Chicken House Rules

My little flock of 21 laying hens (plus one rooster and a few guineas thrown in) are great fun.  Certain individuals become dear friends and have conversations with me when I visit the hen house in the morning and evening to fill their feeding stations and gather eggs. We recently watched my favorite film “Cider House Rules” yet again, and it set me to thinking about some Chicken House Rules for my girls.


“Cards, anyone?” . . . .

On this particular day, the girls are hopeful to go outdoors.  They have been shut in for 24-hours due to a nasty spring snowstorm that dumped 6-8 inches of new snow.  I believe we can relate to how they feel!  A mix of Barred Rock, Ameraucana, Buff Orpington, Silver Lace Wyandotte, White Tufted Black Polish and Australorp round out a colorful display with personalities to match.  They give us eggs of all colors and so delicious to eat!


“Carrot peelings for lunch again?!” . . . .

Goldie, an Ameraucana, is typical of her breed. Shy and aloof, these girls like to roost on the highest outpost–in this case on top of the screen door that hangs ajar inside their ancient chicken house. It allows just enough space to perch for the night and typically there are three of them teetering on top of the door.  I don’t know how they decide who gets to perch there – they must draw straws! A little bit wild, these girls can fly over the fence into the yard and do so regularly, which is discouraged. They have figured out there is a good snack in the garden shed where Oscar and TuTu reside and if I don’t lock the door, they clean up the bowl of dry kibble.  Ameraucanas lay the most beautiful green and blue eggs and are very hardy.  Some of the girls are getting old by chicken standards, but they keep on keepin’ on.


“What’s this about Rules?” . . . .

Luvena and her Barred Rock sister Vonna are two favorites.  Inquisitive, gentle and always under foot, they like to carry on a conversation when you are close by.  Luvena in particular is very gregarious and even as a chick, she would come to the door and peer up at me with great curiosity while the other chicks would huddle in the corner, afraid to come forward. You can be sure she will be giving me a piece of her mind about the Rules.


“Have you seen the Chicken House Rules?” . . . .

  1.  Please don’t dribble in the food bowl if you have been drinking.
  2. Please don’t smoke on the roost or use candles.
  3. Please don’t go up on the roof if you’ve been drinking–especially at night!
  4. Please don’t take bottles with you up on the roof.
  5. Please don’t go outside to sleep if you are very hot or have been drinking.
  6. Please give your food order to the chicken house keeper before 7:00 a.m.
  7. There should be no more than half dozen chickens on the roof at one time.
  8. Please don’t sit in the nest too long–other chickens need to use them!
  9. Please do not break any eggs in the nest.
  10. Please do not leave messes in the nest – Cleanliness is next to Godliness!

Chicken Fruit . . . .

The Rules are posted where everyone can see them, and the girls for the most part are trying to observe them.  They know they will be rewarded with good groceries and lots of love.  What more can a chicken ask?  Nevertheless, I believe some of the commentary from the free-thinkers is rising to a Greek chorus.  “What do they think we are,  just dumb chickens?”  “Who decided we need rules?”  “We do the work around here, laying eggs right and left!””What about us?” “Are we just a basket of deplorables?””The sky is falling!”


“Now where do I wish to sit?” . . . .

The girls are assembling on the roosts for the night and will rise at dawn to begin a new day. Perhaps tomorrow we will have a Town Hall and discuss the Rules.   Hopefully they will settle down before feathers begin to fly and the clucking chorus drowns out the voice of reason.


Chicken tanning salon . . . .

Heat lamps have come on and the girls cozy up to catch the warmth.  And now, we close the day with “GOOD NIGHT ALL YOU PRINCESSES OF DRY CREEK, YOU QUEENS OF WYOMING!”

Heart Mountain


Broken hearts . . . .

Heart Mountain rises in the background of this photograph taken at the memorial site of what was a Japanese internment camp near Powell, Wyoming.  An estimated 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens were incarcerated behind barbed wire fences here and at several other locations in the west after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On February 19, 1942 Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt swept aside due process of Japanese Americans to protect against “espionage” and “sabotage.”


Guard tower . . . .

Overnight, life changed for about 14,000 internees who were loaded on trains and shipped to Heart Mountain.  This guard tower is a silent reminder that these were prisoners of war, unable to go about life in any normal sense.  They were able to carry few possessions and were mostly from coastal cities and poorly prepared for Wyoming winters.


