Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In the Same Room: Death and Life

"Mom!  Look at that dog!"  A large, shaggy, anonymously-yellow dog lopes across the back of our property along the edge of the corn.  The hairs on my neck prickle as I began walking towards it thinking to shoo it on its way.  But it stops, smelling at the empty chicken coop.  My stomach clenches -the girls are out!

In a matter of seconds, the dog looks at me then sights a chicken and takes off at a full run.  Now I run, pursuing the dog as he runs after my girls, snapping and pulling out tail feathers.  The chickens squawk in terror, flap their wings and fly in all directions.


I began shrieking as I run.  Our son, dressed only in his striped pajama bottoms, stands on the back stoop and watches with fear.

"Robert!  Robert!"

I scream as loud as I can, but it feels like a dream where nothing comes out of my mouth and I don't make a sound.  It seems like forever before he responds, running from the house.  Robert, barefoot in a t-shirt and boxers, takes off after the dog with a "Roarrrr!" but it is too late.  The dog has Miss Rhode Island in his mouth and is running back in the direction he had come from.

"Get the other girls!  Get my gun!"  Robert shouts instructions as he runs after the dog.

I frantically run in the house, pushing past Evan.  "What are you going to do Mom, shoot it?"  "I don't know!  Get out of the way!"

 I locate his loaded Ruger and get back outside, but Robert, the dog and Miss Rhode Island are nowhere to be seen. 

I find Hattie hiding in the neighbors' juniper bushes.  She seems unharmed, but is unwilling to be coaxed out.  I leave her, figuring that if I can't reach her, the dog can't either.  I continue around the house calling, "Here chickie, chickie. Here chickie, chickie."  Dhalia and Daisy are safe on their roost.  I close the door to the coop and secure it.  My heart is races and my head and limbs vibrate from adrenaline. 

"Evan, put on some shoes and help me get Miss Hattie."

We poke and prod and reach into the junipers until Hattie emerges.  I inspect her, and finding no obvious wounds, place her in the coop with the others checking again that the latch is secure.

Robert returns winded and wheezing and doubles over to catch his breath.

"Did you see Miss Rhode Island?"

"The dog ran off with her."

"He dropped her in the neighbors' yard.  Her head was up when I ran past."

We begin searching for our wounded bird, now with flashlights as dusk is falling.  We find only occasional feathers.  "Here chickie, chickie.  Here Miss Rhode Island."  She appears out of nowhere in the grass where we have been searching and she has been hiding. She's like an apparition in the half-light.

"Stay back, Evan.  Don't go any farther, we don't want to scare her."

Robert approaches with care and scoops her up.  We bring her into the brightly lit kitchen to exam her and decide our next move.  The wound across her back is bloody, gaping - three inches in length.  It is hard to tell how deep it is, but we can see muscle and fat. 

My mind jumps into survival-mode.  I-can-fix-this-and-it-will-all-be-better mode.  I pull out our old issues of Backyard Poultry, then quickly put them aside, it is taking too much time to find the information I need.  I search Google for "dog bites on chicken."  We read some articles and then find that it is too late to go to Rural King to get the supplies we will need to do this on our own.

My next search is for "emergency vet Decatur."  I call the number and the man at the exchange tells me he does not think the local vets deal in birds, but he will have someone call me.  We wait and read some more articles on wound care.  "Did they think that was a prank call?  Why aren't they calling back?"  I run out of patience and call the exchange again.  They have my number wrong, but tell me that I will have to call the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

At the U of I emergency line and speak with Dr. McCann, the vet on call.  He advises that we should come in.  "Call back when you are a half hour out so that we can prepare for you."  I redress Evan then wrap up Miss Rhode Island in a towel and we load up for the hour-long drive to Urbana.

After-hours emergency vet care is performed in the large animal clinic.  Dr. McCann meet us in the parking lot with a question:  "I need to understand the nature of this chicken.  Is she a beloved pet or a laying hen?"

"That's a hard question.  She lays eggs for us, but she's also a pet.  Maybe somewhere in between?"  The way I cradle the chicken and stroke her neck probably give a better answer than I can with words.

We are ushered down wide hallways with bare concrete floors.  It smells of cows and horses, hay and manure and antiseptic.  Cows are lowing from one of the halls we pass.  There are holding pens, a cow inverter and multiple doors large enough for trailers to back up to and unload livestock.  It feels very surreal and much too large for our 6 pound girl.

Dr. McCann places Miss Rhode Island on an exam table and begins to clean her wound.  A veterinary student attempts to administer oxygen while speaking gently to her.  She flicks her head and turns aside, not liking the feel of the air at all.  Another student listens to her heart and lungs and takes her temperature. 

As he flushes more water over her back the doctor explains, "I'm looking for air bubbles that would indicate any pierced air sacks."

