chain link needed to be wrapped with smaller holed poultry netting and wired on. The drip irrigation needed to be finished on the garden addition and re-routed to become a 4th irrigation zone on it’s own. The garden needed harvesting and the access processed and in the freezer (a MASSIVE job). Weeding needed to be done and squash bugs had to be picked off by hand before they devastated our crop. River gear needed going through, the menu planned and bought for, and all group gear packed. Then our personal gear needed packing. THEN the house needed to be cleaned for the house sitter, and my house sitter novella edited for goats and turkeys.

It then occurred to me this was the first time we had left the farm since getting the goats and the turkeys! No WONDER I was feeling such panic and stress! I was leaving my newest babies in the care of another for 4 days. Any number of horrors could befall them in that short interval.

Three days before launch I felt the fear swirling into the dark depth of my chest. Using good judgement, I paid a friend to come help me with Isla and processing the harvest. Then again to clean the house. And I also commandeered another friend to help out over the final 2 days with whatever needed doing. The night before our final prep day there was no more denying it. I KNEW I was in trouble. I could feel the deep aching in my body, sensed the depression flooding in extinguishing all my internal fire, and a depth of exhaustion that was frightenly familiar. The warning bells began to ring. LOUDLY.

But what could I do then? I persevered… I couldn’t bail on my own trip! I busted my ass for the final prep and pack day and we drove away from the farm that evening, my heart aching with fear, my body aching from the attacking spirochetes. We spent the night in a cabin at the launch site and the next morning was more ass busting of rigging rafts, re-packing gear, and packing it all on the rafts. As the organizer I was feeling completely overwhelmed and (dare I say it?) honestly, so very relieved that 2 families had bailed and we were down to only 10. If our poor 16 yr old baby-sitter had not gotten deathly ill, causing her whole family to stay home, I would have been rowing an additional raft myself WHILE taking care of my 3 yr old and the group! I do not know if I could have done it in the state of decline I was already in.

And then on the river…. the blessed river…. which is usually my place to relax and recharge. Randy brought to my appalled attention that this was my first time organizing and being the “leader” of a group raft trip of more than 4 people. What? How could that be? Really? And we had started the trip with 17! Yet one more reason for my emotional and physical overwhelm and exhaustion. I was a wreck internally, while doing my best not to show it externally. Unfortunately for my family, Randy and Isla saw plenty of my wretchedness as my crankiness spilled out sideways in their directions. And it rained, and rained, and rained on the trip. It was the wettest Chama trip I remember in my history of 7 trips down. Isla was needy and difficult, certainly reacting to my own neediness and stress. And I was exhausted and concerned about everything running smoothly. It was hard. I was so relieved to discover that everyone else had had a great time, despite the rain! But the bummer for me was that this trip was my birthday trip and I did NOT have a good time. Because I was completely wasted and taking a full face plant into my current relapse of Lyme.

Lyme sucks. There is no other way to say it. One of the hardest things is that you look fine on the surface, so you just appear to be a lazy, cranky, complaining human suffering hypochondriac delusions. Being a person who thrives with goals and projects to constantly be working on, it hits me where it hurts most. It dumps a big bucket of river water on all my fiery passion. I drops me into depression and apathy. I was so down after we returned from the river that I didn’t even want to check if any chicks had hatched. That says a lot.

Many people ask “How do you feel?” or “How do your symptoms manifest?” Well, I know it is a bit different for each individual, but for me, the main one is pain. I am used to living with a mild level of chronic pain that never really goes away. But in a relapse the pain is much more intense. It reminds me of the pain that accompanies a very bad flu bug – body aches that leave you writhing and moaning in bed sort of pain. Pain in the muscles, pain in the joints. Arthritic symptoms that are mild in the good times become claw shaped hands in the morning with a relapse. Thank God Randy has taken over morning milkings because my hands hurt so badly in the morning that I am not sure I could do it. Before this relapse I sometimes had to rub my hands under hot water before heading to the barn with the milk pail. I’ll find out in a couple days what lengths I have to go to now, as Randy leaves town Fri for an over night backpacking trip.