Home sweet home . . . .

Most of the dormitory-style buildings were removed over the years but this is one of the originals still standing.


To remind us . . . .


Wall of fame . . . .


Still Americans . . . .

Most of the residents at Heart Mountain were women, young children and the elderly.  As this plaque points out, able bodied men went to fight for America in WWII.


Farming for food . . . .

The camp residents were industrious and farmed these fields to raise vegetables to feed their families.  The low sheds in the background were for storage.


As far as I can see . . . .

This lone building might have been a school house, as education was an important part of the daily life in the camps.


Visitors’ Center . . . .

A tour of the visitors’ center is a must.  A short film tells the story of the camp and murals and graphic displays line the walls.  Many photographs have been preserved and while the residents of Heart Mountain suffered many indignities, they made the best of their circumstances.  They appear to be in good health and the resolve to overcome their situation is clear in the faces on display.


Artifact from the fields . . . .

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to compensate every survivor with a tax-free check for $20,000 and a formal apology from the U.S. Government. Many  internees lost their farms, homes and businesses and were forced to start life anew after the end of the war. They suffered hostility and discrimination in finding jobs and a new place to live.


Coming back to life . . . .

These barracks were still in use nearby and relocated to the Heart Mountain camp. At the time of this photograph some stabilization had begun and renovation would follow in time for the 75th anniversary celebration in 2017.  It is good to be reminded.

Year of The Rooster


Man about town . . . .

The Chinese New Year has just begun and it seemed appropriate to crow a little bit about it.  First, it is my Chinese zodiac sign and 2017 has been declared the Year of The Rooster! Having established that, I will move on to the roosters in my life.  The fine specimen above is “Fonzie,” a white-crested Polish who approached his manhood last summer in a stop and start frenzy of crowing, strutting and running after the hens like a kabuki dancer.  His amorous forays in the chicken yard created hysteria among the hens and two roosters were not in the chicken yard plan.  It was only a matter of time until Cromwell, Rooster Number One escaped his pen and dispatched Fonzie into the great unknown.  Imagining the spectacle of that, I suggested we take Fonzie to the vet to be gently euthanized.  I received a derisive snort from the better half and he promised he would be “gentle” when he euthanized our errant rooster.  I don’t want to think about it.  Moving along.


Center stage, Cromwell the Great . . . .

Cromwell’s arrival was a surprise also.  But he was so magnificent a specimen (we are not sure if he is a Leghorn, Orpington or fowl play) that it seemed only natural to allow him to establish his kingdom–for awhile.  He made a great contribution to the flock when he and Betty White hatched a nest of babies.


Rite of spring . . . .

From this lovely batch of chicks it was determined we had two roosters.  How to tell?  Some suggested their combs were different.  Another suggestion was that if you grab them by the feet and hang them upside down, the roosters will . . . . .now I can’t remember what they are supposed to do?  By the time we had these chicks, I realized I had exceeded my self imposed limit of 22 laying hens if even half of these turned out to be hens.  After a few weeks, it was time to find four of these babies a new home.  I marched on the brooder house with a fishing net and after a tussle managed to capture four and placed them in a cage for their new owner.  Turns out, the two remaining were hens.  I was happy to be spared the trauma of disposing of another rooster.


Portlandia rooster . . . .

A visit to a Portland import/export shop several years ago turned up this wood-carved fellow who won my heart.  He wasn’t all that much fun stuffing in the overhead bin of the airplane, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  He keeps watch over the front yard a safe distance from Cromwell, and was joined by a motley crew of wood and tin imposters.


Folk art frenzy . . . .

Roosters arrive in many forms at our house.  I believe I must have a subconscious attraction for them as they seem to have accumulated in various forms. I had to wipe some dust off before taking this picture of Archie, the most flamboyant of the collection.


Reginald . . . .

Reggie came as a treasured Christmas gift from a nephew last year and won my heart with his bright colors.  We placed him out on the porch one day when Cromwell was given freedom to roam the yard, which in winter has been quite rare.  Snow drifts have been too deep for poor Cromwell to venture very far.  He ignored Reggie utterly and completely! Probably a good thing, as he might have come away the worse for wear pitted up against Reggie’s sharp metal feathers, comb and beak.


Chinese Zodiak Rooster . . . .

This giant bronze was created by contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and displayed, along with the other Chinese zodiak symbols, at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming May-October, 2015.


Imposing symbols . . . .