Another student enters.  "Doctor the doe in stalled labor is a half hour out."  "Okay, get set up and page Dr. Stewart."

"I don't generally work with small animals.  I would like to call over to the small animal clinic and see if there's another doctor to take a look."

Dr. Stewart arrives and gives some advice to Dr. McCann, then leaves to get some sedatives for our chicken.  "We'll make her more comfortable and help with her pain so that it will be easier to treat her."

With medications administered, Dr. Stewart returns to her preparations for the laboring goat.  To her student she says:  "I don't hold out much hope for a viable birth.  The doe has been in labor a long time, but she might surprise me."  All I can think about now is how I'm going to explain to my son not only this goat giving birth in the same room, but also the dead babies that she may deliver.

While we wait for the consulting vet I begin to prepare myself for the weeks of care ahead.  "How often should I change bandages?"  Every 2-3 days.  "How do you give oral medications to a chicken?  I've given them to cats, but chickens?"  Inject them into meal worms or wax worms.  "Should I use a triple antibiotic ointment?" Yes.

Activity picks up as a very pregnant goat is wheeled in on a cart, her worried owners in tow.  The vet and students gently off-load the animal onto a rubberized mat in the holding pen next to us.  Immediately, Dr. Stewart sets to work prepping the doe for delivery and questioning the owners about her labor.

The small animal vet arrives in the flurry of people now in the exam room.  She is sympathetic to Miss Rhode Island and speaks kindly to her while getting Dr. McCann's assessment.  To us she says: "I'm going to exam her as well and then we can discuss whether or not to suture the wound or allow it to heal by second intention."  She listens to the chicken's heart and air sacks, then begins to probe the wound site.

The goat is moaning as Dr. Stewart grips the first kid's feet firmly and twists it back and forth.  Very quickly it seems the baby slips from its mother and is handed of to a student who waits with a towel.  "Is it breathing?  Is it alive?"  The owner is asking what we are all thinking.  The student vigorously rubs the kid and suctions his nostrils and mouth.  The kid bleats weakly and wiggles a bit.  We all sigh in relief and laugh a bit at his cuteness grateful for a break in the tension.  At least one is alive.  Dr. Stewart smiles and begins to work on the next kid.

"This doesn't look good."  I turn back to the vet.  "Her skin has separated from the muscle far past the wound.  I can reach my finger up way under the skin and hook my finger around her shoulder."  "What does that mean?"  "Well, it's a deep pocket.  You can try to heal it at home, but it will take more intense care to keep an abscess from forming and infecting the wing joint.  It will be a lot longer healing process."  The wind is out of the sails.  Thoughts of where I might obtain a dog kennel at midnight on Sunday vanish.  This is way more than I bargained for.

"Can we have some time to talk?"  "Sure, take all the time you need, we can wait here with the bird.  If you decide to treat the wound we will give you as much instruction as we can as well as antibiotics and pain medication.  Take all the time you need."

For the first time since arriving, Robert, Evan and I step away from the table.  "I don't know that I can care for a wound this serious.  I think it's beyond me."  Robert nods, the muscles in his jaw working as he clenches his teeth.  He answers: "I know what we need to do.  Why is it so hard to do it?"  I hold his bicep with one hand and slip my other around his waist.  "I don't want to torture her.  I'm afraid that if I try to treat it she will be worse off.  This is beyond me."

I kneel down to explain to Evan what is happening.  "Miss Rhode Island is hurt too bad for us to fix.  We can't make her better.  The doctor is going to give her some medicine to help her go to sleep.  It will stop her heart and she will die."  "Will she wake up?" "No, honey.  She will be dead, but she won't hurt anymore.  Do you understand?"  He nods as his lip quivers.  I pull him close, whisper how much I love him and how sorry I am.

"We may have to do a cesarean to get the next one out.  It keeps slipping back in."  "Will she be able to kid again?"  "Maybe, it's tricky with goats."

Dr. Stewart is holding on to two tiny hooves.  A stream of blood and water flows across the floor and under the exam table that Miss Rhode Island rests on.

In the same room: death and life.

I tell the waiting vets, "This is more than I can care for.  We're going to have to put her down."  I can barely get the words out before tears and tight throat takes over.  I have held it together through dog chase and flying feathers and gash and car ride, but now it is too much.  "It really is the best thing for her."  The doctors are kind and reassuring.  "We will prepare the drugs and some paperwork for you to sign.  Take as much time with her as you need."

We pet our chicken and whisper softly to her as she lies sleepy from pain medicine and wet from the water used to flush her wounds.  She shivers a bit and I cover her with the towel she is laying on.

Behind us the second kid is born.  She is floppy as if her limbs are filled with jello rather than bone.  The students take over suctioning, rubbing, drying, stimulating.  She needs more encouragement than her brother, but she has made it.

