Hiatus Over

This past year was troublesome.

G got himself a good new job. He now works management at a local high end-grocery though he still does paperwork for the game shop. But the stress of that transition and the strain of our lives in general had reached a breaking point. Myself, G and D were all depressed and floundering. D was overwhelmed with school, his classes growing increasingly more difficult, his normally social lifestyle consumed with daily homework and his tutoring job. During the summer the assistance he’d promised vanished and things rapidly became too much for me to handle alone. On the farm, the rats were flourishing, eating every crop we grew, chewing on walls and insulation, eating baby rabbits and baby chickens. Production was all but impossible and my demands that G call an exterminator were being heard but not acted upon. The dogs were overwhelmed and overjoyed to be hunting but were unable to make a dent, sometimes catching whole litters of rats in a night while hunting in the garage yet never making progress.

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The Killer Husky, just doing her job.

For my part, my estranged father had a stroke. We haven’t been on speaking terms for some time, largely due to him treating my PTSD like a joke and me like second class offspring. There’s only so many callously initiated panic attacks one can go through, even for a parent. When his stroke hit, I was forced to deal with the fallout. Going to his aid meant dealing with casual dismissal of my needs and panic attacks all over again. Not going meant poor treatment by the rest of my family. No choice was going to end well for me. I chose the latter. The strain was less, but very real.

A raccoon took out the entire chicken flock in one night some time ago. It was devastating. The coop was closed but the monster pulled a door away from the wall and got in over night. We woke up to bodies strewn across the lawn. We had to build our flock up again from nothing. We hatched chicks from the remaining eggs but only had three hens. We had to rebuild our whole coop to better secure it from the raccoon that ate everyone. We bought new chicks, “Purebred” Ameraucanas from a breeder registered with an Ameraucana club, only for them to be shipped without notice into a snowstorm by the breeder and ultimately get stuck at the post office. Half of them died on arrival and one of the hens even lays brown eggs. So much for being “purebred”.

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Our new rooster. His colors are lovely but I should have known something was up when his legs were white, not black.

We bought a buck and two doe rabbits only to have two cages left open by G, and the escapee rabbits caught by The Killer Husky. I wasn’t even involved in the incidents, neither in handling the rabbit cages nor taking the dogs out, but the money and resources I spent were still gone. It’s always challenging to travel to get new stock. One of these came from our county fair and the other from nearly another state. The loss of the time and effort was more devastating than the loss of any money spent.

We tried bee keeping – twice! The first time our hive swarmed and left us and the second they just didn’t make it through the winter. We’ve resigned ourselves to have to wait to try again.

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Our small warre hive just never could get established.

I couldn’t garden, though I tried starting seeds that year with G’s misplaced encouragement. They took but it was ultimately moot. The rats were eating everything. I turned to baking to try to find some creative homesteading escape, only to discover the rats had found their way into the house and were eating my cookies and breads.

Everything was deeply, deeply bleak over the last year. I was miserable. The people around me were falling apart and it was making my life fall apart in turn.

Then we saw a few changes. D started utilizing a few free school resources to alleviate his strain and was better at closing cages and other miscellaneous but critical tasks. G started a new medication. Suddenly he was capable of making those critical calls that previously had him paralyzed. Tentatively we brought in bait boxes and tracking powder for the rats. The dogs were kept indoors and the chickens secured in their a newly built coop with tight latches on the doors. We couldn’t garden or bake yet, life was distressing still, but steps were being taken. The snow hit, and things got cold.

 

Soon we pulled half a dozen dead rats out from behind a panel in our basement walls. Food left on the dining room table was no longer at risk. We stopped seeing rats scurrying away at night in the garage. One day I spilled a half cup of chicken feed on the floor of the garage and was too tired to clean it up. It was still there the next day. And the next. And even a week later before it got swept up and put into the compost.

I made pies for Yule, including a rehash of my game pie from the year before, and had a wonderful celebration with my friends and family.

My father recovered without my intervention and the family that was most important to me stuck by my side.