Brain fog is a large symptom. My neurological symptoms have always been tough for me. Word choice can be very difficult when speaking. Sometimes I can not finish a sentence, as I stop to work out the next word and then forget what the sentence and thought was about. I walk into a room and can’t remember what the reason was. I can not remember to call people back or return emails. I can’t remember what I am supposed to do. I often forget simple things like brushing my and Isla’s teeth in the morning, or brushing our hair. I feel like I am walking through a thick fog, a dream, a surreal land. Sometimes I hear my own voice as though it’s far away or another person speaking. I can have a thought but can not voice it. Writing can be quite entertaining at times when I go back to edit. There are typos and entire words that aren’t even CLOSE to what I meant to have in their places.

Depression sets in leaving me numb, unmotivated, and apathetic. I feel shame and have a strong sense of self-loathing. I feel like I am a bad person – a bad mother, a bad wife, and bad friend. I feel so dependent and needy that it disgusts me. I feel like a pathetic burden on my friends and husband. I want to isolate and suffer in solitude where I won’t effect anyone else. I want to push people away so they can’t see me like this. Even people close to me. I am dreadfully emotional. I want to crawl into a cave and sob for eternity.

And the exhaustion can be so intense that I can not get out of bed. My kid begs me to get up and I am not sure how to do it. I sit in a filthy house and can’t imagine how I will ever get it clean and organized again. I know I need to do at least SOME work at home but there are days I simply can’t. Nothing.

Fortunately I am describing the worst case scenario days, and they are not all this bad. But I cycle in and out, up and down. Yesterday was a great day! My dearest mama friend and her entire family came over for the day. While her husband worked me over on his massage table for 2 solid hours, my friend took our 3 collective kiddos out to the garden and harvested for an hour or so, then came inside and start dealing with harvest as well as making lunch for us all, and doing the dishes in her wake. They were saviors. I was overflowing with love when they left and felt so very hopeful again. I was able to get a lot done, even after they left!

But today I am paying the piper for too much fun yesterday. I am back at the bottom – not quite in the dregs yet, but hovering only a bit above. The house looks like a cyclone hit it. And I just don’t care.

The other side of Lyme is the Tough Love Teacher. It always has something to teach me, whether I am interested in learning it or not. What I am learning through this relapse is gratitude, forgiveness, humility, gentleness. I am learning to love myself and take this one day at a time. I am learning that no one will die if they have to live in a house that is filthier that the goat barn. I am learning that my husband can actually enjoy milking our goat at 5:30AM! I am learning to stop, breath, feel grateful for all I have – grateful for the water I am drinking, the food I eat from our garden, the fresh milk I make my kefir with. I am learning to reach out to the higher power of my choosing and ask for help, strength, support and guidance on my healing path. I am learning that my friends and community love me and are there for me. I am overwhelmed with the offers of help, the prayers sent, the love poured upon me. I am learning to open my heart and receive these gifts, which is a damn hard thing for a self-sufficient, stubborn, fiery, Scot-Irish girl like myself. I am forgiving myself. I am drinking slow pots of tea. Lots of them. On the porch. While the weeds grow in the garden like Little Shop of Horrors.

OK Lyme Disease – you’ve got me again. But I will do my damnedest to stay afloat and see my glass half full. I open my heart and  embrace your lessons and choose to see this relapse as an opportunity.

An opportunity to learn, heal, and grow.

PS: Good news! I stared this post about a week ago and it has taken some time and energy to edit. But during this editing, I have seen a marked improvement in my energy with a dramatic decrease in my pain. It would appear the protocol I set out for myself is working. I feel very hopeful that I have caught this crash in time. Perhaps I won’t plummet ALL the way down this time around. Keep your fingers crossed for me…..