The doctor returns with a form to sign.  "We'll take the body.  I want to bury her at home."  I look to Robert.  He nods.  When the time comes, Robert takes Evan to wait outside.  Miss Rhode Island is given more sedation and then, finally, a barbiturate that stops her heart.

I will not say that she went peacefully.  If you've ever seen death you'll know that's a lie, a dressing up of the truth.  She is no longer in pain or in danger of greater pain at my well-meaning, but inadequate efforts to rehabilitate her.

I wrap my chicken back up in the towel I brought her in.  We thank the doctors for their compassion and kindness to us.  And I stop one last time to admire the baby goats.

"Congratulations on your babies.  I'm so glad that they made it."

"Thank you.  We're so sorry for your loss."

In Loving Memory of Miss Rhode Island 3/2010 - 6/2014


In Appreciation of the Compassionate and Competent Doctors and Students at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homemade Chicken Stock

With preparations for Thanksgiving dinner getting underway, I am making a batch of chicken stock.  Several of the recipes that I am making for Thanksgiving call for chicken stock or chicken broth.  I have been making my own stock since we began raising our own meat chickens.  I view it as a way of "honoring the sacrifice of the bird" by using all the usable parts.  I don't adhere to a strict recipe, so each batch is unique. 

A rough breakdown of the ingredients are as follows:

2 chicken carcasses  We throw all the bones from a chicken in a gallon ziplock bag after the meal and freeze it until stock time.
2 sets of chicken organs and 2 necks  We freeze these when the chickens are butchered so that I can just grab a bag out of the deep freeze.
4 chicken feet  Two chickens equals four feet.  The feet are high in collagen and great for stock.
3-4 carrots, thickly sliced
3-4 celery stalks, thickly sliced
1 medium to large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme
4-6 sage leaves
1 Tablespoon peppercorns

Throw all the ingredients in a large pot and cover completely with water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the temperature down to low, cover, and simmer for 2-3 hours.  I usually add water periodically as it evaporates. 


After it cooks, strain out the solids and discard.  I use a slotted spoon.  Then pour the stock through a fine mesh sieve and you are ready to go!  I usually don't need all of the stock at once so I have taken to freezing it in ice cube trays, then I pop out the cubes and put them in a freezer bag for future use.  Sometimes I only need a half a cup and it's easy just to grab out a few cubes.  Each ice cube is approximately 2 tablespoons, so 8 cubes makes a cup. 

Our family has really enjoyed the flavor of homemade chicken stock.  It is much richer than the broth that I used to buy.  I love that I know exactly what goes into it. It is wonderful to make something delicious out of bits of chicken I would have at one time dismissed and discarded!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Preparing for Winter

As I was preparing my bee colonies for winter I realized that I am doing the same things around my home that they are doing at their hives.

1.  Feeding and Food Storage.  I have been putting a 2:1 sugar water drink on the hives for the bees to eat and store for winter.  I have also been making tomato sauce from our garden tomatoes and preparing swiss chard and collard greens for the freezer.

2. Weather-proofing.  I have been covering our windows with plastic to keep out the drafts and keep our gas bill down.  The bees in the white, Langstroth hive have been filling in the gaps between their boxes with propolis (bee glue), which they make from tree sap.  I had planned on plugging up most of the entrance holes on the front of the green top-bar hive with corks for the winter.  The bees beat me to it!  They have already sealed up most of the holes with propolis and are now cozy and ready for winter.

3.  Last Minute Harvesting.  On any day exceeding 60 degrees Fahrenheit the bees have been out flying around looking for late season pollen and nectar to harvest.  Likewise, I harvested the last of the blooms from my wildflower patch before the recent frosty nights.  It is nice to enjoy one last bouquet before the snow flies.  Pictured below with rainbow swiss chard.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Poinsettia Postulate: Part 2 and Honey Winner!

The poinsettias have begun their "dark therapy" this month.  I had planned to start this on October 1st, but the appointed day came and went as I was still searching for a suitable location for darkness.  I did not have any plastic totes large enough, our garage gets too cold, and our closets leak light.  I finally came up with an unconvetional, yet perfect location.

The clothes dryer is just a few yards away from my desk where the plants spend their daylight hours.  I'm the only one in the house that opens and closes the drier.  Plus, it also forces me to remove and fold my laundry each night in order to place the plants inside!

 There is already the hint of color beginning to show in the stems of the upper leaves.  I am hopeful that by Christmas they will be as beautiful as they were last year!

The winner of a jar of honey from my girls is Kendra M. of Kansas City!  Congratulations, Kendra, be watching your mail!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Unexpected Bounty

The heat and lack of rain this summer had wreaked havok on our garden.  We were fortunate to receive 5 inches of rain from Hurricaine Isaac and fairly consistent rain since.  Our lawn was the first to respond by turning greener and lusher than it had been all year.  It was too late for most of the garden.  Before the rain, I was just hoping that my herbs would live to make it through another winter and be more productive next year.  I had given up on having any extra to dry and use over the winter.