The artist of these bronzes, Ai Weiwei, was inspired by an 18th century zodiac fountain in an imperial garden in Beijing.  These images are at least 12 feet tall and were an awe-inspiring exhibit. For all the roosters everywhere, have a splendid year!  Cock-a-doodle- doo!


Hearty Irish Stew


Ready for the oven . . . .

Great cold weather fare.  Enjoy!

Hearty Irish Stew

3 pounds of boneless beef short ribs, cut into one-inch cubes

3/4 cup flour

3 Tbsp. canola oil

3 Tbsp. tomato paste (I add 1 tsp. sugar)

3 Tbsp. whole grain Irish Stout Mustard

2 – 14.5 oz. cans beef broth

2 – 14.9 oz. cans Guinness draft beer

5 cloves garlic, coarsley chopped

3 Tbsp. dried, crumbled sage

1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper

16 fingerling carrots (12 larger carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces)

2 medium onions, cut into quarters

3 stalks celery, sliced thin

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Heat large, heavy bottomed soup kettle or crock pot on stove top, add 3 Tbsp. canola oil.  Roll cubed beef in flour until all sides are coated, brown in batches in pot on medium heat.  Remove beef to a platter, set aside.  Add one can beef broth and  tomato paste, simmer 3 minutes stirring vigorously.  Remove brown bits from bottom of pan with spatula, continue stirring until well mixed.  Add whole grain mustard, stir; add second can of beef broth; add garlic.  Simmer three minutes.  Return beef to pot, sprinkle with cracked black pepper and 3 Tbsp. of sage; add one can of Guinness (stir until foam subsides); add carrots, onions, celery and stir to mix all ingredients.  Cover with lid and place in oven, bake for two hours.  Remove, add second can of Guinness, stir well, bake an additional hour.  Garnish with chopped parsley and celery leaves.


Ready to eat! . . . .

My version of Irish Stew can almost be eaten with a fork–once the beef and vegetables have been consumed the thick brown broth can be scooped up with a crust of bread. Follow with a cold draft of Guinness, and give a toast to the Irish!



Barn Again, Phase II. . . .

Our initial efforts to clean out this ancient shed entailed dropping an old electric light pole that used to have a barn yard light at the top; removing a heavy gate and post left from the corrals that once surrounded the shed;  trenching around the foundation; removing old rotted floor boards and joists; and planting four corner posts in concrete on the east end. We were then out of ideas.  The next phase of restoration was out of our range of capabilities.  There was no going back.  From the outset I knew my only options were to burn it down or rebuild.  And that is what we are doing. We took the project as far as we could, and then had to turn it over to someone who knew what they were doing!  With winter fast approaching we knew we were getting a late start, but what the heck.


Burn or build? . . . .


Gimme shelter . . . .

Replacing the old roof was the pits.  The carpenter had to cut it off piece by piece and it did not go without a struggle.  The other hard part was replacing and shoring up the foundation. We barely got started before the ground was frozen but still had to deal with snow and freezing temperatures.  We had to shovel snow out of the floor joists before laying the floor and some of the foundation stones will have to be dug in after spring thaw. But onward and upward, as Fitzgerald would say!  (Who the h— was Fitzgerald?)


Shovel or rake?  . . . .

After ripping out the old floor boards, this is what I was faced with.  The rake head wouldn’t fit between the joists, so the idiot stick was my solution.  After shoveling out about six inches of dirt, the old floor joists could be pried out.  Old foundation stones were scattered at random.


Bottoms up . . . .

Getting to the bottom of things, some of the old timbers were in pretty good shape, others not so.


Progress . . . .

The new floor joists are going in.  Before we got the floor boards down we had a major snowstorm and I had to dig several wheelbarrow loads of snow out from between all the joists so we could go forward. Winter construction hazards!


An old soul . . . .

I found some old window frames that I am restoring with new glass to place in the openings here and on the south side.  The newly restored tack room will have lots of light!


East end . . . .

The section we had to tear off is being rebuilt and will become two horse stalls once again. Feed Lot has been doing daily inspections and I know he thinks this will be his new home. He invited Tilly over to see his new digs but she shied away, not certain what to think of all this excitement.

IMG_7956.JPGWe are trying to preserve the old shed’s character and many oddities and oldies will remain.  This old shelf continues to be useful and for the moment contains some rusty treasures I salvaged from the “big dig” under the floor.