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Being the animal boss of the farm is a hard job. It’s not only the physical aspect of it, and the logistics, and the nights and days spent worrying… but the inevitable attrition of the animals. I am not talking about “culling” the mean roosters for the freezer. I mean death by unknown causes or predators. Last year, in 3 separate attacks, we lost 2 mama hens and 4 out of 6 chicks, as well as a laying hen, to unknown predators. This year we’ve lost Gertie, the flock Matriarch, and Jackie, one of our sweet Americanas who I nursed back to health as a chick with dropperfuls of milk. I never knew the exact cause of either death but Isla and I respectfully buried their bodies in the frosty adobe soil. But the worst of all was just last week. We lost another mama hen with 14 chicks!!! Only one chick remained, hidden under the feeder tray overhanging a brick in the broody house. I discovered the piles of feathers blowing in the dawn breeze when I went out to milk. My heart sank. I KNEW what I would find. I went numb, my heart rate and breathing lowered – a sort of shock I think. I did not even go to the broody house. I went first to open the main coop, then checked on Isabelle, our setting turkey hen. Then, slowly, with tremendous dread, I opened the broody house. Feathers. An overturned water bottle. I could feel the fear and bedlam oozing out of the door. My heart clenched tight. My numbness deepened.

I switched on the autopilot. Then I milked Hazelnut, fed and watered chickens, goats and turkeys, and I began a detailed search of the surroundings, just in case a chick had escaped. And then I heard it…. the little tiny peep of a 5 day old chick. I looked under, between, around, and finally back inside. And there it was. The one remaining Marans chick out of the family of 14 plus mama. I scooped it up and tucked it into the neck of my fleece jacket. It was a chilly morning in late spring and the little peep shivered and shook against my chest. I grabbed the pail and walked slowly to the house.

Randy was at the computer sipping a mug of steaming coffee. He knew immediately something was wrong. “They’re gone. They are all gone. Except for this one…” His mouth dropped open and his face turned pale. I held the little peep in my hands, then took off my cashmere hat and tucked her deep in the warmth of it’s darkness. The peeping stopped. Randy took me in his strong arms and my tears began. My body shook silently against his for a long time. I thought of the terror all those chicks, and the mama, had faced before their death. I wondered what had done it. And I blamed myself fiercely. The mama was a borrowed broody Americana from a friend. We named her Inky as she was our Incubator. And she was the coolest, sweetest chicken I had ever had the honor to have known. She would fly up to my shoulder, and even onto the top of my sun hat once. When I held her she relaxed into my embrace and lay her head on my arm. She was genuinely the coolest bird ever. After falling in love, I officially traded her by buying my friend 3 little peeps to add to her new batch.

And now she was gone.

While Randy held my hat with the traumatized chick, I scoured the dust around the pen in the rising sun. There. And there. Definitely not our Pyrenees. Not a skunk. Not a weasel. Too round for a coyote. It looks like… a large… cat. Do we have bobcats in this urban neighborhood? I doubted it. I pulled Randy out for a look, and took pictures, and then thumbed through our tracking books. There it was – Gray fox. “Looks like the tracks of a large cat but with obvious claw marks.” Yep. Mr Fox. I had never seen a fox here. Plenty of coyotes, but never a fox. 5 days later our suspicion was confirmed as I had the “pleasure” of chasing Mr. Fox off in my pajamas. He had come back to the barnyard cafeteria for seconds. And he was small and beautiful and very fast.

This summer has been a complicated chicken summer. My business plan is to double my flock, adding in laying hens of dark chocolate brown eggs (Marans and Penedenscas), a few more blue-green layers (Americanas mainly) and some white layers (Andalusians). I already have plenty of tan and light brown, and with two of my three hen deaths this spring being Americanas, the blue eggs are getting thin. I figured with the addition of 1 turkey egg per dozen (off white with milk coffee spots), a colorful spread like that would make my cartons really stand out in people’s mind. Plus, being free range, foraging and organic birds, my yolks are orange, dense and delicious. The sale of eggs don’t exactly cover costs, but it sure helps. So I had done my research and found my hatchery for incubation eggs. When my friend announced a broody bird at her coop, I ordered 18 expensive very rare eggs and brought Inky over.