To my delight, the herbs responded as well as the grass did to all the rain.  Last month, we harvested all of the basil.  We had more than enough to dry, plus I was able to make 5 meals worth of pesto to freeze.  The dill and parsley died early on in the summer, but the thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and chives started to thrive.  Last week I was able to harvest herbs to dry for winter.

Clockwise from the top-left: chives, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage.

To dry chives, I snip them finely with a pair of scissors and spread them out on a paper towel or paper plate to dry.  They are usually ready to put in a jar in about 3-5 days.

The rest of the herbs are hung by clothespins on cotton string along the soffit in our kitchen.  It can take up to a month or more for them to dry completely.  Once they are "crunchy" dry, I will take them down, remove the leaves, discard the stems and store them in sealed containers.  Herbs can be dried in a food dehydrator much more quickly than hanging, but I think they make nice decoration and make the kitchen smell "herby."

I love being able to open a jar of herbs from the garden in the middle of January.  The herbs have more flavor and fragrance than factory processed herbs.  It is also a cost savings over buying herbs, especially with the plants that are perennial.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harvesting Honey and a Giveaway!

It has been about a month and a half since I processed the honey from our hive.  Things have been a little busy so I'm just now posting pictures about the event.

These are the honey supers with 12 frames of capped honey ready to go.  I removed the frames from the deep freezer 2 days before they were to be processed so that they would thaw.

This is a serrated, decapping knife for slicing off the wax caps with which the bees seal the honey.  The blade has a heating element to aid with cutting.  Nothing like a hot knife through wax!

Once the frames are decapped, they are loaded, three at a time, into the extractor.  This extractor is a hand-crank version rather than electric.  It spins the frames and the centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the frames.

The honey is then drained from an outlet at the bottom of the extractor.  It is filtered through a piece of cheesecloth to remove little bits of wax.  The honey is ready for use once it is filtered.  Honey is naturally antimicrobial and has too high of a sugar content to ferment without first being diluted.  It needs no further processing or heat treatment (pasteurization) to preserve it or make it ready for consumption.

The twelve frames of honeycomb produced about two and a half gallons of honey.  I will be doing a drawing on Halloween for one lucky reader to receive an 8 oz jar of honey.  In order to get your name in the drawing, leave a comment on this post!  The winner will be announced on this site on November 1st.  Good luck!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Field Trip: Arthur, Illinois

Today was a dreary, drizzly, fall day.  Since I finished my housework yesterday and had the day off from work today, I decided to head out on a field trip with my dear friend, Dusty.  Arthur, Illinois is a small town of about 2,300 in central Illinois and is predominately Amish.  It is about a 40 minute drive from my house - though I underestimate the time it takes every time I go!  Dusty and her husband farm in the country near Arthur, so a field trip is a perfect opportunity to catch up on each other's lives.

We met first at Beachy's Bulk Food Store.  I was impatient (and late) on my way out and turned a mile too early and found myself in the midst of dairy farms and buggies with no bulk foods in sight!  After "going around the block" and a mile further to the east I saw the sign and found the store.

It was a busy day in Beachy's so I didn't take any pictures inside.  It was also probably too dark.  The store interior is lit by skylights and on dark days, like today, gas lights.  I found the fine-ground wheat flour and vital wheat gluten that I use for bread.  Picked up a couple of beautiful, bartlett pears.  I also purchased some whole allspice and star anise for holiday baking - I usually only make it down to Beachy's once every 3-6 months. After we paid for our finds (cash or check only), Dusty suggested going to Shady Crest Orchard and Farm Market.  I had never been there before, though I have passed it several times on the way to the Great Pumpkin Patch.

Shady Crest had a beautiful outdoor display of pumkins, squashes and mums.

Inside, we found bags and boxes of apples, fresh baked pumkin bread, cookies and pies.  I was excited to find unpasteurized apple cider.  If you have never had unpasteurized cider, it is worth the effort to find some or make it yourself.  It is like drinking the very soul of an apple!  Shady Crest also had a full deli counter complete with Lebanon Bologna.  I did not think that anyone sold Lebanon Bologna this far west!  The girl behind the counter confirmed my suspicions that they order it from Pennsylvania.  My parents sometimes bring us a pound from Beilers Penn Dutch Market in Uniontown, Ohio when they come to visit.  Really, if you added electricity and a deli counter to Beachy's you would have Beilers.  So my NE Ohio friends should not despair of their distance from these fine stores! 

Overall, I had a wonderful visit with Dusty and brought home some treasures for my pantry.  A warm, bright spot for an otherwise dreary day!