We got a new puppy. We finally found our Aussie, (well, likely a BC/Aussie mix) and he is a rescue. His owners were apartment dwellers with no dog experience and he came to us at 20 weeks isolated, no socializing, scared, and shaking. He’s still easily frightened but he has made big strides and recently gotten fixed.

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The Cowardly Puppy and The Killer Husky are best buddies and play aggressively all the time.

G and I took a weeks vacation out of the country at an eco-resort to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. Ten years! That’s a long time.

Slowly but surely things move forward, hardly being perfect but regularly improving.

We now have baby bunnies again for the first time in nearly a year and a half. The mom was a first timer and most of the litter was lost, but the rest are doing well. They’re growing and distinctly not eaten by rats. We have plants started in the basement, celery and leeks and other slow and long growing seeds.

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All but three of these babies got pulled out of the nest box on a cold day by their mom. The three remaining are still doing well, though!

The weather is shifting too. It’s February but there has been little snow and we can feel the warm sun breaking through the clouds. It’s regularly over 30*F. This isn’t good for the planet… But it does wonders for my seasonal gloom. It feels like spring is right around the corner.

And both metaphorically and literally I finally think it really is.

7 thoughts on “Hiatus Over

  1. Well GEEZ! The rat problem seems ridiculous. When I came returned here in 2013 I could tell we had rats or mice in the chicken house. I went out one night to check and thousands of mice ran everywhere. Dad didn’t want to get poison because they had a lot of cats (20). Well, after I couldn’t take it anymore, I bought a mouse/rat poison called Tomcat from the local farmer’s co-op. Within a couple of days there were no more mice and I saw very few dead ones. Last summer I had a rat but he only sampled the bait. Rats will do that. They sample something to see if it affects them before they consume larger amounts. It persisted so I bought a sticky trap. The next morning, the sticky trap was gone and so was the rat. Using certain poisons for rats is very beneficial and gets rid of the problem fairly quickly and cats and dogs won’t normally eat them.

    As far as your “pure-bred” Americanas laying brown eggs is concerned… I have a lot of experience with multiple breeds of chickens since I started working at a mail-order hatchery/primary breeder when I was 15. I became co-owner at 25. Back then, there was no such thing as Americanas. They were Araucanas and they were a mixture of various sizes and colors of birds that laid nearly every color of eggs (various shades of brown, bluish-green, etc.). After a while, fanciers started selection for certain colors and traits so they could exhibit them and the name Americana came about. Now, it seems, hatcheries follow the trend to give customers what they want. I see hatcheries offering “Americanas, Easter Eggers, etc.”… Times have changed but the genetics for them to lay various colors of eggs, even brown, is still there.

    Glad to hear things are getting back to normal for you. We all have ups and downs but we have to ride the waves and stay positive. Just repeat over and over all the things you have to be thankful for and not the bad moments. More blessings will flow your way.

    • Hi Belmont! The rat problem WAS ridiculous and ultimately the longer it went on the more expensive and worse it got and the less G was willing to act on it. (Property and credit cards are in his name.) It took a pretty drastic shift to actually get something done about it. There’s almost no rats left now but as spring is approaching I’m nervous they will pop up again.

      As for the chicks, times do change and we have a written standard for Ameraucanas. (Have for decades! Longer than I’ve been alive in fact…) It’s a bit of a point of contention especially for new chicken keepers. They buy from hatcheries or breeders expecting one thing and getting another because hatcheries STILL don’t want to remarket their old landrace lines to reflect the “new” (note; almost 40 year old!) language! For the consumer it feels rather like they’re being lied to and most people now view hatchery birds as like shopping at Wal-Mart. Plenty of variety, convenient, but the quality is just bad.
      I’ve been keeping mostly Ameraucanas and breeding EEs for nearly five years now and I’ve seen a lot of the debate around it and it’s all old hat. Frankly I’m just on the side of the consumer – whatever you’re breeding or advertising make it clear what it is and don’t try to label it as something it’s not by changing a few letters. Most new chicken keepers don’t really care if your landrace lines go back 50 years and the breed standard only 36 years – if you’re not meeting the standard you shouldn’t be advertising using the name.