To give the mama something to do, I put her on 5 of my own flock’s eggs. The shipped eggs were suppose to arrive in 2-3 days. It took 5 days instead which made the timing tricky between my eggs and the shipped ones. They were technically 5 days off their hatching dates. At 21 days, sure as clockwork, the first little peep cracked a wee window through it’s shell and into the big new world. And for the first time ever, I was there to see it! It struggled mightily to push through, and being the type A person I am, I helped it by splitting the egg just a tiny bit for it to wriggle out. Within 20 minutes it was a fluffy black ball with a blonde head spot and utterly adorable. 2 more hatched in the next 24 hrs from my eggs, but I could see Inky was loosing patience with the remaining eggs. $130 worth of eggs. She kept pushing out the dark brown ones and pulling in the tan and blue ones. I guess they were just too foreign for her. I called feed stores near by and found one with Rhode Island Reds and Americanas, both 2 days old. So I zipped over and returned with 2 of each. Inky barely blinked as I lifted her multicolored wing and slipped the chicks under, one by one. And she was quite content with 7.

Inky with her first wee peep hatched from our egg.

But I wasn’t. 5 days after the first little fluffernugget emerged was the next hatch date, and nothing happened. I did in fact find a fully developed chick in it’s crushed shell, quite dead and covered with wood shavings from the bedding. I think Inky may have been too distracted to realize what was going on under her with 7 wigglers already there beneath and quite active. Isla and I carefully cracked open the remaining eggs to find only one other partially formed chick, and a bunch of reeking, rotten ones. From the 18 shipped eggs, only 2 had been fertile and neither had lived.

I was angry, and determined to meet my goal in as much as I could. I drove an hour to another feed store who actually had Marans, and returned with 5 Marans, 2 California whites, 2 Speckled Sussex, and 1 Black Astralorp. As I unloaded the chicks one by one into Inky’s box, I discovered one of the Marans was very small and had deformed feet. She wobbled uncertainly, her eyes half mast. I did not expect her to survive, and she didn’t. But what I didn’t expect was to find both Speckled Sussexes stiff in the wood shavings with their heads eaten off. There are definitely aspects of chickens that I prefer to ignore and cannibalism is one of them. Why the Speckled Sussexes? I will never know. And now Inky was down to 14 chicks. It was manageable.

It was the day after that when all the chicks made it out of the box with mama. I admit I helped the smallest, even though I swore I wouldn’t. But it was hard for Inky to have 9 outside scratching and pecking under the sage brush with her, while 5 cheeped pitifully from inside. Isla and I both got sunburned sitting mesmerized in the dirt as 14 little chicks cruised around us, over us, and through us, exploring their new world. It was an idyllic, delightful hour.

And the very next day – they were gone.

With red rimmed eyes, I contacted my friend, knowing she had the peeps I had just dropped off with her a few days prior, and drove over with the sole survivor still tucked into my hat. It was 6:45AM. I was still crying. And I cried more in Heather’s pajama-ed embrace. I felt physically ill. Nauseous. Why hadn’t I finished wrapping the stock panels in stucco netting? Well, I know why. Because being a farm manager and mom of a 3 yr old, I have a list of to do projects that would keep 3 people busy full time. But that didn’t keep the proverbial 2×4 from continuing to bash down on my head. Not only was there the loss of life, the loss of an awesome hen, the loss of those fluffy little nuggets, the loss of the $130 worth of eggs, and the loss of 21 days plus of waiting, but there was also the loss of my business plan.

I took out my anger on the egg company and they offered to reship the same order to me for just the cost of shipping. Some consolation at least, but my Inky-Incubator was gone. I had no time to hand raise chicks. I researched Marans chicks for sale on the web and found only one small mom and pop farm who had all the breeds I wanted. They would have to hatch to order. And it was incredibly impossible to catch the woman on the phone as she worked constantly and the chickens were just her side hobby. But finally we connected and agreed on the order, which due to the probability of hatchings, is vague. But she placed the desired eggs in the incubator for me last monday with a verbal commitment. It is going to be expensive. AND she wants me to agree to overnight shipping so she worries less about her babies. The next day, Tues, Heather told me she was pretty sure another of her birds had gone broody – a Buff Orpington. Did I want to borrow her and try again? Sigh. Weds it was confirmed – she was in the zone. And Weds evening I brought home The Golden Girl and plopped her in the broody box on top of 12 of our eggs. The timing for the shipment of day old chicks from Wisconsin would be only a day off. Hopefully Goldie would go for the adoption idea as easily as Inky did. And the ages of the chicks would be closer.