Where the cold creeps in . . . .

We will match the lumber on the north wall with old boards we salvaged from the end we pulled down.  Might have to do some replacements and will cut batten strips to replace those that have fallen away.


Tin window . . . .

I have no recollection of what might have happened to this window–in the century that has passed since this structure was built anything could have occurred.  I have located old replacement frames and will rebuild these windows for light in what will once again become the tack room. Waiting on the steel and better weather to get the roof finished and detail work finalized.  December and January have been colder and snowier than any recent winter we have experienced.  Murphy’s Law–if it can happen it will!  So far the carpenter hasn’t suffered frostbite, chilblains or any serious condition from exposure to beastly weather–or at least he has not complained.


Underpinnings . . . .

We used 6 x 6 treated timbers and old foundation stones to shore up the west end.  It had to be jacked up to get everything in place.  Should be good for another 100 years or so.


One of the few nice days . . . .

The old doors will go back across the front of the west end and middle section once they have been rebuilt and reinforced.  The east end section will have to have new doors or gates–decision still up in the air.  We are making this up as we go along!  Stay tuned.



“Got hay?” . . . .

Abraham, our favorite steer (he is the only) has a distinct personality, and he’s pretty bull-headed even though (ahem) he is no longer a bull.  When he did not show up for his evening hay, we wondered where he could be.  He always beats Tilly to the barn at feeding time and his absence was noted.  We finally spied him standing somewhat forlornly under the boxelder tree, one of his hangouts.  What could be holding him up?  On closer inspection, we could see he was on the wrong side of the fence that runs adjacent to the tree.  Neither one of us wanted to wade through the snow drifts to inspect the fence line to see how he could have gotten into the neighbor’s pasture.  After a long silence, I volunteered.  Turns out, the fence was fine and it did not appear he had jumped over it. Feed Lot (his pet name) was stubbornly waiting by the fence hoping for a miracle that would make the fence disappear.


Pals . . . .

We walked about half a mile back to the road and up the lane to the neighbor’s horse pasture.  The gate was undisturbed, but stock panels that were wired to a post had been forcibly bent until a large opening was evident.  Only one critter around this place could have done that much damage.  A couple days earlier the horses had pushed a panel down from the inside and escaped, but Feed Lot had to bend two panels inward against the post to make his way into the pasture–you guessed it–at feeding time!


The horns of a dilemma . . . .

We had two problems at hand.  One was the herd of horses in the pasture where Feed Lot had broken through the fence.  We didn’t dare release them but we had to get Feed Lot through the gate.  I tossed a basket of hay in the far corner of the pasture to distract the horses while Michael worked on steering the mule-headed steer who refused to take any suggestions.  When Michael tried coaxing him toward the gate Feed Lot ran the opposite direction.  We wearied of the chase as the steer grew more belligerent and darkness was falling.  We decided he was smart enough to break in, surely he could break out!  If he broke through the fence again we would have to risk having runaway horses, but temporarily it would solve our problem with the steer.


Mother and sons . . . .

Feed Lot’s mother, Panda lives adjacent to the pasture where he was trapped.  Next day  we attempted to round up the lost boy, thinking he would be hungry and ready to listen to reason.  Instead he ignored us and stood in the middle of the pasture bellowing for his mom who responded to his cries of woe by hovering along her side of the fence.  We cut an opening in another section of fence leading to our property in the hopes he would see an escape route and come with us.  I gathered up a bushel basket of hay to coax him but he ignored me.  He ran instead in the opposite direction to the fence-line separating him from his mother and paced back and forth trying to find an opening.  What a mama’s boy!


Baby picture . . . .

How did this adorable creature become a 2,000 pound tyrant determined to have his way? After a considerable amount of time tromping through layers of snow drifts and ice to capture a steer who didn’t seem to believe we had his best interests at heart, we were exhausted.  Then, when it seemed we had lost the battle, Feed Lot took off following the fence in an apparent effort to sort out how he had gotten into so much trouble.  When he came nearer to the opening we cut in the fence, I coaxed him through with the basket of hay.  He didn’t linger long to eat but headed to the barn at a dead run, positioning himself over his uneaten dinner from the night before.  We repaired the fence and walked back to the house to collapse. We know he will try once again to barge through the fence into the neighbor’s horse pasture to mooch a little hay, now that he knows he can breech the stock panels so easily. And we will start all over again. Anybody want a pet steer?