      We also have a well researched empirical understanding on what genes cause blue eggs. The blue egg gene is a simple heterozygous dominant gene and is really easy to breed for as a homozygous trait, guaranteeing not only that every Ameraucana lays the bluest of blue eggs but also if you were to breed in a non blue egg laying hen it would ALSO lay blue or green eggs. (My last rooster was like this. RIP Will. He produced EXCLUSIVELY blue/green egg laying offspring even with brown/white egg hens.) If your flock is actually purebred and has been carefully selected and test bred for it even for a couple of generations it shouldn’t be possible for a hen to lay brown eggs. Especially because both the hen AND the rooster would have to be heterozygous and low quality for that to happen.
      Lastly, the APA standard calls for blue eggs and so do all the breeders clubs. And these people were APA registered breeders and registered with breeders clubs. They were advertising chickens as meeting the APA purebred standard and were charging accordingly. So most relevantly this person knew and acknowledged the standard and sold their birds under false pretenses of meeting the standard in that regard.

      Ultimately there’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t find out about the brown eggs until 8 months after the chicks were received so I couldn’t freeze any funds I’d sent out or send in any complaints. They pulled all their webpages after my complaint for “independent health reasons”. So there’s that, but I am still out a lot of months raising chicks and a VERY good chunk of change for having bought them. :T Alas.

      In any case, I’m also glad things are starting to smooth out. Honestly I’m downright relieved, even if I’m still anxious about the future. Things haven”t been going well enough for long enough yet. There are gonna still be bad days, but progress is not linear. We’ll get there.

      • Honestly, if I were to get back into the hatchery business, I am almost certain I would use the name Araucana instead of Americana… I studdied genetics in college (Poultry Science and Animal Science) and inbreeding tends to bring about old traits even though the blue egg gene is dominant. An article in a 1925 National Geographic magazine says the Araucana breed was wiped out by disease and chickens brought to the US didn’t lay blue-green eggs as their ancestors did a few years before. After several years, a faint tint was discovered and continuous selection was successful. There were two articles about the Araccana, I think, maybe one in 1925 and 1927. I used to have them but not anymore. I think one was an article called “Races of Domestic Fowl.”

        Hang in there!

      • I found it… National Geographic, April 1927. The one ‘Races of Domestic Fowl” and “Debt to the Hen’ (maybe “Americas Debt to the Hen”) were also published in 1927. I found online but it was also like I had a flashback. LOL!

        • Lol, man. Those articles are just about 100 years old now. 😉 Crazy to think how far we’ve come since then.

          Haha, also the Araucana is it’s own APA breed too! With it’s own standard just as far back as Ameraucana.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Araucana

          Basically, everything that’s the old landraces and mixed breeds are considered broadly to be Easter Eggers now for their wide variety of egg and feather colors. The refusal by hatcheries to accept that these are now standardized breed names muddies the waters and just makes things harder for consumers. I can’t count how many people are like “??? Why is my Ameraucana laying brown eggs??? Did they send me the wrong bird?” etc. etc. and they just have some landrace or mixed breed easter egger. They usually still love their birds but still get really mad. A lot of these people can only keep 4-10 chickens on their lots and the egg color variety matters to them.
          Then the hatcheries go “Oh well they’re Amer*I*canas! Not Amer*AU*canas! And we don’t actually breed to the breed standards. Sorry, no refunds.”. Hatcheries have bad rap these days in the blue egg chicken community for this stuff but they still do it. Riding that wave for the desire for the purebred birds makes them money.

          If my birds don’t at least meet the APA written requirements for the standard I have always just sold them as Easter Eggers. Still popular… Just less.

  2. Good God!. It really sounds like you’ve been through the mill these last few months. It’s a relief to hear that things are on the up. Rats are a nuisance, I think that’s the kindest description. You’re bearing up though and getting through it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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