So this morning I stumble out the door at 5:30AM with milking pail in hand, aware of an unusual ruckus coming from the coop. But I knew the chickens were closed up tight and safe so I didn’t worry. I tossed a flake of hay over the fence to the goats, wiping the alfalfa dust from my bleary eyes. I scooped out the grain rations into the red enamel bowl and balanced it on top of the gate post. I took the pail through the gate and hung it on the branch stub on the post in the pole barn. I pushed through the 2nd gate to the coop pen and opened the coop door. Birds piled out blinking in the rosy light. I tossed scratch on the ground, filled the layer mash tube, petted Little Willie, and hefted the water tube noting it needed filling. I shuffled sleepily back out of the chicken pen, inadvertently releasing one of my wildest Barred Rocks, Checkers, into the goat pen. Sigh. 10 minutes later I had her back on her side of the fence and I went to open Isabelle’s door. Isabelle is our Royal Palm turkey hen who has been sitting on 18 eggs for longer than I anticipated. Yesterday one fuzzy yellow poult finally appeared. I am still waiting for more. I petted Thomas, her mate, and went to check on G.G..

WTF? She was gone! The box was empty! She was NOWHERE. I took a few deep breaths to made my brain work again.

We had turned the pen into Fort Knox over the weekend since the tragedy had occurred. It would have been close to impossible for a predator to get her now. The pen currently consists of 52″ stock panels, wrapped in 36″ of 17 gauge stucco netting (NEVER use 20 gauge poultry netting – it is a joke), and 18″ of horse fencing both buried in the ground and attached to the top of the stock panels. PLUS the turkey/chicken broody nursery is enclosed with dog kennel panels within the goat pen – it’s own inner sanctum. I looked in the sage brush within the kennel and even looked in the depths of Isabelle’s house, receiving a warning hiss in my face. Where was the freakin’ chicken?? The only thing I could imagine is that she had managed to fly over the 5′ fence into the adjoining free range chicken pen. Which would mean she would be hiding under the massive clump of sage brush where all the chickens hang during the day. Ahhh.. I remembered that ruckus earlier and the mystery unfolded in my head. So she managed to fly over into the free range pen, then followed the flock back into the coop pen, and then into the coop to roost. AND she managed to escape the night time head count before the door was bolted shut on the coop. This morning, as the chickens jumped down off their perches in anticipation of release, the pecking order was being re-established due to the new member. Hence the noise. Sneaky little mama. Smart little mama. But would she go back into the broody zone?

I milked Hazelnut and finished the feeding and watering chores. I strained the milk and plopped the jars into their ice bath. Then I took a deep breath, donned my sun hat, and headed out to the free range pen. I found G.G. quickly. She was one of the few who did not come out of the brush when I set down a bowl of cheese whey for the flock. I squatted and talked sweetly to her through the scratchy dead sage branches. I did a little courtship dance around the clump of brush, hoping to lure her out. I kneeled down and asked politely. And finally I started pushing myself sun hat first into the brush on hands and knees. Of course G.G. just walked out the opposite side leaving me ensnared and sweating. After a few of these episodes into various sage brush thickets, I herded her into the coop pen. Now I had to climb over the fence as I could not fit through the chicken hole. Interesting. Once in the smaller pen, I had a slightly better chance. After 5 or so minutes I was able to get her cornered, and secured, and then back in the broody house with the doorway blocked off with an extra queen excluder from my hive. She showed no interest in the clutch of eggs. I left her to walk our Pyrenees and returned to the house and a fussy, just woken up 3 yr old.

Later in the day, Goldie was sitting beside the eggs but not on them. Come on girl – give it a little broody try, eh? At last glance she was obliging. I shoved 2 stray eggs under her and let her be. In 21 days I will tell the rest of the tale: Did she stay broody? How many of my eggs hatched? What chick breeds did I end up getting in the mail? How many will be roosters? Will G.G. adopt them? How many laying hens will I end up with at the end of this ridiculous goose chase? Will I be able to get the new coop addition onto the pole barn before winter? How many turkey poults will hatch? How many more poultry deaths will there be this year?

