Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another $100 Chook

After Rusty's death, I began to notice Penny behaving peculiarly. She seemed to be breathing deeply, standing with her legs wide apart, and bearing down. Sometimes, she'd sit for a while and bear down. Her poos were runny, so she had dirty rear feathers. Oh dear, could she be egg-bound? The symptoms matched. The only peculiarity was that Penny seemed quite alert and was eating and drinking a little; egg-bound birds deteriorate very rapidly. She has lost condition -- always rather a skinny chook, her keel feels like it could cut your hand now.

Last night I gave Penny a nice hot bath, the kind that water-births occur in (only hotter, because chooks have a higher body temperature than we do). She seemed to like it, but the only result was a fart and some green goo which landed on my foot. I left her with a heat pack overnight. While she was no worse this morning, she was no better, either.

The forecast was for 33 C today, and I was worried that she'd die from the added heat stress, so off I went to the vet instead of church. It turns out that Penny has a respiratory infection -- chook pneumonia -- and that the other behaviours are related to keeping her lungs open. I had considered respiratory infection, but discarded it as I couldn't hear her breathing or see any discharge. She looks reasonably well, and we're hopeful she'll pull through. I really don't want to conduct two chook funerals in a week!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


On Thursday, Rusty the $100 Chook looked broody -- she kept heading to her nest to just sit, and she wasn't eating much. To break broodiness, you need to put the bird in a coolish spot with no nesting material, so that's what I did. Our chook dome was sitting on the freshly-mowed lawn, so I popped her in there with food and water but no nesting material.

Unfortunately, she wasn't broody. Yesterday morning she was sitting where I'd left her, but with her head on the ground and her eyes closed. She was too far gone to eat or drink. I warned the Twig and the Sprig that she would die that day (the Twig was very sober on his walk to school, the Geek told me) and settled her on a comfortable bed of dry lawn clippings in shade. We had to go out, but I doubt she lasted the morning -- she was stiff when I popped home at 2:30. In retrospect, she had probably been a bit off-colour for a few days, but she had no particular symptoms.

Rusty became our $100 chook a few years ago, after she began to suffer diarrhoea. It turned out that an egg had broken internally. The shell was removed by our vet and she had to go on antibiotics, hence the sobriquet.

The Geek is now digging a burial site selected by the Twig, under our lemon tree. The Twig has been watching a DVD about Ancient Egypt and plans to build a pyramid over Rusty's grave.

Penny, our remaining chook, looks rather lonely. I have been trying for a while to find some chooks to add to the flock, but it has been a bit more difficult than I thought. Isa Browns are easy to obtain, but not long-lived (as we have seen) and most heritage breeders live outside the Sydney basin. We'll have to take a day trip somewhere soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is a lightly edited version of Laura's column "As a farm woman thinks," from November 1, 1923.

While driving one day, I passed a wornout farm. Deep gullies were cut thru the fields where the dirt had been washed away by the rains. The creek had been allowed to change its course, in the bottom field, and cut out a new channel ruining the good land in its way. Tall weeds and brambles were taking more strength from the soil already so poor that grass would scarcely grow... as [my companion] looked over the neglected farm he exclaimed, "Oh, it is a crime! It is a crime to treat good land like that!"... It is a crime to wear out and ruin a farm and the farmer who does so is a thief, stealing from posterity.

We are the heirs of the ages, but the estate is entailed as large estates frequently are, so that while we inherit the earth, the great round world which is God's Footstool, we have only the use of it while we live and must pass it on to those who come after us. We hold the property in trust and have no right to injure it nor to lessen its value. To do so is dishonest, stealing from our heirs their inheritance.

The world is the beautiful estate of the human family, passing down from generation to generation, marked by each holder while in his possession according to his character.

Did you ever think how a bit of land shows the character of the owner? A dishonest greed is shown by robbing the soil: the traits of a spendthrift are shown in wasting the resources of the farm by destroying its woods and waters, while carelessness and laziness are plainly to be seen in deep scars on the hillsides and washes in the lower fields.

It should be a matter of pride to keep our own farm, that little bit of the earth's surface for which we are responsible in good condition, passing it on to our successor better than we found it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Proto-Environmentalist

A Girlsown friend has recently lent me Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks * (thanks, Sharon!). Laura wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924 called "As a farm woman thinks," which dealt with a vast range of topics of interest to rural women.

What has struck me is her awareness of working with nature when farming, rather than against it, as well as the keen powers of observation and description which you can see in the Little House books. Take this (ostensibly from Almanzo's point of view) from 1912:
As I never allowed hunting on the farm, the quail were thick in the orchard and used to wallow and dust themselves like chickens in [the] fine dirt close to the tree. I wish this fact to be particularly noted in connection with the other fact that I had no borers in my trees for years.
A near neighbor set out 2,000 trees at about the same time and lost seven-eighths of them because of borers. He used every possible means to rid his trees of them except the simple one of letting the quail and other birds live in his orchard. Instead he allowed his boys to kill every bird they saw. (p. 21)
There is a recurring theme over many years that one does not need a lot of money to farm well, and numerous examples of successful farms where the owners simply couldn't afford commercial fertiliser, but used their brains to work out ways to fertilise the soil with local materials. A number of farmers, including Almanzo, used alley-cropping while their orchard trees were small.

Yet Laura's interest in wise use of resources extends far beyond farming. Her article of September 5, 1919 discusses the alarming loss of forest across the USA and the country's future lack of coal -- apparently the end of the American hard coal supply was in sight back then (according to Wikipedia, the peak of US anthracite production was in 1914), and she wondered what future housewives would use as cooking fuel.

Now if the editor of theMissouri Ruralist thought that this sort of stuff was interesting to rural women, why are women's columns and magazines these days filled with such tawdry rubbish? When Laura wrote about coal and forests, women's suffrage had not yet been achieved (and she had a number of comments about the responsibility of the vote when it did come, in 1920).

Laura wrote about something that all of us in the gardening blogosphere can relate to here:
Now is the time to make garden! Anyone can be a successful gardener at this time of year and I know of no pleasanter occupation these cold, snowy days, than to sit warm and snug by the fire making garden with a pencil, in a seed catalogue. What perfect vegetables do we raise in that way and so many of them!... Best of all, there is not a bug or worm in the whole garden and the work is so easily done. (pp. 133-4)
Well, I tend to do that sort of thing in late summer, when it's too hot to do anything else, and our cold days tend not to be snowy, but the picture is true here too!

Laura saw travel times move from horse-drawn to aeroplane pace, bringing people closer together:
The world is growing smaller each day. It has been shrinking for centuries, but during these later years it is diminishing in size with an ever increasing swiftness, yet so gradual is the change that we do not realize what is taking place unless we compare the present with the past... Theses people whom we have always carelessly bunched together in our minds as foreigners will be our friends and neighbors from this time on.(p. 159)
Wouldn't she have loved blogging!

*Hines, Stephen W. (ed.) (2007). Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks. University of Missouri Press, Columbia.