And will my first dark brown egg, some time next winter, taste like….

chocolate?

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It begins with a back massage and a little acupressure for those trigger points…. a long massage… very LONG…. possibly 3 minutes. The hen crouches motionless under the massive weight of her 30 lb masseur. No feathers are flying, this is not the violent rape of a rooster. After just the right amount of time, the tom’s talons become still and he slowly crouches down on his lady’s back, lowering his massive wings towards the ground in an avian embrace… and waits for her to give the word. The suspense builds, and then, without warning, she suddenly flips her 16″ tail up in the air, the tom wraps his tail around the side and under, and… SCORE! 10 POINTS!  I could set my watch to their punctuality. Every morning, just as I am heading back to the gate with the milking pail (wishing it was a little more full), the foreplay begins. Isla and I watch with rapt attention, determined to catch a glimpse of a “turkey weenie”. But so far I have only seen the deposit left at the bank as the door closes at the end of the business day.

I brought home our adult pair of Royal Palm turkeys in the back of my 4-Runner. Isabelle could barely turn in the medium sized dog carrier and Thomas strutted freely back and forth gobbling at the gawking drivers behind us. As we crept through the bottle neck of Plaza traffic, his gobble sounded like a PA system through the open windows, causing chiropractic mishaps to all the rubbernecking tourists. Isla sat mere inches in front of him in her car seat with her hands planted firmly over her ears for the entire drive home.

As Randy was at work (his paying job), the transfer of the turkeys would be on my own, while keeping my 3 yr old from melting down and my Pyrenees from having Thanksgiving dinner early. My initial shock at seeing their size (the internet said they were a small breed) had worn off by the time we arrived home and now my heart palpitations were all in response to the big question: How is the hell am I going to get them to the goat pen by myself?

First I got Isla out of her car seat, then we put our excitable Molly in the house to graze freely on the cat food while we were otherwise occupied. I wanted to release both birds into the goat pen simultaneously, so they would not stress about being alone. I carefully opened the hatch, stretched my arm inside, and caressed Thomas’ broad back, slipping my arm around him in a big bear hug. UGH. Gawd he was heavy! With the big boy wrapped in my arms I grabbed the handle of the dog carrier. This was certainly the world’s most awkward way to carry 40 lbs of potential dinner. Crap – the 1st gate. I slowly squatted, setting Isabelle’s carrier on the ground, opened the gate, and squatted once more to heft her back up. That’s when the top of the carrier parted from the bottom and Isabelle started to walk right out! AHHHH! Of course the excitement caused Thomas to start flapping and Isla to start crying. (A quick clarification here – Isabelle is a turkey, Isla is my daughter.)

I managed to push Isabelle back into the carrier while containing Thomas’ prehistoric wings and claws. Somewhere in the back of my brain I was aware I would have a bruise on the side of my face from the battering I had just received from his wings. It felt like wrestling with an out of control 747. Somehow I reattached the lid, and secured the hen inside once more, this time leaving her in the gravel by the car. I carried Thomas to the 2nd gate – the entrance to the goat pen and his future home. I had read that roosters and toms can fight to the death so I wanted the poultry intros to be over time. As I struggled to open the latch Thomas saw the goats and the goats saw Thomas. All hell broke loose! The goats ran away into their barn ma-ahing fearfully, and Thomas tried desperately to take to the sky! I now giggle at my fear of breaking his wings as I wrestled him down to the ground. It would take a front end loader to break a wing on a turkey tom! I could sense the stickiness of blood welling up on my belly from my growing list of battle wounds. But, I finally got him back in my arms and carried him in, shoving him into the commandeered dog house we claimed for their new home. We hoped the pair would eventually raise a veritable feast for us and our friends, so the boudoir felt important. A few deep breaths, and back for Isabelle. Once they were both introduced into their house, shown their food and water, I was ready for a stiff martini. At noon.

So far, life with turkeys has been very enjoyable. Royal Palms are an endangered, heritage breed that were developed by crossing Black, Bronze, Naragansette and native turkeys. They are slow growing, small (HA!), and considered the most beautiful of all the turkey breeds. They are good foragers, thrifty to keep, and an excellent choice for a small farm who wants “slow food”. We had been discussing raising turkeys for 2 years, and were feeling more serious about it this spring. But a few minutes on line reminded me of the brooding box phase and I knew I simply did not have the time and energy to raise poults (turkey chicks) by hand. If only I could buy some adult turkeys…. preferably Naragansettes. A few weeks later a good friend asked if I had seen the posting on the local Facebook Barter Bank page for the pr of turkeys. I quickly pulled up the page and posted a comment so I could be “in line”. I had one person ahead of me who was interested. Some quick research on Royal Palms gave me enough education to realize this was the perfect breed of turkey and the perfect arrangement! And the next day I got the news that I’d won the turkey lottery!

Since bringing them home, I have grown quiet found of Isabelle and Thomas. Thomas is a masterpiece of Nature – almost hideous on first glance with his bald, bumpy blue and white head, his wattle that resembles bright red intestines spilling down his neck, and a limp, red snood that drips over one side of his curved beak. But after a few hours, his beauty starts to emerge: that blue head is the color of the New Mexico summer sky, his red, the color of fresh blood. And as his mood changes, so do his colors. The red becomes a pale pinkish white and a few clouds come across his blue sky baldness. When very frightened (as in when I brought him home), his snood turns gray white and contracts up into a little cone that sticks out from the top of his beak. It is fascinating, and I haven’t even gotten to his feathers yet. He is snow white with a black end band on most of his feathers. When he deals out the hand of his magnificent tail in a full strut, it is a beautiful fan of black tips over white. He fluffs his body feathers, with his back feathers standing erect, and blows up his chest airbags with a thump. If he knew more about his frankenturkey cousins, the Butterballs, he might not make his chest look so delicious. Then he vibrates his body and airbags, creating a sound like distant thunder, and scrapes his wing tips noisily along the ground for emphasis. Over and over he displays in this way as if to say “Look at me! Aren’t I a handsome, fearsome beast?” Yes Thomas, you most certainly are. But when I herd him with open hands into the embrace of my arms, he cowards between my bent knees. His head and face change to white/gray and he turns away from me like a small boy away from a gushing, perfumed aunt. He squeaks out a small whimper that simply makes me want to snuggle him closer. All that boasting display of color and thunder, but inside is just this sweet, shy little boy.

Isabelle is 1/2 the size of her mate and just as sweet. She is pure white with pale pink bald head and wattle. In as much as Thomas is gaudy and flashing, she is demure and classy, waiting quietly to be noticed. She will let me stroke her gently without walking away, something Thomas won’t stand still for as it would affect his image. Although Thomas services Isabelle religiously each morning, and struts around her in his finest array waiting for her attention, Isabelle pines through the fence at Little Willie the rooster, pacing back and forth, whistling and pipping and cooing. Her windy whisperings of sweet nothings would make any man weak in the knees, regardless of the species. (Randy came in quite affected by it this morning.) This poultry love triangle is almost painful to watch. I would let the birds mingle unsegregated, as the turkeys both show a painful desire to be with the chickens, except for the risk of injury . Both Isabelle and Thomas have ended up on the chicken side of the tracks a few times and the result was not encouraging. Little Willie was bleeding profusely from his comb and wattle and Thomas lost a handful of chest feathers. When I caught Isabelle in the coop pen she and Willie were sparring and I am not sure where it would have gone without intervention. And the previous owners said Thomas had been mounting their chicken hens and being quite rough about it. We plan to fence in a large area (1/8 acre) for some pasturing for all the animals as soon as we can. I will let the group cruise together then while I shepherd them from a camping chair with a good book. We’ll see if they can all get along in a larger space filled with new and interesting distractions.

But for now we will chug along, dreaming of a nicer turkey roost, a turkey addition on the goat barn, a brood of little poults, and keep trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive “turkey weenie”.

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